As fire departments around the U.S. prepare to mark the third anniversary of the September 11th attacks, one department - though far from New York - has once again laid out an especially awing and unique tribute to the FDNY firefighters who gave their lives that day.
The Garland, Texas Fire Department has laid out 346 crosses that they personally made, one for each firefighter killed on Sept 11, 2001, including the three retired firefighters. The crosses are spread across an acre of land next to Station #7, and each one bears a nameplate with the name of a firefighter killed that day and his assignment.
The memorial, called "A Cross for a Brother," will be up this year from September 8th at 12 p.m. to September 14th at 5 p.m.
The idea and the labor for the memorial came from the firefighters of the A-shift at Station #7, led by Aron Saffell. The Garland firefighters first erected the memorial for the first 9/11 anniversary in 2002, and added the nameplates for the second anniversary in 2003. The memorial also included one large wooden cross that bore all of the names.
This year they have improved the memorial once again, by replacing the large wooden cross with a cross made of rusty I-beams, that has "FDNY 343" written on it with letters cut from gleaming diamondplate. This cross has been permanently set in the ground with concrete and landscaping.
"It's more stunning to me than what I thought it would be," Saffell said. "That diamondplate shines when there's light on it, it's gorgeous."
Saffell said the I-beam cross was inspired by the memorial at Ground Zero. He said the department has received wonderful feedback on the memorial from firefighters around the country, including FDNY firefighters, and some family members and colleagues of the fallen heroes. "That means the whole world to me," he said.
As Garland Fire Department PIO Capt. Jeff Tokar explained to Firehouse.com last year, the firefighters built and painted the wooden crosses with materials donated by the Home Depot and purchased from their own pockets.
Each year the firefighters put forth great care in laying the crosses out, which they do over several days. Tokar said they start with a grid made of string so that they can space the crosses perfectly, in a tribute reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery.
"They put a lot of heart into it," Tokar said last year. He said passersby and visitors can come to view the memorial any time during the week it is available.
Tokar said it is fitting that the Garland firefighters put so much effort and heart into remembering 9/11. "It's just something we never need to forget," he said. "This is a different kind of war, not just on foreign shores, and it affects everybody, especially first responders."
Tokar said that in addition to remembering the sacrifice of those who died on 9/11, the memorial serves as a reminder to firefighters that they need to be on guard for future attacks, and that like the FDNY firefighters who died on 9/11, they must continue to serve no matter what the conditions.
Garland Fire Station #7 is located at 2545 Naaman School Rd. in Garland Texas 75040.