September 11, 2001. It is a date that we mark and remember every September—one that always triggers a somber memory. Most Americans over the age of 25 remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that fateful morning. The memories of that day are dark and filled with grief. Since that morning the United States has transitioned into a post-9/11 normal, but no one has ever forgotten the events that took place that day 19 years ago.
Nine Hoosiers lost their lives that day, including Lieutenant General Timothy J. Maude—the highest ranking United States military official killed in the terrorist attacks and the highest-ranking officer to die by the actions of a foreign enemy since U.S. Army Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., who was killed during the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945 during World War II. While we remember those who lost their lives that day and the fearless efforts of our first responders in the days and weeks that followed 9/11, it is important to note that since that day, more than 5,000 U.S. military service members have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the War on Terror.
And it is for all of them—those who died on 9/11, the first responders who ran toward danger, and the 5,000-plus military service members who lost their lives during the War on Terror—that we are expanding the Indiana 9/11 Memorial. Located along the canal in downtown Indianapolis, it consists of two 11,000 pound steel beams from the World Trade Center, which are placed strategically in the center of the memorial, representing Tower One and Tower Two. It also includes granite monuments with inscriptions detailing the timeline of the tragic events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. And perched majestically atop one of the beams is a life-size sculpture of an American Bald Eagle with wings outstretched to represent the American spirit and resolve. The eagle’s gaze is cast east towards New York, Washington, D.C. and the crash site of Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Indianapolis sits hundreds of miles west of the 9/11 locations. So how did Indianapolis end up with a 9/11 Memorial that includes two pieces from Ground Zero? That is thanks to the tireless work and dedication of Greg Hess, an Indianapolis native and member of Indiana Task Force 1, who labored for eight days alongside other first responders in Lower Manhattan just days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. In 2010, Hess learned that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was accepting petitions for artifacts from Ground Zero for local communities interested in establishing monuments. With the support of civic leaders, Hess launched Project 9/11 Indianapolis to help the city secure the two steel beams that would soon stand at the center of the Indiana 9/11 Memorial.
On April 9, 2011, the beams—safeguarded from a steady rain by an American flag draped carefully over the steel edge—made their way to Indianapolis. The final leg of the journey began in Dayton, OH where the Murat Shrine Police Club Motorcycle Drill Team (The Beam Team) met Greg Hess, the beams, and 40+ fire trucks and ambulances to escort them to meet up with the Indiana State Police to travel into Richmond, IN where a brief ceremony was held. The journey continued with the Indiana State Police leading the procession with the beams and over 11,000 motorcycles in a very cool spring rain to Indianapolis. When the beams arrived at the steps of the Indiana War Memorial some motorcycles still had not left Richmond, IN. A brief service was conducted on Michigan Street in front of the Indiana War Memorial as thousands looked on and touched the beams.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 21, 2011, on the site that would soon become the permanent home of the Indiana 9/11 Memorial. The memorial was completed and dedicated on September 11, 2011—the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The ceremony honored the sacrifices of those who perished that day, as well as all of the first responders. Additionally, we recognized those whose efforts helped establish the Indiana 9/11 Memorial. The ceremony ended with the “Never Forget 9/11 Motorcycle Ride” that included the ringing of the bell and a wreath-laying—still a tradition every 9/11.
A visit to the Indiana 9/11 Memorial is emotional for many of us. The two steel beams are placed in the center where visitors can walk between and even touch them. It is sobering to be able to stand among actual debris from Ground Zero. The memorial stands as a timeless reminder for those generations who remember and, perhaps more importantly, the generations to come. Indiana will never forget the events of that day that changed our country forever.
We plan to complete the 9/11 Memorial with an expansion in 2021. The expansion will include a “Never Forget” wall, a stone from the Pentagon and a military monument to honor the more than 5,000 U.S. military service members who have lost their lives in the War on Terror. The memorial will be rededicated on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. If you are interested in learning more or contributing to the expansion, visit https://indiana911memorial.org/expansion. You can also make a donation by texting #NeverForget to (317) 659-8413.