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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Friday, July 08, 2011

How the Navy Helped Honor Construction Workers at Ground Zero

Jack Kemp

In my research for a possible second documentary movie by Island Metro Productions, I came across this story in a book called "Nine Months at Ground Zero" by Glenn Stout, Charles Vitchers and Robert Gray.

Ground Zero cleanup efforts were coming to an end in New York City in late May of 2002. The huge Pile had been taken down to the bedrock level six stories underground and ceremonies were planned to honor those construction workers (heavy machinery drivers, carpenters, iron workers, etc.) who had labored there12 hour shift days. Those shifts included constantly stopping their work for the removal of entire or partial human remains, often involving a Fire Department or Police Honor Guard consisting of men (from the same unit an as identifiable person had served in) that carried a flag draped body to an ambulance at street level.

The leadership of the construction efforts had arranged a ceremony on May 28th, 2002, where the construction workers would march up the ramp (actually a temporary bridge modified for Ground Zero) with a Police and Fire Department honor guard saluting them at 7 pm. Many of those workers had moved on to other construction jobs but would come back for the ceremony.

But it was Fleet Week in New York, and Captain Armstrong of the visiting USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship, had gotten wind of this event and had arranged a meeting near Ground Zero at the Marriott hotel on Albany and West Street to discuss how the Navy could help. Terry Sullivan, a Bovis construction firm official asked if the Navy could help fold 2,000 flags to be given out. Captain Armstrong said he would have no problem getting volunteers for that. When Capt. Armstrong was asked if he could possibly supply a few sailors as an Honor Guard at the ceremony, he cautiously said that since his crew was on liberty in New York, he thought he could maybe supply 50 sailors and Marines. When time came for the ceremony, 150 men from the crew of the USS Iwo Jima had volunteered to salute the construction workers and their efforts over nine tireless months.

The construction company managers/organizers thought it was very import to have this private ceremony otherwise the workers would have felt cheated and not recognized. People saw their fellow workers with combed hair and clean nails for the first time. "Some cried and some laughed."

That night 150 seamen who could have been making the rounds of bars and restaurants on Broadway on their own time instead chose to go to Ground Zero to show there support for the local crane and grapler operators, carpenters, iron workers and others who cleared Ground Zero. To say that is the Spirit of America seems corny to a New Yorker such as myself - but also the only way to truly describe what happened the night of May 28, 2002.

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