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Valley 9/11 memorials feature attack artifacts

Sam Swoger, chairman of the Mahoning County 9/11 Memorial Committee, spreads fresh mulch around two twin granite pillars in preparation for the township’s Sept. 11 memorial service. Swoger said he has been at the Mahoning Valley 9/11 Memorial Park on South Raccoon Road, across from Austintown Fitch High School, almost every day for the past month getting it prepared for the 9 a.m. service Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the attacks. Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne

If you go

• Austintown — Memorial service 9 a.m. Saturday at the Mahoning Valley 9/11 Memorial Park on South Raccoon Road. The service will feature speakers from Austintown police and fire departments and another representing the U.S. military.

• Vienna –Memorial service 10 a.m. Saturday at the memorial display at the fire station on state Route 193. Guest speakers and members of the fire department will share their stories.

As communities across the nation prepare this week to have ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, local events in Austintown and Vienna will occur at special memorial displays.

In Vienna, two beams from one of the Twin Towers are outside in front of the fire department. Inside there is other 9/11 memorabilia, including a bald eagle urn — donated by Briceland Funeral Home in Brookfield — with soil from the ground in Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed that day.

Fire Chief Richard Brannon said in 2009, one of the firefighters told him about an online list that included a letter from the 9/11 families in conjunction with the New York / New Jersey Port Authority, seeking nonprofit organizations interested in artifacts from the World Trade Center.

“I wrote a letter to them saying that we are a small nonprofit rural fire department. A couple of months later, I received a letter that we were in the running for items and more information would be forthcoming. It was a two-year process of emails and phone calls back and forth. We finally received word we would be getting two 8-foot beams,” Brannon said.

He said he wrote a letter to Vienna businesses about plans to build a memorial, asking if they wanted to contribute any money with a brick in their name on the memorial walkway. Businesses and residents donated nearly $7,000.

Brannon noted that Vienna donated $750 to Austintown Township to help with its 9/11 memorial park. In return, Austintown gave the dirt for the eagle urn to Vienna.

The Austintown 9/11 memorial, too, features steel beams from the twin towers, pieces of the Pentagon and dirt from Shanksville.

Its memorial is the product of many years of hard work from the late Patrick Connolly, who died earlier this year. The memorial was dedicated in 2007 and is considered Connolly’s “most proud endeavor.”

“Pat was the driving force behind the memorial,” township Trustee Jim Davis said.

Until his death, Davis said Connolly was constantly maintaining the area around the memorial.

“He was there seven days a week, 365 days a year, and he could tell you if something was out of place. There was nothing he missed,” Davis said.

NEW YORK JOURNEY

Brannon said the Vienna firefighters learned they had to go to New York and transport the beams themselves back to Trumbull County. He said he isn’t sure from which tower the beams came.

Brannon, Mike Hagood and John Hienly drove in Hagood’s pickup truck to New York in July 2011. They had a special credit card from Cortland Bank that covered transportation costs and gas.

Former township trustee Jeff Dreves helped the department get insurance for the beams.

“He asked me what the beams were worth — and I said they are priceless,” Brannon said.

The beams were at one of the John F. Kennedy Airport hangars.

“It still seems unbelievable that we were able to get this from New York City. People still today comment that this is unbelievable that Vienna got the beams,” Brannon said.

He said officials with Starr Manufacturing offered to help clean up and install the beams and King Brothers donated the cement for the display. Staff at Executive Landscaping donated time to work on the display.

In addition to the beams, there is an eagle statue from Cobblestone Corners.

“I wanted an eagle out there because it is patriotic,” Brannon said.

There are also pictures, news articles and other items in the display cabinet.

Brannon said Bazetta Township also has a four-foot beam etched in concrete at its new fire station.

A ceremony has been held at the Vienna 9/11 memorial each year since 2011, with a small private one in 2020 due to the pandemic.

REMEMBERING THE DAY

Brannon said he remembers being at Millwood Inc. in Vienna when people’s pagers kept going off and informed them a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The pagers went off a second time when the next plane hit the other tower.

“One of them told me we are under attack,” Brannon said.

He said the nearby air base was getting its C-130 planes off the ground.

Firefighter Matt Byknish said he remembers one large passenger plane flying low over the area and then quickly turning around. “I saw it but was not sure which plane it was,” he said.

But an episode had begun 35,000 feet above nearby Howland Township as terrorists seized the cockpit of Flight 93. Traveling from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, Flight 93 had just crossed over state Route 11 near state Route 82 when the aircraft made an unexpected drop in altitude.

Some of these details were pulled from Flight 93 GPS coordinates.

It was 9:28 a.m. and the Boeing 757 with 37 passengers and seven crew aboard dropped from 34,997 feet to 34,947 feet. Six seconds after that, as the plane traveled above Warren, one of the pilots gave the first obvious indication that Flight 93 had become the fourth of four hijacked flights that day.

Thirty-five seconds later, as the plane was likely heading through western Trumbull County, the plane had dropped close to 700 feet in altitude. By this time, two other hijacked aircraft had already crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. It would be only 36 minutes from the Howland event until Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, killing all aboard.

Firefighter John Williamson, who was working as a dispatcher at the Trumbull 911 center that day, said he remembers calling Brannon telling him to go the Youngstown Warren Regional Airport because nine commercial airlines were being landed to clear the skies.

Williamson said he was working Sept. 11 and “the day was very emotional” but to know the memorial display is in Vienna honors those who gave their lives that day.

Byknish said as far as the local displays, “It is an honor to have them here.”

Vienna Trustee Heidi Brown said people “have been in awe that our community has this. This special display reminds everyone to remember those who gave their lives 20 years ago. We are honored that Vienna has this.”

bcoupland@tribtoday.com

Staff writer Nathanael Hawthorne contributed to this story.

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