It’s been more than two years since four steel beams, recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, were ceremoniously delivered to Prince William County for a planned addition to Freedom Park, the memorial dedicated to war veterans and those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The vision was to incorporate the beams into the McCoart building memorial, which honors the 22 Prince William County residents killed on 9/11 with a reflecting pool shaped like the Pentagon, two fountains representing the twin towers and a Pennsylvania flagstone to honor those killed on Flight 93.
Members of the Board of County Supervisors asked residents for plans and suggestions for the expanded memorial. Board Chairman Corey Stewart, who traveled to New York with a team of county officials to select Prince William’s 9/11 artifacts back in 2011, had said he wanted the 22-foot beams to be placed so they’d be visible from Prince William Parkway.
But those grand plans crashed sidelong into the reality of two tight budget years, and the beams have remained “in storage,” which really means they’ve been lying very unceremoniously under a tarp on the grounds of the Prince William Public Safety Academy.
That has to change – and soon, said Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, who has begun pushing her fellow supervisors to do something with the beams prior to the next anniversary of 9/11, even if they can’t afford a fancy new addition to the memorial.
To leave the beams where they are much longer is simply too “disrespectful,” Caddigan said.
“We’ve just procrastinated for too long,” Caddigan said. “We need to get them out and get them up.”
Supervisors took the first step toward moving forward with the memorial recently when they approved a motion to spend $200,000 in county contingency funds to pay to clean up and treat the beams to withstand outdoor elements.
The vote was not on the agenda but was approved unanimously – with Stewart, R-At Large, and Supervisor Pete Candland, R- Gainesville, absent.
Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, said he supports spending the money to clean up and protect the beams but noted that funds for an addition to the memorial should come from private donations.
“I think this is something that needs to be an ongoing community effort,” he said.
Caddigan noted that she had recently received an encouraging letter from Jonathan Zarkauskas, president of the Prince William County Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association, offering to help get the beams off the training area and on display.
“At their current location (Prince William Public Safety Academy grounds), police officers and firefighters have had to conduct training exercises while these memorials lay disrespectfully under a tarp adjacent to training areas for all to see,” Zarkauskas wrote.
“Members of the Prince William County chapter and other civic associations in the county would proudly volunteer their services to find these memorials a more fitting resting place.”
Caddigan, a native of New Jersey who traveled to New York with Stewart and other county officials to select the beams from several items being preserved by the Port Authority, said she regrets the beams have been in storage for so long, especially since former county Supervisor John Stirrup worked hard to make sure Prince William was one of a limited number of localities to claim an artifact from the World Trade Center towers.
One Prince William County resident, volunteer firefighter Jeff Simpson, was killed in the World Trade Center attack. Simpson just happened to be in New York on 9/11 and responded to the call for help. According to news reports, he was seen helping evacuate people from the buildings, and his body was found in the wreckage.
Caddigan said the letter proved that county citizens, especially members of the public safety community, would likely be willing to help with the memorial once they find out the county is moving forward with getting the beams erected in Freedom Plaza.
“This is part of our history and this is a way that we will never forget what happened,” Caddigan said. “The beams are not pretty, but neither was September 11.”