NewsPublic Affairs / May 15, 2014

9/11 Memorial Opening Hits Close To Indy

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Sam Klemet
9/11 Memorial Opening Hits Close To Indy

President Barack Obama joined first responders and families of victims of the 9/11 attacks Thursday at a dedication ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum, which officially opens to the public next week.

The event had a particular impact for one local firefighter.

Greg Hess was part of Indiana Task Force One, which was one of the earliest to respond to ground zero after the 2001 terrorists' attacks on the World Trade Center.

He says he thinks of the scene every day, and still is overcome with anger.

"For someone to orchestrate and to kill 3,000 innocent people in a span of about three or four hours, you can't put it into words," he said.

The Task Force spent more than a week helping in the rescue and recovery and it almost cost Hess his life.

"I was diagnosed with stage three A colon cancer in 2007, had surgery, and then did six months of chemo," he said.  "They have now determined that my cancer is attributed to my exposure to ground zero.   So, now I'm not only a rescuer, I'm a victim."

Hess’ cancer is now in remission.  His life has been saved, but he wanted to honor the thousands of 9/11 victims who weren’t so lucky.

"Those firefighters and police officers and medical personnel went into that building knowing that there was probably a good chance that they weren't going to come out of it.  But, they did it anyway," he said.  "That's what we do as firefighters.  We put our lives on the line for other people.  But, they made the ultimate sacrifice, as did 2,700 other people."

So, in 2010, Hess came up with an idea to put together a 9/11 memorial in Indianapolis.

"When I came home I thought, 'we need to immortalize not only the people who died that day, but Indiana's role in the rescue and recovery efforts," said Hess.

Hess spearheaded an effort to construct the Indianapolis memorial, by petitioning to get two steel beams that fell when the Trade Center towers collapsed from the Ports Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Fourteen months later, the beams were erected by the downtown canal.

Weighing a combined 35,000 pounds, the beams are surrounded by seven trees which represent the seven buildings of the World Trade Center, benches that replicate the ones at the World Trade Center, and atop the taller of the two beams sits a 400 pound, bronze, life size sculpture of an eagle – the symbol of American Freedom.

"He actually faces directly back to New York City," said Hess.  "So, he's always looking back as if I've never left.  I'm always looking back."

And with the unveiling of the new memorial museum in New York, Hess says what the eagle sees today is resilience. 

"I think he sees a lot of pride.  He sees some sorrow - a lot of sorrow," he said.  "But, I think he sees a nation that has rebounded and has come full circle and has not let the evil guy get us down."

And Hess hopes Indianapolis can be part of the new museum.

He has sent pictures of the memorial near the canal to New York for use in a book highlighting memorial sites across the country.