Many miles; same Americans

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Salem tributes 9/11 with World Trade Center memorial

The American Flag was raised to half-staff during Friday's 9/11 Memorial dedication ceremony. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
The American Flag was raised to half-staff during Friday’s 9/11 Memorial dedication ceremony. Photos by Kelsey Bartlett.
Salem’s newly relocated 9/11 Memorial stood stark against a blue sky Friday morning as it was officially dedicated at its new home in front of Fire Station No. 1, the only location that seemed appropriate, according to Salem officials.

“The first responders of the City of Salem serve this community with the same conviction and effectiveness each and every day,” said Salem Mayor Randy Foley. “It is they who lost comrades that day. It is they who ceremoniously honor their colleagues on this date each year. It is they who watch over the city. Frankly, it is their memorial.”

Foley opened the ceremony as hundreds of people, including many first responders, gathered at 11 a.m. to pay their respects to those who lost their lives or their loved ones 14 years ago during the deadliest terrorist attack to ever occur on American soil. The American Flag was raised to half-staff.

“Quite simply, Sept. 11, 2001 wounded and shocked our nation in a way we had not known since Pearl Harbor,” Foley said. “In bringing down the World Trade Center, damaging the Pentagon, and downing an airliner in a Pennsylvania field, the day ranks as the most devastating in our nation’s history.”

The memorial, composed of two World Trade Center beams from the North Tower, is no stranger to Salem. Since 2003, up until this summer, it stood at Old Virginia Brick on West Main Street, where former company chairman Fletcher Smoak thought it would stay.

Fletcher Smoak, the former chairman of Old Virginia Brick, spoke at the ceremony.
Fletcher Smoak, the former chairman of Old Virginia Brick, spoke at the ceremony.

“We’d always wanted to have a flag in front of our brick plant,” Smoak said. “The company had been there about 100 years.”

The attack resonated deeply with Fletcher, who served in the army. Through a stroke of luck, he was able to arrange the purchase of what he thought were high beams from the World Trade Center.

Smoak didn’t realize that the beams that would arrive at the brick yard would not be high beams, but beams that weighed over 14,000 pounds and had ran from the 36th to the 38th floor of the North Tower. He said they were still covered in ash upon arrival, and window brackets were still attached.

Old Virginia Brick was sold, and the memorial’s fate went up in the air, which garnered national outcry for fear that it would be auctioned off.

“When the company was going to be sold off in pieces, I found out the auction company was going to auction this beam off. The whole thing,” Smoak said. “Somehow the ‘New York Herald’ got in touch with me, and the writer was very upset about the fact that this beam was going to be taken down.”

The uproar that ensued caused the auction company to change its mind, and the donation was made to the City of Salem.

The city plans to have a plaza around the memorial completed by next year in honor of the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11. Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess spoke last, and said the monument still needs the Support of the entire Roanoke Valley to build a plaza deserving of the memorial to serve as an honorable place for the reflection of its context.

Standing in front of the fire station, Boggess pointed out the direction and number of miles between the building and World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the field in Shanksville, Penn. Between the three locations, nearly 3,100 people lost their lives that day.

Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess invited the public to touch the steel memorial.
Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess invited the public to touch the steel memorial.

“It was very important to the committee and to city council that we put this monument in a place where the public can reach out and touch it,” Boggess said. “It was very important to us that you be able to feel that connection to the steel and what the monument represents.”

As the ceremony drew to a close, the community made its way to the front to place hands on a piece of history.