By Andy Polhamus South Jersey Times/Gloucester County Times
MANTUA TWP. — The chunk of stone sitting in the back of the police car was inscribed with a serial number.
The first character, B, indicates its position in the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001. The block, which was transported from Washington, D.C., to Mantua on Thursday, will join a piece of steel from the World Trade Center at the township’s Place of Reflection in Chestnut Branch Park.
“I was honored to be part of it,” said Mantua Police Lt. Jeff Ferry, who picked up the stone from the Pentagon early Thursday morning before driving it to Mantua. “I jumped at the chance to do it.”
Mantua’s Place of Reflection will soon be expanded to include all the sites of that day’s attacks. A small clearing has been set aside to represent the site of the crash in Shanksville, Pa., and the 200-pound piece of rubble from the Pentagon will have its own place near the fragment of the World Trade Center.
“Every time you think of 9/11, the first thing you think of is, what, New York,” said Ferry. “The people in the Pentagon are just as important.”
Steve Sayman, a retired police officer who now runs an organization dedicated to building a September 11 memorial in Philadelphia, was a first responder to Ground Zero in New York. He helped bring the Pentagon block to Mantua. Sayman has been plagued by severe health problems for more than a decade as a result of his exposure to the airborne pollutants released by the fallen buildings.
The bombings in Boston this spring were a startling reminder for the public about the reality of terrorism, Sayman said.
“There’s been a new spark in the public mind,” he said. “We still have to keep our guard up.”
As the years go by, fewer and fewer artifacts from what Ferry called “one of the biggest crime scenes in history” are available to municipalities looking to add to a small town memorial. Municipal governments must submit a letter of request, which is then forwarded to the Department of Defense for review.
Sayman said that, soon, there will be no artifacts left to give out.
“They don’t let any Joe Schmoe have it,” Sayman said.
The memorial in the park includes the names of the three Gloucester County residents killed in the attacks: John Rodak of Mantua; Nicholas Brandemarti of West Deptford; and Perry Thompson of Monroe Township, all of whom died at the World Trade Center.
“Year after year, they’re thinking how to make a tribute,” said Joyce Rodak, the widow of John Rodak’s. “Not only to those who lost their lives, but to future generations — to make sure that people really never forget.”
Taking the somber edge off delivery of the artifact, township officials focused on the impact the memorial would have on future visitors to the park. Officials hope to have all three sections of the memorial completed by this year’s annual September 11 anniversary observance.
“This is going to be here longer than I’m here,” Lt. Ferry said of the stone. “When we’re all in our 70s, this will still be sitting here. Grade school kids will learn about it.”