Published: Thursday, September 20th, 2012
On a beautiful Sept. 11 morning—similar to the one 11 years ago—a group of citizens, tourists and first responders joined together for the dedication of a monument to remember those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The memorial, a replica of the World Trade Center made from mahogany granite towers over a piece of metal from Ground Zero mounted to another granite slab, served as the foreground during the solemn ceremony.
Rollie Noem, chief operating officer of Crazy Horse Memorial, welcomed the crowd and pointed out the symbolism of the piece of steel on the memorial, which has 11 rivets intact and nine rivets missing. He called on the crowd to never forget the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the lives lost, the heroism displayed and the military that still fights on our behalf.
Deacon Fred Tully offered a prayer, calling for a peaceful world where people can respectfully disagree with one another through discourse instead of through bullets.
Al Cornella, a Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation board of directors member, told about traveling to Ground Zero in New York City shortly after the attacks, when the cleanup was still ongoing. He spoke of visiting with firefighters still combing through the rubble, calling it one of the most moving experiences of his life.
Cornella then introduced guest speaker Larry Connors, a New York City Fire Department (NYFD) battalion chief whom he had met on his trip. Connors served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, retiring as a full colonel. He served over 30 years in the NYFD and was instrumental in bringing the steel now on display at the memorial.
Connors spoke about the carnage of that fateful morning, saying over 21,000 bone fragments and pieces of human tissue were recovered. Over 1,000 people were never identified, the heat from the fire wiping away their DNA. He said he was hopeful that new technology may some day help those remains to be identified.
He told the crowd of what firefighters referred to as “the pile,”âï¿½ï¿½the heaping mountain of rubble they were sifting through in hopes of finding survivors.
“Iâï¿½ï¿½never saw a table. I never saw a chair. I never saw parts of a computer,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“That’s how devastating that scene was.”
Connors said the acrid dust floating at Ground Zero was akin to having a bag of flour poured over your head and then melted in place by the heat that was put out by the still smoldering fires.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but there was little hope of ever finding someone alive,”âï¿½ï¿½he said. “We never did.”
Connors spoke of firefighters, other first responders and citizens pleading with firefighters to locate loved ones or friends.
“It was a circle of searching that was very painful to watch,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
Connors said it wasn’t just firefighters who were heroes that day, but electricians, office workers and construction workers who all helped save lives.
“There were a lot of heroes that day,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“We will never know about the heroism of many of them who died that day.”
Rapid City Fire Department assistant chief and Custer resident Tim Behlings also spoke, saying he remembered the moment he heard about the attacks.
“Iâï¿½ï¿½knew in my mind something terrible was beginning,”âï¿½ï¿½he said, saying he felt anger, helplessness and uncertainty.
Behlings also said the events of Sept. 11 made emergency services stronger and said fire services throughout the state are much stronger due to lessons learned.
“We are better prepared today than we have ever been to deal with situations, whatever they may be,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
The final speaker was Hastings On Hudson (N.Y.) Volunteer Firefighter Corky Soderstrom, who said he watched as the second plane hit the World Trade Center and watched as the towers collapsed.
“You can never forget it,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
He told a story of while working at the site, a Latino family came to feed and take care of the firefighters, waiting on their needs for 10 hours. He told of Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members who came and offered support.
“There were no nationalities,” he said. “Only Americans.”
He also told of the first time he came to Crazy Horse, a woman—Anne Ziolkowski—commented on how much she liked his commemorative Sept. 11 shirt. He eventually gave it to her. After his speech, he gave a similar shirt right off his back to Ruth Ziolkowski, president of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
The ceremony ended with the singing of “America the Beautiful” by Margaret Tretheway, followed by a performance by the Rapid City Professional Firefighters Pipe and Drum Corps.
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