When artist Bruce Bitter drives from his home in Hoisington to Wichita, he passes through Lyons, Sterling, Yoder and other towns. In each one, he said he sees a symbol of patriotism.
"I've seen the American flag flying ... and it was flying before, during, and after the 9/11 tragedy," he said.
So when Transportation Security Administration at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport asked him to build a sculpture that incorporated an I-beam from the World Trade Center, Bitter knew he wanted to incorporate a flag into the design, he said. He decided on one with nine stars and 11 stripes to represent 9/11.
Wichita will be the first air terminal in the country to display a World Trade Center artifact, said Brad Christopher, assistant director of airports at Wichita Airport Authority.
"The presence of this piece should cause us all to reflect on a sad but important period in our country's history," he said.
The Kansas TSA started trying to get a World Trade Center artifact in 2007. They had no idea where to start, said Keith Osborn, Kansas TSA federal security director.
Eventually, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York transferred ownership of the I-beam to TSA. It arrived in Wichita in 2009. Then the TSA looked for an artist who could build a piece of art using the beam.
About six weeks ago, TSA learned of B&B Metal Arts in Hoisington, owned by Bruce and Brent Bitter. Bruce Bitter has developed a rendering of the memorial. An hourglass section supports a 2-foot portion of the I-beam, which weighs 220 pounds. Above the artifact, a stainless steel eagle carries the beam in its talons — an image that symbolizes carrying the burden of 9/11 into the future, Bitter said.
"We're going to keep going on, just as the eagle flies onward," he said.
Behind the eagle, a medallion incorporates the flag and the Twin Towers. Bitter will use a torch to add different hues to the stainless steel.
The airport plans to display the sculpture by a wall near its center doors.
B&B Metal Arts plans to cut the I-beam into seven pieces to display in the other Kansas TSA operations at Liberal, Dodge City, Garden City, Great Bend, Hays and Manhattan, in addition to Wichita.
Bitter will create smaller displays for the other airports with the beam, and he plans to make a different eagle for each location, Osborn said.
The TSA did not have to pay for the I-beam, but paid for its transportation to Wichita. Bitter is volunteering his time and labor and plans to seek 10 to 20 cooperating sponsors at each airport to pay for the materials.
"It's not work," he said. "It's the fun of doing this."
Bitter said he will start creating the sculptures in the middle of July. He plans to finish them in time to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this fall.
"I haven't forgotten," he said. "I know the country hasn't forgotten."