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Chatham County 9-11 memorial plans announced at tribute ceremony

Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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Silk Hope, NC - An overflow crowd of about 350 attended Chatham County’s 10th Anniversary Tribute to 9-11 Victims & First Responders on Sept. 11, 2011 at Joy Baptist Church near Silk Hope. The event offered moving reflections by people directly involved in 9-11.

Organizers also announced that the county’s donated steel beam from the World Trade Center will find a permanent, privately funded home in a memorial about four miles west of Pittsboro off of US 64.

Several speakers directly involved in the 9-11 tragedy shared their personal reflections on the event. Joe Dittmar, who now resides in Chatham County, survived a meeting on the 105th floor of the South Tower, which was hit by the second jetliner. His memories of the faces of first providers going up the stairs of the tower as others were fleeing downward brought many attendees to tears.

Dittmar lauded the courageous work of first responders in the room. “They put their lives on the line many times to keep us safe. I salute each of them for being the ones that go into danger and not away from it.”

Peggy Willliams from Pittsboro, who now lives in Sparta, worked at Ground Zero alongside her husband as a Red Cross volunteer for several weeks, serving meals to rescue workers. “During that period, the Red Cross served more than 14 million meals. This is just one example of just how much had to be done, often in unbelievable conditions.”

A retired New York Police Department officer, Robert Young, paid tribute to several of his colleagues who died on 9-11. “We must remember that many suffer today or have died from the dangerous conditions at the rescue site. Having the right equipment is critical in an event like this.”

Fire Marshal Tom Bender recognized all of the first responder organizations in the county. “We often do not get to meet these folks unless there is an emergency. So please take the time today to talk with these outstanding men and women. A large number of firefighters and rescuers do this work as unpaid volunteers.”

The Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard presented the colors and dedicated a wreath in honor of those who died. Their ceremony also featured members of the Sheriff’s Office performing the National Anthem, Amazing Grace and Taps.

Siler City Fire Chief Scott Murphy and his son, firefighter Daniel Murphy, rang a bell after a moment of silence. The ringing the bell three times represents a long-standing firefighter tradition to honor deceased members.

Commissioner Pam Stewart, who presided at the tribute, said, “It was important that we identify a permanent location for the memorial that is central to our county and offers easy access to the citizens of Chatham County and others throughout the region, state and country.”

She said that it also must be a place of beauty, tranquility and peace. “To accomplish this we began working with Pat O’Neal of Chatham Development Corporation to form a partnership to ensure that the final results are befitting the honor and dignity that is deserved.”

O’Neal’s company is developing Bethany Memorial Gardens & Cemetery, a 500-acre parcel slated to become a unique combination of family cemetery and gardens. It will have family heritage burial sites, including websites to archive each family's history and legacy, as well as walking trails, reflection areas, a chapel and gathering places for families. The land for the proposed 9-11 and First Responders Memorial would be donated to the county.

During and after the tribute, O’Neal provided drawings and information on Bethany Memorial Gardens & Cemetery. “We originally had planned a housing development, but I think divine intervention led us down a different and better path. We are still working on our financing, but we hope to have that resolved soon to get the project underway. We are honored to be part of this endeavor.”

“The memorial would be enclosed and have enough space for us to tell the story of 9-11 and the work of first responders to future generations,” said Don Lein, president of the Chatham Parks Foundation. “The steel beam represents a compelling story and lessons for school children. We must make sure the memorial accomplishes that goal.”

Lein, who will be in charge of raising funds for the memorial, said that many local residents have connections to 9-11 and have offered an array of artifacts for permanent display, including several exhibited at the tribute. “Each of these pieces is a part of the 9-11 story. They also demonstrate the important work of first responders.”

Lein invites anyone interested in helping with fundraising to contact him at or call 919-542-4790.

The event also featured several presentations:

  • Sheriff Richard Webster presented a plaque from the Chatham Parks Foundation and the event Planning Committee to Chatham County to commemorate the event. Commissioner Chairman Brian Bock accepted the plaque, which will be placed in the permanent memorial.
  • Sgt. Robert Correa, Sr., from the US Army Reserve Corps headquarters in Fort Bragg presented a special certificate to Bennett Chief Michael Brady, who is president of the Chatham Firemen's Association.
  • Chief Brady also presented a flag to Bonlee volunteer firefighter Jody Allen, who donated his truck and time to bring the donated World Trade Center beam from Kennedy International Airport to Chatham County. The flag had been displayed on the truck’s trailer when the steel beam toured the county in March 2011.
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