Image 1 of 2
Photo: Pete Souza / White House
Image 2 of 2
Photo: Jerry Raia / Flickr
President Barack Obama joined first responders and families of victims of the 9/11 attacks Thursday at a dedication ceremony of a new memorial museum.
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 is still overcome with anger.
“For someone to orchestrate and to kill 3,000 innocent people in the span of three or four hours…you can’t put it into words,” Hess says.
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 3A colon cancer in 2007. Had surgery, and then did 6 months of chemo, and they have now determined that my cancer is attributed to my exposure at Ground Zero,” Hess says. “So I’m not only a rescuer, but 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 that went into that building, knowing that there was probably a good chance they weren’t going to come out of it,” Hess says. “But they did it anyway. That’s what we do as firefighters. We put our lives on the line for other people.
But they made the ultimate sacrifice. And so 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 that died that day, but Indiana’s role in the rescue and recovery efforts,” Hess says.
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.
“And he actually faces directly back to New York City,” Hess says. “So he’s always looking back, as if, ‘I’ve never left, I’m 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,” Hess says. “You know, it’s still very poignant with a lot of people. But I think he sees a nation that has rebounded and has come full circle and has not let the evil guys 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.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum officially opens to the public next week.