Dedication Ceremony For 9/11 Memorial Glade Honoring Those Sickened By Toxins At Ground Zero

May 30, 2019 - 2:03 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Seventeen years to the day that the clean-up at the World Trade Center site was completed, a section of the 9/11 Memorial is being dedicated to the responders involved in that effort.

On May 30, 2002 the final steel column from the original World Trade Center was put on the back of a flatbed truck. It was covered with a flag and made its way up a 500 foot ramp that went from the pit up to the street.  The moment marked the end of the cleanup, which saw 1.8 million tons of debris removed from the site. 

But for many of the thousands of workers who toiled at the site, it was the beginning of sicknesses. 

The 9/11 Memorial Glade, which pays tribute to those rescue and recovery workers, is an opening among small, white oak trees. It's flanked by six stone monoliths, ranging from 13 to 18 tons, that are inlaid with World Trade Center steel and point to the heavens. The monoliths symbolize the strength and determination of those who have been sickened or who have died of 9/11-related illnesses.

"What I was hoping these monoliths would convey is the character of the people who came here in the aftermath of the attack and inspired our nation and worked here for nine long months in incredibly difficult conditions," architect Michael Arad. "I think their strength and their perseverance, I hope these monoliths convey that. I wanted to create a place that would honor that group of people and everyone who has been affected by 9/11 illnesses. When we opened the memorial in 2011 I don't think we were as cognizant of the ongoing, horrific toll of 9/11 illnesses and the memorial did not acknowledge that group of people.

At the dedication ceremony Thursday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the new memorial glade "helps us fulfill our duty'' to those who were sickened or died after responding to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"They showed the world what is possible when people work together with a common purpose and like the heroes that we lost on 9/11 their selfless acts provided light that helped guide us through our darkest hours and they allowed our city to rise again," Bloomberg told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb after the ceremony. "They truly are heroes."

Jennifer McNamara and her 12-year-old son, Jack, installed some of the final cobblestones in the 9/11 Memorial Glade.

Her husband, John, was a firefighter who died of colon cancer at age 44. 

"It was very peaceful and I could kind of feel peaceful John there with us as we were putting the bricks done," McNamara said. "It just seems so fitting and so right to have a memorial there and I think for Jack it makes him feel that much more a part of that family."

Sarcoidosis forced Michael O'Connell to retire from the FDNY when he was 34. He says this is recognition the responders deserve. 

"I'm thrilled with the memorial Glade," O'Connell said. "It gives a meaning to what they did. They went down there on Sept. 11 and the months that followed to do whatever they could do."

Rob Serra had his first day with the FDNY on Sept. 11, 2001. The 39-year-old father of three retired because of a series of 9/11-related illnesses.

"It's wonderful that the memorial is recognizing the sacrifices made from all the first responders not just the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice that day," said Serra, who has been fighting for the renewal of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. "We've lost 191 FDNY firefighters to a 9/11 illness and we have over 2,000 battling at least one 9/11 cancer right now."

Allison Blais, the chief strategy officer for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, says the Glade honors the tens of thousands of people who have been sickened from exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero.