Mesquite officials raise funds, plan for park to memorialize 9/11

Claire Ballor Dallas Morning News

Mesquite, TX — Fifteen hundred miles away from where the World Trade Center once stood, a mangled 15-foot steel beam sits in Mesquite Fire Station No. 1.

What once was a part of the structure of the fallen twin towers is now one of the many reminders of September 11, 2001, that have been sent across the country.

A beam recovered from the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks is strapped to a trailer near a Mesquite Fire Department fire truck. Photo by Ashluey Landis DMN

A beam recovered from the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks is strapped to a trailer near a Mesquite Fire Department fire truck. Photo by Ashluey Landis DMN

In 2011, the beam made the long journey from New York to Texas. It was acquired by the city of Mesquite from the WTC Artifacts Program through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The program arranged for pieces of the World Trade Center to be sent to cities and municipal agencies for public display.

Since it was acquired, the beam has been housed in the Mesquite fire station awaiting a permanent home, but plans are finally coming together.

The corner of Summit Street and Galloway Avenue next to the Mesquite Arts Center will soon be the grounds for Freedom Park, a multifunctional outdoor space and 9/11 memorial with the beam serving as its gateway.

Cpt. Kelly Turner of Fire Station No. 1, who spearheaded the beam acquisition, said the goal is to have enough funds to open the park by September 2016 for the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Turner emphasized the importance of creating such a space.

“It allows us to have a place to come and reflect … but it also allows us to weave into this an educational aspect,” Turner said.

Turner said that through his daughter, who was only a few months old when the attacks happened, he realized the importance of promoting awareness for younger generations.

“Stories of our history have been passed on to help point us in the direction our country should go,” Turner said. “These stories are a compass toward freedom. And freedom is what holds us together; it is our cornerstone so we have to make sure we never forget what took place that day.”

Kaitlyn Sakry, assistant manager of the Mesquite Arts Center, said that the plan is to create a space where students can go to learn about 9/11.

The memorial will include educational videos and timelines as well as spaces for teachers and students.

Cpt. Doug Preston of Fire Station No. 1 still gets emotional when he looks at the beam and thinks about the 343 firefighters who were killed that day — they were his brothers, he says.

He sees this park as a way to honor those who lost their lives and the beam as a symbol of what must never be forgotten.

“Firefighters were deeply affected that day; it was heart-wrenching,” Preston said. “But it was an attack on freedom. It’s important to teach young people who weren’t alive then about that day and make the whole concept more accessible.”

Sakry said plans for the park include two other components: an amphitheater and a reflective art garden. Sakry said that the amphitheater and garden will complement the memorial by creating a community space dedicated to celebrating freedom of expression.

“The goal for these three elements is to find a unique way to tap into the community,” Sakry said. “This will be a place where people can come and feel connected.”

The amphitheater and reflective garden will be later additions to the memorial park once it is opened in 2016 if funding allows. So far, $36,000 has been raised out of the $100,000 needed to build the memorial. Additional funding will go toward the later additions to the park.

On June 12, a kickoff celebration was held at the park’s future location. Many came to donate and see the beam while joining in on patriotic activities.

Sakry said the event was well attended and demonstrated how involved the community is in this project.

As the primary caretaker for the public parks throughout Mesquite, Special District Park Supervisor Curtis Lloyd said he has no doubt that this park will be a welcome addition to the city.

“Our parks mean a lot to the community. They are always very well attended,” Lloyd said. “We don’t have anything else like this park in Mesquite, and I think it’s needed.”

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