November 10, 2013

Veterans memorial in Pawnee County includes piece of World Trade Center

One of the newest veterans memorials in Kansas features a piece of metal recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

One of the newest veterans memorials in Kansas features a piece of metal recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Granite benches and walls – and bricks with veterans’ names – eventually will surround the Larned memorial, which is still being put together, said Terry Harris, one of the board members who helped oversee work on the Pawnee County All Veterans Memorial.

So far, the project has cost $100,000 and taken five years – remarkable in the sense that it has been raised through private donations in a rural county of about 7,000 residents. It will include the names of area veterans from conflicts dating back to the Civil War.

“With Fort Larned nearby, there is a rich history here,” Harris said. “You have to remember that several of those guys were once buried at the fort, exhumed and transferred to the military cemetery at Fort Larned. We still want to recognize them here in Pawnee County as well.”

Fort Larned, about 130 miles northwest of Wichita, is considered one of the best-preserved frontier Indian posts in the American West. Several thousand soldiers were stationed at the fort during its 19-year operation, from 1859 – two years before Kansas became a state – to 1878. During its life, the fort’s main duty was to preserve the peace among travelers along the Santa Fe Trail, new settlers and American Indians.

Harris said he wanted to honor the fort’s original soldiers along with ones from more recent eras.

The idea for the memorial began shortly after a tornado hit Greensburg, Kan., in 2007. While volunteering to help with cleanup, Harris met and became acquainted with Charlie Vitchers, lead construction superintendent for the ground zero recovery and cleanup efforts after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

Not long after Greensburg, Harris asked about acquiring a piece of the 9/11 wreckage for a memorial. He soon received the twisted piece of metal. It was taken from a perimeter column from between the 34th and 35th floors of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. A torched cutout cross from the column was first given to one of the family members who had lost a loved one.

A committee in Larned was formed to build the memorial. The city of Larned donated land on the western edge of the city at Doerr-Vernon Park, off U.S. 156.

“We’ve collected over 3,500 names of people who will be honored once we get this in place, and we will always have room to add more,” Harris said. “We believe that people may not always realize the sacrifice involved, especially out here in western Kansas. There are no military bases around here. But I grew up on a base and watched my friends’ fathers and my own dad go off to war. It was quite a sacrifice. … We are hoping this will be a place of serenity where families can go and, if for nothing else, sit in peace.”

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