California 9-11 Memorial Prepares for 20th Anniversary

The California 9-11 Memorial has new additions to the memorial for the 20th anniversary of 9-11. Photo shown was taken during 2019 California 9-11 Memorial ceremony. (Photo by Ron Sundquist)

This year, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary since the 9-11 terrorist attacks that left the whole country in shock.

September 11, 2001 was the day Islamist terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, executed a series of attacks against the United States.

One of the four planned attacks, Flight 93, was not successful thanks to the courageous civilians that took back control of the aircraft before they could pursue the planned destination.

The death toll was over 3,000 people over the span of the four plane attacks, including 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers trying to save others trapped inside the Twin Towers.

In 2009, eight years after the attacks, Congress named September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The Clovis 9-11 memorial site, also known as the “California 9-11 Memorial,” was established in 2002 by David McDonald who was the CEO of Pelco, a security and surveillance company.

David McDonald had a vision for the memorial because he felt it was the “appropriate thing to do,” after the attacks.

In December 2001, David McDonald invited many survivors of the 9-11 attacks to the memorial site to pay tribute to the sacrifices they made for the country.

“1,100 New York police officers and firefighters got on a plane and landed in Fresno to be treated like rockstars,” said Andy Isolano, a retired fire prevention officer and 9/11 survivor.

The event they experienced on September 11, 2002 included a dance, medals, and parades.

“There’s nothing this community couldn’t do for us,” said Isolano.

Even through the selling of McDonald’s business Pelco to the French company Schneider Electric in 2007, the people of Clovis vowed to protect and maintain the California 9-11 Memorial and helped it blossom into what it is today.

It is successful as a non-profit because of the California 9-11 Board of Directors that was established in 2019, as well as having assistance from the businesses and people in Clovis, volunteers and donors, and support from surrounding communities.

“The purpose of the Board is to facilitate and complement the efforts of the 9-11 memorial and the team that has been assembled,” said Lorenzo Rios, Chief Executive Officer for the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

The City of Clovis teamed up with Cook Land Development and extended the memorial site in 2019.

The memorial is “absolutely incredible for the community, and it was time to take it to the next level,” said Todd Cook, partner in the Cook Land Company.

This expansion plan included replicas of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon at a 1/100th scale, with names of military and first responders etched in the stone, as well as limited edition bronze statues of first responders, and storyboards that are set around the memorial that are full of facts and information about the attacks.

Every part of the memorial holds its own symbolic reference to the attacks.

The bronze statues signify the five members of Ladder Company five. They were the first firefighter responders who arrived at the scene, as they were located right across from the Twin Towers, and all perished during the attacks.

Another symbolic aspect created by civil engineers who developed a design that casts a shadow on the Pentagon where the plane impacted. This shadow is a result from light being cast on the bronze statues at the time of the first attack, 8:46 a.m.

This year’s 20th anniversary ceremony will include some never before seen events such as the unveiling of a couple new statues, a Flight 93 memorial, and the planting of the Survivor Tree.

The new statue is a replica of police officer Moira Smith who was a member of NYPD and had lost her life assisting and rescuing victims stuck in the Twin Towers. Her family has accepted the invitation and will be attending to witness the unveiling.

Another statue is the Wounded Warrior statue which symbolizes the veterans wounded in the attack.

As for the Flight 93 memorial, The Cook Land Company had to spend a lot of time working out the details on how to create a replica of the plane in a respectful way. They chose to create a statue made up of aircraft materials.

The organizers went as far as to install sleeves in the concrete sidewalks and plan to line the sidewalks leading to the memorial with hundreds of American flags.

“[The ceremony] will be a sight to behold,” said Cook.

From 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. the ceremony gives appreciation to first responders who were injured or gave their life to help save others during the terrorist attacks.

At the beginning of the memorial ceremony, at 8:46 a.m, the first 911 call plays on the speaker.

“The first 911 call, [at 8:46 a.m.] is incredibly moving and very powerful,” said Anna Borgeas, who is the Executive Director of California 9-11 memorial, “it takes somebody back to that day.”

From 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. the ceremony announces the winner of One Voice ‘Spirit of 9/12.’

One Voice is an educational component of the ceremony where the organizers partnered with the Fresno County office of Education and the superintendent of schools to bring forward a competition for students to submit arts and/or poetry that discusses how America came together on 9-12.

There are about 120 submissions and only two are chosen; One for art and one for poetry. The winners, who are announced at the event, will go with chaperones and selected family members to New York City in September to visit the Ground Zero Memorial.

Outside of Ground Zero, this memorial is one, if not the biggest, memorial site for 9-11.

“It’s not a small thing, it’s one of the biggest in the country,” said Cook.

The reason they built this memorial in Clovis was because of the close relationships the city  has with New York and the terrorist attacks.

One specific example is Todd Beamer. He was a standout baseball player for Fresno State.

However, many people know him as the man who said “are you ready, okay, let’s roll” on a voicemail to his wife before a small group of civilians stormed into the cockpit on Flight 93.

There was also a man named Otis Tolbert who played football for Fresno State. He lost his life during the pentagon attack. His family still resides here in Fresno county.

Another connection Clovis has to 9-11 is with Pelco who had offices in the Trade Center during the attack.

According to multiple sources like Todd Cook and Anna Borgeas, the memorial and ceremony’s purpose is to ‘Never Forget’ and to ‘Honor, Educate, and Remember.’

To honor those who gave and lost their life, to educate younger generations with first hand experience and teach them the magnitude of how savage these attacks were, and to remember the shock and sorrow of the outright unexpected attacks.

“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America,” said President George W. Bush in his televised address from the Oval Office in 2001.

This foundation Bush speaks about is patriotism and unity within the country. As a result of the attacks, something remarkable happened. The American people chose to come together, setting aside their differences, and instead choosing to provide comfort and support.

The California 9-11 Memorial Ceremony is held at 3500 Never Forget Lane in Clovis, and officially begins at 8:46 a.m. to signify the start of the attacks.

“It’s very powerful and somber, yet an honor filled ceremony” said Cook.

The ceremony and memorial itself is so influential today with everything happening in Afghanistan.

“Right after 9-11 the United States embarked on a mission, ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, to deny any safe haven to terrorists, that’s what started the war in Afghanistan” said Rios, who is also a U.S. Army Veteran.

With the kind of actions that have been occurring in Afghanistan recently, it is important to remember why we sent our American people to that place and what it meant for our country.

“I think we must remember that a threat can always come back to strike our country and the peace we enjoy is a fragile peace that we can’t assume and take for granted,” said Rios.

Sydney Morgan, currently a junior at Fresno State University, grew up in the sleepy town of Templeton, CA. With Lester Holt and Carrie Bradshaw as her journalist role models, she considers herself to have a more creative approach to her news and entertainment stories.