California Memorial May Be Largest Tribute Outside New York

Nearly 1,100 New York City firefighters, police officers and family members will be in Clovis Dec. 8 in what organizers predict could be the largest event outside New York honoring Sept. 11 victims.

A ceremony may draw a crowd of 20,000 or more to memorialize the nearly 400 police officers, firefighters and port authority officers killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, according to officials with Pelco, which is organizing the event. Invitations have been sent to dignitaries ranging from U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England to Gov. Gray Davis.

The public event, dubbed the California Memorial Dedication, is planned from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 8 at Pelco's corporate headquarters in Clovis, just east of Peach Avenue and north of Dakota Avenue.

A memorial to Sept. 11 victims already sits in a concrete island at the company's parking lot, complete with a 100-foot flagpole that needed an overheight exception from the city for it to be erected.

New York Police Lt. Michael Daily, whose office isn't far from where the towers once stood, is helping coordinate officers' attendance. He said it will be a needed relief for those who have endured so much grief.

"Even the horrible can take on a certain level of normalcy," he said. "Sometimes it's nice to get away from that normalcy and get a breath of fresh air."

He said most of the officers who will be attending worked at Ground Zero the day of the attacks -- some barely escaping death when the towers collapsed.

"There are some people who really cheated death. I don't think anyone can comprehend what these guys have been through," he said.

During the ceremony, at least one of the firefighters who was photographed in the well-known picture of them raising a flag at Ground Zero will be on hand to hoist a U.S. flag at the Clovis memorial site.

Organizers said another firefighter or all members of the trio may be able to attend.

The event is the work of David McDonald, Pelco's chief executive officer. The company, one of the world leaders in video security systems, has a plant in Orangeburg, N.Y., about 30 miles from where the World Trade Center once stood.

During the recovery effort, the company's plant was turned into a supply center for the recovery effort and donated equipment, money and other resources.

Pelco cameras were used by rescuers to search for survivors and to secure the scene.

McDonald said he was deeply affected by the event. Just two weeks prior to Sept. 11, he had eaten at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the towers with his children.

He said he wanted to do something to show his gratitude to the city's firefighters and police officers who died in the attack.

"Our company has a long-standing and very involved connection with the city of New York," he said. "We operate a plant just outside of Manhattan. For us it was a time when everybody needed to stand up and be counted.

"This was our small way of wanting to recognize the heroes and have a permanent memorial for the victims."

Organizers said this is the largest memorial event outside of New York.

The New York visitors will arrive at Fresno/Yosemite International Airport Dec. 7, where they will be greeted at a private hangar by California Highway Patrol officers.

Five private jets, all paid for by Pelco, will leave from Newark International Airport that morning.

The visitors will be treated to a private dinner at the Clovis Rodeo Grounds that night by the Clovis police and fire unions.

Clovis Police Cpl. Charlie Maxwell, president of the Clovis Police Officers Association, said he and other officers were humbled by the opportunity to honor them and hear their stories.

He recalled the shock he and fellow officers experienced the morning of Sept. 11.

"We came off shift that morning and sat glued in the locker room and thought, what in the hell is going on here? The towers were on fire and collapsing, planes were crashing down. We just couldn't believe what was happening," Maxwell said.

Clovis Fire Chief Jim Schneider said it will be an opportunity to share the brotherhood that all firefighters feel.

"We're going to be here to greet those people, to be hosts for them when they come to Clovis and show both love and friendship," he said.

He said plans for the event have continued to grow, as more agencies and organizations offer to help.

"It's going to be a big-time event. I feel very fortunate as a fire chief to be associated with this," he said.

Lane Fye, a Pelco spokesman, said security and traffic control will be provided by more than 100 law-enforcement officers from Valley agencies.

Fresno Mayor Alan Autry will emcee the event, which will begin with remarks by Clovis Mayor Jose Flores.

Flores, who is also a Fresno County Sheriff's lieutenant, said it will probably be one of the most significant events in the city's history.

"It's something that is once in a lifetime -- I think for healing purposes a lot of us on this coast need events like this. And we haven't had anything as big as this in the whole region," he said.

The guests of honor will receive another private dinner the night after the ceremony, and will receive gift baskets loaded with various Valley agriculture products before they leave.

The event will feature about 400 empty chairs, each with the names of a police officer, firefighter or port authority officer killed in the attack.

There will also be two fire trucks with the ladders extended to form an arch.

Faye said crossing ladders in that manner is a traditional rite at firefighter funerals.

The event will include performances by local musicians and conclude with a fireworks display.

Police officials said all nearby businesses and residences to Pelco will still be accessible.

Street closures include all of Pelco Way and portions of Peach, Dakota, Pontiac, Lind and Villa avenues. They will be closed from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 8.