Gone, but never forgotten. This Rockford memorial recognizes far more than the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. It also pays tribute to the emergency responders in Winnebago County who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.
Always remember and never forget.
That’s the message Will Pederson, district chief of the Rockford Fire Department, had in mind when he oversaw the creation of the 9/11 Emergency Responders Memorial, located at the corner of West State Street and Kilburn Avenue in Rockford.
The memorial, located outside the Winnebago County public safety building, is designed to remember those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, while also honoring emergency responders of Winnebago County who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
“It’s hard to keep those people in our thoughts for much longer than a few months after the fact,” says Pederson, also president of the memorial’s board. “We want to remember 9/11 and the emergency responders we’ve lost in the line of duty.”
The project got off the ground in 2009 when Pederson saw a website about steel beams from the World Trade Center, in New York City, being released for public use.
“We got approved for the beams after a year of letters and phone calls,” Pederson says. “One of the criteria of having the steel beams is you had to prove and show you’d build a memorial that’s free and has public access.”
After several years of fundraising and presentations, the board raised the $600,000 needed for the memorial. It was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2016 – 15 years after nearly 3,000 people, including 411 emergency responders, lost their lives in the terrorist attack.
“The steel beams gave us traction, but fundraising was the real process because it took five solid years to get all the money in place just to build what you see down there,” Pederson says. “It took a long time for us to explain what we were doing and why this matters.”
Pederson and fellow board member Kyle Hill traveled to New York and brought two beams to Rockford on March 26, 2011. Each steel beam is 7 feet long, 25 inches tall and 1,000 pounds.
The memorial features three statues: a police officer, a firefighter and a paramedic.
The police officer, donned in a Winnebago Co. Sheriff’s Department uniform, is wearing badge No. 60, the number of police officers killed on 9/11. The firefighter, wearing Rockford Fire Department gear, has No. 343 on his helmet, the number of firefighters killed. The paramedic is carrying bag No. 8, the number of medics who were killed.
The statues, facing the steel beams from the World Trade Center, stand on top of a pentagonal platform – a nod to those who lost their lives when the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., was attacked on 9/11. To the east of the statues is a brick walkway that people can purchase and dedicate to loved ones. Forty of the bricks are covered with a large star to symbolize the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who lost their lives on 9/11.
Overlooking the bricks are 25 black, rectangular plaques, each with the name of a Winnebago County first responder who lost their life in service. On Oct. 13, 2018, a new plaque will be dedicated to Rockford police officer Jaimie Cox, who was killed in the line of duty last fall.
“When people visit the memorial, they leave flowers on the beams,” says Alanna Conard, the board secretary. “They also have tears in their eyes, and they’re thankful for it.”
The memorial board, which includes Brian Carlson and Rob Labak, has teamed up with Rock Valley College to provide a $350 scholarship to students pursuing a degree in law enforcement, fire science or emergency medical services. The first scholarship will be handed out during the annual Sept. 11 ceremony.
Pederson is proud of the project and encourages people to visit. There’s no charge to see the memorial.
“You may not be able to go out to New York to see their memorial, but you can visit our memorial right here in Rockford,” he says.