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Sept. 11: Venice Memorial Is 'Testament To Who We Are'

A new Sept. 11 memorial at Patriots Park in Venice is not just for those living in south county.

A new Sept. 11 memorial dedicated in Venice Tuesday is something for the world to see — and especially Sarasota.

The 14-foot, 4,000-plus pound steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center is located at Patriots Park, 800 Venetia Bay Blvd., Venice, and is a symbol of remembrance of which all of Sarasota County can be proud. So far, all 74 Navy Seals who were killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001, have their names inscribed on the memorial.

“It was incredible how it unfolded once the beam arrived here in Sarasota County,” said Gene Sweeney, chairman of Salt of the Earth USA, which spearheaded the efforts for the memorial. “This will never be our last remembrance, though. This is intended to remind visitors to the memorial of the impact of 9/11 on our citizens.”

The organization behind it, Salt of the Earth USA, is reaching out to families and friends of 9/11 victims and first responders so that they can have their loved ones’ names engraved on the granite walls or paver bricks at the memorial. 

The group is also suggesting that organizations such as the American Legion, VFW Post, Marine Corps League and other civic organizations throughout the state find out who the fallen military heroes are from their area so that they can help sponsor their names being inscribed on the memorial as well. Those looking to add a name or sponsor can receive more information at www.saltoftheearthusa.org.

Three area families in particular were hit especially hard that day, and the names of the loved ones they lost are inscribed in the granite of the 9/11 Memorial.  

Bryan Bill, a Navy Seal whose parents live in Sarasota, was killed last August in Afghanistan, has his name on the monument, Sweeney said.

“Sean Hanley was fourth generation FDNY and a first responder on 9/11,” Sweeney said. “He was on the job and was in tower two when it collapsed. His parents live in Venice.”

Patrick Murphy, whose parents also live in Venice, lost his life inside one of the towers.

Emotional, pride-filled speeches highlighted the ceremony, and the umbrella of patriotism extended to the skies, as a bald eagle circled overhead for the first hour.

The group at the center of the efforts, Salt of the Earth USA, is a consulting firm whose mission is to research issues that impact the lives of American citizens. To achieve that mission, they try to educate the public about a wide variety of economic, social, and constitutional affairs. The $68,000 project received $34,000 in funding from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, according to the foundation.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Sweeney talked about the memorial project and how it came about over a period of three years.

Sweeney also said that Venice Mayor John Holic and the Venice City Council members were instrumental in helping to bring the beam to Sarasota County. Holic echoed what many people in the audience of hundreds were feeling.

“There are days and dates that are going to live in our hearts forever,” he said. “Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, is a date that continues to impact our lives like no other day in history. We will not forget—we must not forget.”

Sept. 11 was just an ordinary fall day until terrorists began to rain horror on America at 8:46 a.m on that day in 2001. Those old enough at the time have no problem remembering exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first began to hear the news about the attacks.

Percy Berry, who was at the ceremony, was a fire chief in his New Jersey hometown on that fateful day.

“I was at home watching TV and cleaning out my garage,” he said. “I got a call from the chief of police. We were on standby for three days, because the plan was to close down the Garden State Parkway.”

Danny Hoop said he was out on a fishing boat in Lake Erie when he saw fighter jets flying overhead. Once he made it back to shore and found out what had happened, he realized the jets were around because of nearby nuclear power plants.

During the ceremony, guest speakers were escorted to the stage by students from Venice Middle School’s Young Marines, an education and service program that strives to embody the character and values of the Marines. 

Another large group in attendance was Enforcers MC, a motorcycle club consisting mostly of current or retired law enforcement or armed forces members. Charles Alfano is the president of the Sarasota chapter. He said that at the time of the 9/11 tragedy, he was working at the Ulster County (NY) Sheriff’s Office. Their office sent a crisis intervention team into New York City and they ended up staying there for ten months.

“It was a horrific event and anyone who has seen it will never forget it,” he said.

“Today is a somber occasion and we take it very seriously,” Alfano continued. “We work very hard to represent the biking community in a positive way.”

On a day when emotions ran high and voices cracked in remembrance of those lost, Venice Chief of Police Tom McNulty reminded those in attendance of the resilience of the American people.

“This steel beam is a testament to who we are and what we stand for as a country,” he said. “Standing together as one, divided by none, makes us who we are—Americans”

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