As someone with a soft spot for symbolism, I was thrilled to meet Lynn Oliver.
One of the many participants in Columbia County's 9/11 memorial observance at the Justice Center in Evans, Oliver, still teary-eyed, introduced herself afterward to talk about a plan for acquiring a solid reminder of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Literally. She wants to get a big chunk of steel from the salvaged wreckage of the World Trade Center and have it brought to Columbia County, where it would be erected as a memorial.
Oliver and her husband, James Herrmann, have already been there and done that. The couple moved to Evans from Durham, Penn. - a town "in the flight path" of those hijacked planes, Oliver says - where they worked with the local historical society to secure an artifact from the Twin Towers.
The three-foot-tall, 500-pound piece of steel is now a monument in Durham's town square, where it was delivered in the back of a pickup truck that carried it from New York.
And now Oliver and Herrmann want to repeat the effort here in their new home.
It's certainly doable. Oliver provides a copy of a recent New York Times story, which points out that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the custodians of the nearly 2,000 pieces of steel salvaged from the wreckage, has become more friendly to requests for artifacts.
In fact, the agency isn't just granting requests for pieces of the building; it's inviting those requests from around the country. The Ports Authority won't give the pieces to individuals; the requests are granted only to local or state governments or organizations.
Prompted by an e-mail from Herrmann, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle has already reached out to officials in New York to see what it would take for our community to become one of the permanent homes for a piece of the iconic wreckage.
The biggest hurdle likely is cost: Though the Ports Authority gives away the pieces, transportation is at the expense of the recipient. Whittle said he was told most of the smaller pieces already have been given away, so the remaining steel pieces are far too heavy for a pickup.
Donations, then, probably would be needed to pay for a big flatbed truck or tractor-trailer to haul a piece of the Twin Towers to Columbia County. And then we'd have to figure out how and where to set it up, though the county's Memorial Gardens would be an obvious first choice, though the grounds of the Justice Center or the Evans Town Center Park might also be in the competition.
I'm guessing if everything falls into place, the county makes a formal request and the Ports Authority gives the OK, we wouldn't have any problem raising the money required for shipping, or even getting volunteers - obviously, with a vehicle larger than a pickup - to drive up to New York and bring the artifact back.
Then just imagine the symbolism. I could envision a motorcycle escort, at least part of the way, from the American Legion Riders, along with a local convoy from emergency responders: Columbia County Sheriff's Office, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, Gold Cross EMS, Columbia County Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia State Patrol.
And at the end of the trip, Columbia County would have a visible reminder of the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, and a symbol of our resilient and united response in the aftermath.
We really should do this. As Todd Beamer famously said before giving his own life to help bring down United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Penn., to prevent hijackers from crashing that plane into Congress: "Let's roll."
If you like the sound of this idea and want to participate in any way, send me a note. I'll keep a list of those who are interested and pass it along to the appropriate recipients when the time comes.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com.)
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