By Marty Finley Paducah Sun
FORT KNOX — A foam fire truck, battered from the wreckage of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, joined the General George Patton Museum of Leadership’s collection last fall. The facility has adopted it as a perpetual symbol of heroism and hope in the midst of chaos.
Housed on the Pentagon heliport, Foam 161 was several yards from the massive concrete building when terrorists crashed a commercial airliner into it. The truck will headline an elaborate exhibit under development that will serve as a part of the museum’s ongoing revamp into a repository of history told through themes of leadership.
The exhibit is the brainchild of the Patton Museum Foundation in conjunction with defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, which plans to bring in three firefighters — Alan Wallace, Dennis Young and Mark Skipper — who responded to the Pentagon aboard the truck.
Russ Gold, a lead associate with Booz Allen Hamilton and vice chairman of the Patton Museum Foundation, said the company will pay each man’s travel expenses to Fort Knox and they will be welcomed as heroes upon their visit to Hardin County.
The trip will correspond with the 12th anniversary of the attacks and lead into the Patriot Day ceremony at Fort Knox on September 11. The truck will be introduced and the firefighters will be honored during the ceremony, according to coordinator Richard Frymire.
One of the most unusual and interesting aspects of the Pentagon attack is how first responders came to the rescue of the military — a sight seldom seen, Gold said. He believes the impact of the firefighters’ stories and the repercussions of what the damaged truck symbolizes could attract attention to the Patton Museum far outside of Hardin County.
“We want to make this national-level,” Gold said. “This is not local. This is not a local thing.”
Wallace now lives in the Columbus, Ohio, area while Young resides in Gerrardstown W.Va., according to Gold. Both men are retired. Skipper, meanwhile, is an active firefighter in the Memphis, Tenn., area, said Greg Lowe who also is a member of the Patton Museum Foundation.
Gold envisions an intimate moment shortly after their arrival in Kentucky when the three men will be given a personal viewing of the truck, which could stir emotions after years separated from the vehicle.
The exhibit itself still is months from completion and will cost roughly $300,000 to construct, Gold said. About $15,000 has been obtained to complete the blueprint from Virginia-based Explus Inc. This working document would be presented to potential donors as organizers ratchet up fundraising efforts, he said.
Kelly Barron, executive director of the Radcliff-Fort Knox Convention & Tourism Commission, said she believes her agency would support the effort financially where possible.
The cost will pay for what Gold described as a highly professional recreation of the Pentagon crash scene, complete with rubble and a gaping hole visitors would pass through to see the damaged truck. There also are plans for a movie theater inside the exhibit displaying information about the attacks. Instead of comfortable theater seating, the screen would be placed inside a heavily damaged Pentagon office replica as a jarring reminder.
Booz Allen Hamilton also intends to continue the trend of augmented reality by recording the three men telling their stories in uniform at the truck, which could be replicated digitally for museum visitors. The technology already is being used throughout the museum and augments real-world environments with computer-generated sound, video, graphics or GPS data.
Gold said 9/11 was a defining moment because most people can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the attacks. Likewise, the brutal circumstances of the deaths stand out as stark reminders of the tragedy.
“People were disintegrated,” Gold said. “They’re gone.”
Organizers want to arrange a caravan parade for September 10 to present the three firefighters and the truck to the community before it comes to rest inside the museum.
The group is considering a route that will travel through Elizabethtown and Radcliff along U.S. 31W.
The truck is nonfunctional — part of the metal cage that houses the engine was melted and twisted and a tire was flattened by the heat of the fire – so it will be hauled along a flatbed truck. The foundation has restored parts of the truck and cleared graffiti left behind by vandals, he said.
The goal for organizers is to create a line of area first responders falling into the parade party from a staging area along the route. The community will be encouraged to stand along the roadway to show support.
Once arriving on post, Gold said he wants the firefighters and the truck to be greeted by a welcoming party that could include local school children, offering a ready-made educational moment.
“This will be a real test to see if the community can come together for this,” Gold said.