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Councilmember recalls search for 9/11 memorial

Pieces of the World Trade Center make up part of the 9/11 memorial near the Amtrak station in downtown Martinez. (DONNA BETH WEILENMAN / Martinez Tribune)
Pieces of the World Trade Center make up part of the 9/11 memorial near the Amtrak station in downtown Martinez. (DONNA BETH WEILENMAN / Martinez Tribune)

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

Those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks 14 years ago will be remembered at 8 a.m. today in a flag-raising ceremony at Martinez’s own 9/11 Memorial that contains steel girders from the World Trade Center.

Mayor Rob Schroder and Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal will speak, and the Martinez Police Department Honor Guard will raise the flag to half staff.

The pieces of girders that frame this city’s memorial wouldn’t be here except for Joe DiMaggio, Vice Mayor Mark Ross said.

About three months after the tragedy, Ross began making calls hoping that he could secure a piece of “Ground Zero” for Martinez.

This was before everything had a web page, Ross said, so he followed leads by telephone.

“I didn’t know anyone in New York,” he said, recalling the quest. “I couldn’t find anything.”

Few could give him any direction, even if they did give doubtful encouragement. “Everywhere I turned, they’d say, ‘Good luck,’” he said.

But Ross persisted. Finally, in April 2002, he reached the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Agency. An employee said, “Call Maureen,” and gave him the number to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s office.

Maureen, whose last name Ross doesn’t remember, gave him chilling news.

The program through which pieces of the World Trade Center were being offered would end in three days, and it would be impossible for Martinez to get any of the remaining pieces.

Ross suddenly was inspired to play the only “New York” card he had. He told her Martinez is the birthplace of the New York Yankee legend “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio.

That hit a nerve.

Maureen had just received a picture of her baseball hero, DiMaggio, with former mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. That picture was sitting on her desk. Unfortunately, neither the Office of the New York Mayor nor the administrators of the 9/11 Memorial could provide Maureen’s last name.

However, Maureen provided guidance so Ross and Martinez could obtain two pieces of girder from the World Trade Center.

Ross reached out to New York firefighters, who were able to select the pieces in person and hold onto them while Captain Darin Peterson of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District flew to New York to arrange for their shipping to Martinez by Viking Free Lines, a trucking company.

“If it weren’t for Joe DiMaggio, this would not have happened,” Ross said.

The two pieces arrived in Martinez and were taken to City Hall by fire truck where the packages were opened in a formal ceremony, Ross recalled.

“That’s the first time I saw – and the town saw – them,” Ross said. “We all got to touch them.”

But it would take two more years before those two pieces would go on display, he said. Various designs for a memorial were proposed, but ultimately, the city chose the display suggested by City Engineer Tim Tucker.

The Martinez Maintenance Division completed the memorial construction (at the Martinez Amtrak Station directly under the station’s flagpole) in time for a Sept. 11, 2006, dedication. The flag’s base has an inscription crediting the City of Martinez as well as Contra Costa County Firefighters’ Union 1230 and dedicating the memorial as a remembrance of “the innocent people who perished in the events of Sept. 11, 2001,” not only at the World Trade Center but also at the Pentagon in Washington and during the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers ended the hijackers’ attempt to fly that plane into another target.

Ross called the memorial and the acquisition of the two pieces of girder “a team effort” on behalf of people in Martinez and New York City.

“People are touched by it,” Ross said of the display. When he hears from residents and visitors who stop by the memorial, he said, “They don’t say a lot. But they express their feelings about the solemnity and respect for that day in history. And to be able to touch it is very moving.”

The Martinez Police Department Honor Guard will lead the flag raising ceremony at 8 a.m. today (Friday, Sept. 11) in remembrance of the police officers, firefighters and civilians who died in the terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001, said Renee Jacobs, Martinez Police Department administrative secretary.

The memorial is next to the Martinez Chamber of Commerce office at the Amtrak Station, 601 Marina Vista Ave., Martinez.

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