ROCKFORD — A piece of American history was installed today in downtown Rockford.
Two steel beams from the World Trade Center’s twin towers were welded to the Winnebago County 9/11 Emergency Responders Memorial on the southeast corner of West State Street and Kilburn Avenue. More than 100 residents, fire and police officials, and dignitaries gathered to mark the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attack.
“That moment in time may have been the first time that our country witnessed just what firefighters and police officers and medical workers are willing to do when they’re faced with insurmountable challenges,” Will Pederson, president of the memorial board, told the crowd.
Six flags — U.S., state, county, EMS, fire and police — were raised, then lowered to half-staff, to commemorate the tragedy. The memorial board acquired the warped and rusty beams after a “long and tedious process” that began in 2009, Pederson said.
He reached out to the Families of Sept. 11 Foundation. The 1,000-pound beams were provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and delivered to Winnebago County on March 26, 2011. For the past four years, the beams have been on display at various events or stored in the basement at the Criminal Justice Center.
“We were at a point where the memorial was ready to receive the steel beams and we were able to put them in place on 9/11,” Pederson said. “We thought that was great symbolism. We wanted to make that happen today and make the memorial open to the public.”
The beams were tack welded in place before the ceremony. After all the reflection and speeches from law enforcement and county officials, the crowd gathered around the beams to watch as a group from Division 5 Metals and Ironworkers Union Local 498 secured the beams in place.
One of the welders, Matthew Hippman of Rockford, said he was “nervous” to be welding such priceless historic artifacts, but it was a fitting gesture for him. Sept. 11 “was the reason I joined the Marines in 2007.”
The beams are set on a pentagon shape, with 40 stars on a nearby brick walkway — one for each person on United Airlines Flight 93 that was crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Joyce McLevige of Machesney Park attended the dedication because she “just wanted to remember all the people who gave their lives on 9/11.”
“This is a good memorial,” the recent Rockford Fire Department retiree said. “It will help people remember what happened that day and what they can do to help people today, and to support our fire and police officers.”
Plans for the 15th anniversary of the attacks include the addition of plaques to honor 28 county emergency responders who have died in the line of duty. Three will be displayed to honor REACT pilot Andrew Olesen and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis, whose helicopter crashed amid bad weather in December 2012. They had been en route to Mendota Community Hospital to pick up a critically ill patient.
“I know his name will be on there one day,” Olesen’s widow, Patricia, said at the dedication. “I’m looking forward to seeing it.”