They were the women and men who spent more than eight months spearheading rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, and they have long garnered the greatest honor and respect.
Soon, the efforts of the first responders, iron and construction workers, and others who rescued and reclaimed the site — an endeavor which cost many their lives — will receive a lasting memorial.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum announced Tuesday that it would create an permanent, outdoor dedication to those workers. It’s not yet clear exaclty what form the "commemorative space and walkway" will take.
Dring an event to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the end of Ground Zero salvage efforts Tuesday, some of those who were on the frontline of these efforts said the installation should offer a personal insight into their work.
“It should show that there were people who came down there out of their own heart. They weren’t in it for the money or anything else. They wanted to help,” said James Gaffney, 58, a member of Ironworkers Local 40 from New Jersey, one of many volunteers who helped clear out the debris.
Other volunteers, elected officials and activists, like former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, added that a physical tribute to the workers would encourage assistance to those suffering health problems related to their time at the site.
“I want them to remember there were more victims than just on that day,” said Mary Perillo, a Downtown Manhattan resident of 34 years, who does communications work for the nonprofit 9/11 Environmental Action.
The dedication will be located in the Memorial Glade, the green area that occupies the southwest corner of the eight-acre site. The memorial’s architects, Michael Arad and Peter Walker, will design it.
The 9/11 Museum has artifacts and exhibits dedicated to the salvage workers, who came from all over the country, but officials spoke of the need for a tribute in the most prominent and visible possible location on the site.
“This tribute will be a poignant reminder of the selflessness and courage of our first responders, who embody the best values of New Yorkers, and ensure that their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
The museum said it will ask for design feedback from the workers and first responders, their families, the lower Manhattan community and other parties.
Retired Port Authority Det. Tom McHale, who worked at the site for three months after the attacks and has a medical condition related to his time at the site, said it should definitely include the names of all the individuals who devoted their time and efforts to help with the excavation operations.
Many of them were not members of any first-response team or even from the New York area, he said, and a permanent acknowledgment would preserve their sacrifice for all time.
“It has to be personal,” McHale said.
Perillo, who helped serve food to the rescue workers during their nearly nine months at the site, added that the installation should also acknowledge the downtown residents and business owners who also did their part to help clear out the site.
“We fought for a proper cleanup, we fought to come home,” she said.