By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — While municipalities and organizations across the country desperately attempted to acquire the limited number of steel sections left over from the wreckage of the World Trade Center attacks,, North Tonawanda just obtained its second piece.
An I-beam less than a foot in length is now planted inside city hall for a permanent memorial created by North Tonawanda’s Ascension Industries, an engineering and design company in the city.
Construction on a second, larger memorial is set to begin this summer outside the North Tonawanda Fire Department.
The most recent concept began a bit more serendipitously last year, when John Zaleski, 89, a World War II veteran, approached the company with the idea.
Zaleski had just been given the piece of the Twin Towers by his grandson, who worked on a monument for the nearly completed One World Trade Center, previously called the Freedom Tower, in New York City, where the names of the 2,938 individuals who died in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001 are etched into plaques.
Zaleski said he wanted to create a local tribute to those who serve in North Tonawanda’s police and fire departments in the city he’s lived in since 1958.
Ascension’s vice president, Wayne Wawrzyniec, said he immediately embraced the idea after being approached by Zaleski and began forming several concepts with two of his employees. He also approached the city to hash out a formal plan for a memorial.
“All of the guys did this on their own time,” Wawrzyniec said of his employees. “It had many components, three or four different evolutions.”
After a year of work from two of the company’s craftsmen, the monument was put in place on Wednesday in the lobby of City Hall, where a steel figure representing the One World Trade Center is set on top of a wooden pedestal with two pillars, signifying the Twin Towers. Two badges characterizing the sacrifices of North Tonawanda police and fire members are attached as well, along with an ode to those who perished on 9/11, which was written by Zaleski.
The city also installed its own twist into the memorial. Above it hangs a 44-star American flag dating back to the 1800s in North Tonawanda and recently found in the city’s vault. The flag is encased in glass and now hangs atop the memorial.
“It was donated in the city, it flew over the village of NT, when NT was a village,” said Mayor Rob Ortt. “It’s a pretty moving, pretty awe-inspiring memorial. It’s a heck of a statement when you come into city hall. We now have two pieces of the World Trade Center, which obviously means a lot. It binds North Tonawanda to those victims and their families and it adds a lot to city hall.”
Construction on the memorial planned for the fire department will kick off this summer, as city officials hope to have it complete before the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Two North Tonawanda High School students created the winning design for the memorial last year.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 41115.