Tribute to 9/11 workers takes shape in granite country
BARRE, Vt. (AP) — A memorial paying homage to thousands of rescue and recovery workers who labored in the ruins of the World Trade Center is taking shape in Vermont, where workers are chipping at and chiseling slabs of granite that will be installed this spring at the national Sept. 11 memorial.
The new area with a path flanked by stone monoliths will also honor those sickened or who died from exposure to toxins after the towers fell.
One of the six monoliths weighing between 15 and 17.5 tons (13,600 to 16,300 kilograms) was nearly complete last week at the Rock of Ages granite manufacturing company in Barre, Vermont, a small community that has a long history of quarrying and stonecutting and dubs itself the granite capital of the world.
The Associated Press last week was given access to the work in progress. In a vast industrial building, workers fine-tuned the first rough-hewn triangular monolith measuring 8 by 12 feet (2.4 by 3.6 meters). It's composed of sloping layers of thick granite slabs that resemble a rock bed more than 3 feet (1 meter) tall at one end. One worker used a torch to finish the surface, while officials from New York's Sept. 11 memorial watched in the dusty, loud space.
A stonecutter swung a sledgehammer onto the head of a maul held by another stonecutter to chop pieces off another large slab of granite for the next monolith. Large chunks of speckled rock fell to the dusty floor.
"It's a great honor for me to do this for them," stonecutter and fellow firefighter Andy Hebert said of the ground zero first responders. A badge remembering Sept. 11 hangs in his work space.
Granite from Canada was chosen because of the size of blocks available and because its greenish hue would play off the paving of the memorial plaza, architect Michael Arad said.
Steel salvaged from the original World Trade Center will be incorporated into the stone structures.
The new memorial is estimated to cost about $5 million and is being paid for by a variety of sources, including New York state, fundraising and private donations. It's expected to be dedicated May 30.
The work comes as advocates for 9/11 rescue and recovery workers step up efforts to get Congress to extend a compensation program for people who developed illnesses after getting exposed to dust from the fallen towers.
Nearly 40,000 people have applied to the federal fund for people with illnesses potentially related to being at the site. More than $4.8 billion in benefits have been awarded so far.
The program, though, is set to expire at the end of 2020. After that, people who develop new illnesses would be ineligible.
"Things like the 9/11 Museum making this monument to people injured by the toxins at the World Trade Center shows that the nation has accepted this," said Ben Chevat, executive director of 9/11 Health Watch, an organization pressing for the program to be extended. "We had to struggle to get attention for years. Now, there is an acceptance in Congress and the wider community."
Michael O'Connell, who worked at ground zero as a New York City firefighter, retired from the department in 2009 at age 33 after he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an immune system disorder that causes lumps in the lungs, skin, lymph nodes or other places.
The new section of the monument is "extremely important" to first responders and everyone who worked at ground zero, he said.
"To know that there's acknowledgement of those men and women that have passed and that are still sick and dying is a tremendous win for us," he said.
So many people took heroic actions on that day, the weeks and months that followed, he said.
"Our motto is 'Never forget,'" O'Connell said. "And a place like that shows that we will never forget."