Earl Johnson said there was little panic in the stairwell in the North Tower of the World Trade Center as people helped each other down the packed escape route and through the horror that followed American Airlines Flight 11’s crash into the iconic tower.
“[I] just focused on the step in front of me and then to take them one at a time,” said the Poulsbo resident.
Johnson was at work on the 54th floor when the first plan hit at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.
“I’m one of the very lucky ones,” he said, referring to 2,997 souls that perished in the buildings and in the aftermath of the attacks. At the end of that horrible day, Johnson got to go home, be a dad and have a second chance at life.
Standing before a collection of local firemen, public officials and a large contingent of American veterans’ motorcycle organizations gathered Tuesday evening to honor the 11th anniversary of 9/11 in Bremerton’s Evergreen Rotary Park, Johnson pointed behind him to the site of the future $300,000 Kitsap 9/11 Memorial and asked the community to give money, time or services to help build it.
“There are so many people involved in this. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world,” he said. “We need you.”
Yet, after the event, three donations jars positioned strategically near reminders of the attack, sat moslty empty.
Johnson’s speech was one of several that included the presentation of the Colors, remarks by Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and Monroe Washington resident and United Airlines pilot Larry McDonough. The hourlong remembrance also included a performance of “God Bless America” by the Kitsap Cordsmen.
McDonough spoke of the changes to the airline industry following the attacks and of a fellow pilot he knew that was killed when the 19 terrorists executed the Al Qaeda planned attack. He spoke in honor of the 33 airline industry professionals that died that day.
Speaking before delivering a prayer, Mike “Poet” Carroll, National Chaplain Combat Veterans International, said that efforts to memorialize the first responders’ selfless efforts to save those they could, such as the Kitsap 9/11 Memorial, help keep their memories alive. The real heroes in America are not movie stars and athletes but rather the nation’s first responders, such as Bremerton’s “Trooper Tony” and the four Lakewood police officers gunned down in a coffee shop in 2010, he said.
“We will never forget,” Carroll said. “Life is precious and freedom isn’t free, it’s expensive.”
Speaking of the planned memorial to be built, Lent described the arrival of the two steel beams that Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue acquired from the collapsed towers and read a locally written poem commemorating their arrival in a tattered flag before she stepped aside for Johnson.
Since the beam’s arrival, the memorial committee has raised more than $140,000 and recently said they have $80,000 remaining in the bank for the project that is required as part of the conditions of CKFR’s receipt of the beams. Now two years behind schedule, an estimated additional $300,000 in work to prepare the site for the memorial is needed and remains largely unfunded.
City leaders have promised to not spend public money on the memorial, which was approved by the city council unanimously without plans or cost estimates.
Opening the 11th anniversary ceremony and speaking for the Kitsap 9/11 Memorial Committee, Corrine Beach announced that work would soon begin to prepare the site with grading work and seeding.
“We will begin to build the memorial,” Beach said.
City Councilmember Greg Wheeler later explained that the work Beach referred to was part of an agreement with the Department of Ecology to clean up industrial contamination at the memorial site, which was formerly known as the Chevron Property. The DOE required that the city cap the site, and the grading and seeding counts, he said.
Money to pay for the work largely comes from the DOE cleanup grant, but does require the city to pay 10 percent. Wheeler said the memorial committee is going to pay the city’s portion in a deal worked out between the memorial committee, Lent and the Department of Public Works that he described as a shining example of public private partnership.
“It gets them started and fulfills our responsibility,” Wheeler said. “It’s a great tribute to first responders.”