By Keysha Drexel
Three Over the Mountain cities are joining forces again this year to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Patriot Day ceremony, hosted by the cities of Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, will be held at the new Mountain Brook Municipal Complex this year and will include the dedication of the city’s 9/11 memorial.
Mountain Brook Fire Chief Robert Ezekiel said the department applied for the 7-foot piece of steel from the site of the World Trade Center back in 2010.
“The port authorities in New York and New Jersey were placing all these artifacts from the World Trade Center in this huge hangar and decided to make those materials available for memorials,” Ezekiel said. “We heard about it in trade magazines and Chris Mullins researched the criteria, and we took the idea to the city manager.”
From there, the fire department worked with City Manager Sam Gaston and other city officials to send a letter formally requesting a piece of the Twin Towers to use as a 9/11 memorial in Mountain Brook.
“Everyone in the city was very supportive of the idea. A few months after we formally submitted the request, we got word that we would be receiving this huge, 7-foot-long steel H-beam. It weighs 1,305 pounds,” he said.
After the logistics of shipping the huge piece of steel to Mountain Brook were worked out, it was stored at the city’s Public Works Department while the city’s new $15.3 million municipal complex was completed.
“As the new building was being developed, we were thinking about how to integrate the 9/11 memorial into the design, and we talked a lot about how to display it,” Ezekiel said. “We’re firefighters and most of us don’t know a lot about art, so we went to Ellen Elsas and the village design review committee for help.”
Ezekiel said Elsas helped come up with a simple but brilliant way to display the steel beam.
“We decided that we should place the beam vertically so that it stands there, just like a tower. It was such a simple idea that has a lot of impact,” he said.
Once they decided how to use the steel beam, officials needed guidance on where to put it so that it would fit in with the new municipal complex.
“The architect, Bill Williams, suggested a local artist named Shea Scully who does great work with steel and iron,” he said. “So we chartered him to complete the project.”
The bronze base Scully designed for the memorial mimics the structure of the beam and looks almost like an original part of it. The H-beam now sits in a vertical position just outside of the fire department.
Ezekiel said the memorial wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of the city and the generosity of Arthur Henley of the Linn-Henley Charitable Trust.
“The Trust contributed $25,000 toward the memorial display. That allowed it to happen. The city’s support was also tremendous, and it wouldn’t have been possible without that,” he said.
Ezekiel said as a firefighter, he knew the memorial would mean a lot to the department.
“It’s meaningful to me personally because I’m a firefighter, and it reminds me of the 343 people from my profession that died in the line of duty that day,” he said. “But when it was first brought over here from storage, work on the buildings here was still being done, and you would have contractors and sub-contractors and all these workers taking their breaks and crowding around this steel beam. It was amazing to me to see how it is personal to everybody.”
Ezekiel said he watches those passing by the fire department stop and read the marker at the monument.
“They all stop and read the marker that has a great quote that really sums up why this memorial is important. It says ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’ and the memorial gives people a chance to pause and reflect back on that day,” he said.
And that’s what Patriot Day is really all about, Ezekiel said, stopping to remember those who lost their lives on that day in 2001.
“We’re so glad to be able to come together with Homewood and Vestavia Hills to continue this important ceremony,” he said.
Last year’s Patriot Day ceremony was held in Homewood.
At this year’s event, Allan Rice will be the keynote speaker. Rice has been the executive director at the Alabama Fire College since August 2007 and before that was a captain with the Hoover Fire Department.
The Patriot Day ceremony will begin at 8:30 a.m. with “America the Beautiful” to be performed by Jacquelin Barnwell and the Mountain Brook High School Choir.
Mayor Terry Oden will give the welcome and recognize special guests. Boy Scout Troop 63 from Canterbury United Methodist Church will present the colors for the Pledge of Allegiance, and Abrielle Mullins will perform the national anthem.
Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer will recognize those serving in the military.
Ezekiel will lead the World Trade Center memorial dedication, which will be followed by the laying of a wreath by civilians and police, fire and military personnel.
Mountain Brook Fire Department Battalion Chief Stacey Cole will lead the bell ceremony.
After Rice’s keynote address, Oden will give closing comments followed by a prayer by Rev. Stephen W. DeGweck of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.