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Overland Park 9/11 Memorial Includes Beam From World Trade Center To Mark 'Astounding' Tragedy

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Trevor Miller was a firefighter with the Overland Park Fire Department when he heard New York was distributing artifacts from ground zero. The site outside the department's training center was finished in 2011.

On Saturday at 7:30 a.m., a solemn ceremony will begin at the Overland Park Fire Department Training Center, the site of the area's largest 9/11 memorial, to mark the precise time 20 years ago when the planes went down and the twin towers fell.

They read as a chilling diary, a moment-by-moment account of an unimaginable experience.

American Airlines Flight 11 is airborne at 7:59 a.m.

The hijacking begins at 8:14 a.m.

By 8:25 a.m., the hijackers are trying to communicate with the passengers but transmit over the radio instead, saying, "Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.”

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
The educational panels outline the events of 9/11, taken from the 9/11 Commission Report and other sources.

Four bronze panels at the 9/11 Memorial outside the Overland Park Fire Training Center, located at 12401 Hemlock St., include a timeline and narrative of what happened aboard the airliners, in the executive offices of airlines, at the highest levels of government and eventually on the ground as the world learned terrorists were aboard four planes on Sept. 11, 2001.

“You come to read those excerpts, you put yourself on the plane,” said Jason Rhodes, spokesman for the Overland Park Fire Department. “It’s astounding.”

As the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the attacks, honor guard members at the Overland Park site will strike a bell and lay a wreath at the exact time each plane struck the twin towers, the Pentagon and crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Starting at sunset on Friday, Sept. 10, two beams of light will illuminate the skies, staying on through sunrise on Sept. 12. The display will mirror the tribute at ground zero in New York City.

How Overland Park acquired 14-ft. beam

The memorial was the brainchild of firefighter Trevor Miller and Capt. Paul Bishoff.

In 2008, Miller saw on a website that the New York City Port Authority was seeking applications from communities around the country to distribute 1,200 remnants from ground zero.

Miller received approval to apply and recruited colleagues from the department, especially an English major, to help him complete the elaborate form.

They learned there were about 6,000 applications and only expected to receive a small token of the remains.

Instead, Miller said, they were praised for their plan and awarded a 14-ft., two-and-a-half ton beam salvaged from the underground metal skeleton of the twin towers.

The 9/11 Memorial at the Overland Park Fire Department features a 14-ft. beam from the World Trade Center.
Laura Ziegler
The 9/11 Memorial at the Overland Park Fire Department features a 14-ft. beam from the World Trade Center.

The beam forms the centerpiece of the small plaza adjacent to the training center building. Pieces of horizontal girders jut out from the top, their jagged edges torn like a piece of paper, a sign of how violently they were ripped from the solid support infrastructure at ground zero.

Rhodes said the artifact gives visitors a visceral experience of what happened.

“It bears the scars of the day,” he said. “You can walk around it, put your fingers in some of the divets and think of what force it takes to do that to steel, the heat and the pressure.”

Design architects, SFS Architecture, positioned the beam in relation to the narrative panels so it acts as a sundial. As sun pours through a hole in the top of the metal, it shines on medallions placed on the timeline of the attacks at exactly the minute the planes went down.

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
The local artist who created 'The Weeping Wall' on the north end of the site said the falling water represents the tears of those left behind. The sound of the fountain resonates across the small plaza.

On the north side of the site is a fountain, three metal plates with water spilling over the top.

The local sculptor, Reilly Dickens-Hoffman, melted the top layer of the metal with a torch, causing it to drip down in distressed patches.

Rhodes said it symbolizes the grief and loss of 9/11.

“It is meant to represent the images of the people coming out of the dust cloud at ground zero that day, their faces caked white with powder and trails of tears,” he said.

Officials with the department say barely a day goes by when a classroom of students or family with children don’t visit the site. And there will be the regulars on Saturday who come each year to commemorate the anniversary, including a flight attendant who lost colleagues and the parents of a young man working at the Pentagon.

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Chris Juarez, right, says his younger brothers are not being taught about 9/11. He worries they won't understand how the world changed in its aftermath.

Keeping the memory alive

Chris Juarez, 20, said he worried his younger siblings won’t learn what he did about 9/11.

It was around dinner time at a local park recently, and they were getting ready to kick a soccer ball around.

Born the same year of the attacks, he said he was concerned that 9/11 seems to become less and less important as years go by.

“Like, as time passes, teachers don’t really teach it no more,” he said, looking to his eight-year-old brother, Ivan, who he said he worries won’t understand how the events affected so many aspects of our lives.

“Teachers, they just put like a movie, or not talk about it at all,” Juarez said.

Air Force veteran Larry Grayer, 60, was in the military when Ronald Reagan was president, and said he learned to be a conservative by listening to Rush Limbaugh.

He said he worries the nation has become so polarized that his grandson will never see the way Americans came together in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

“For that generation they need to know (what happened),” he said. “And they need to know why, and that’s why grandpa’s here, to guide them.”

Back at the 9/11 memorial in south Overland Park, there is a low wall with the nearly 3,000 names of those who died carved in stone .

Beneath the long, alphabetical rows is a quote from Virgil that reads, “No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time.”

Communities across the country will come together Saturday to observe the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to remember these names.

But what happens the day after that?

“This is the Pearl Harbor of my generation,” said Trevor Miller, now a fire inspector with the Overland Park Fire Department. “This is the 1941. It’s important we keep telling the story of Sept. 11 of 2001, also.“

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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