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Mayor-President Josh Guillory, center, places a wreath at the 9/11 Memorial along with Patriot Guard members Chris Woodland, left, and Robert LeBon, right, during a 9/11 Remembrance and flag-changing ceremony at Parc Sans Souci on Friday, September 11, 2020 in Lafayette, La..

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the deadliest ever terror attack on American soil, and for the 19th consecutive year Lafayette will join Americans across the country to honor the victims with a commemorative ceremony.

On Saturday, the Lafayette Fire Department and city-parish officials will recognize the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks at 9 a.m. at Lafayette’s 9/11 Memorial in Parc Sans Souci.

The memorial was unveiled on the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002.

The site consists of two beams recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers, arranged side-by-side and oriented like the original towers, with a pentagonal bench defaced in the place where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Inscribed panels pay tribute in English and French.

On that fateful day, Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit was preparing to go into work when he saw news of the attacks on his television. Benoit said once the fear and uncertainty around the attacks began to clear months later, the city-parish’s various departments and leaders were unified in the desire to honor the civilians and first responders who lost their lives in the attacks.

“I think we went from being emotional to looking at it from the standpoint that as the leaders of the city we need to do something to let people know that we care around the world, and to help them understand we’re here for them because people were hurting in their own sort of way. We felt like if we did this they would have a place to come and pay respects, and perhaps get some closure to this thing after trying to make sense of all of it,” Benoit said.

The story behind the monument is detailed in Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 2002 annual report. The concept for the memorial was the brainchild of public works employee Richard Breaux, who proposed the idea to his boss, Public Works Director John Raines, in December 2001. Mayor-President Walter Comeaux backed it.

The initial concept focused on erecting steel beams from the fallen towers to pay homage to the World Trade Center, with a nod to the Pentagon, which was also targeted during the Sep. 11 attacks, through a pentagonal bench surrounding the beams.

After American Legion Post 69 secured limestone panels from the Pentagon, damaged limestone from the crash site was incorporated into the garden. The garden surrounding the memorial also includes soil from the Somerset County, Pennsylvania field where United Flight 93 went down after passengers and flight crew members overcame the hijackers.

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The project wasn’t without stumbling blocks. When a Lafayette delegation initially requested the beams from then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office in January 2002, the request was denied because the beams were considered evidence in the investigation into the attacks.

In May 2002, the New York City Office of Emergency Preparedness called to say the beams could be released — but Lafayette would only have 10 days to collect the beams from the site. Three days before the deadline, Breaux and another public works employee flew to New York to secure the beams while the team in Louisiana secured a trucking company.

“The delegation from Lafayette met with New York City representatives at Ground Zero on May 22 and loaded the beams onto the truck. The two pieces of what was once the World Trade Center arrived safely in Lafayette on May 29,” the city-parish annual report said.

Benoit said each year he relives his experience of Sept. 11, 2001, as he gazes at the memorial. He said it’s instinct to look up to the sky, recalling the footage of the planes striking the towers, and he remembers the fear, confusion and uncertainty that filled the air as city-parish officials gathered not knowing if more attacks against the country were imminent.

As a fire chief, the day holds a unique pain, he said. The Fire Department of New York lost 343 firefighters while responding to the attack on the World Trade Center towers — that’s like losing the entirety of the Lafayette Fire Department in a single event, Benoit said.

“We think about how that could have been us. We think about our families and we think about the families that are still dealing with the loss of that person who went to go to work that day and never came home,” the fire chief said.

In July, Benoit attended the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ annual conference and learned of the experiences of two chiefs who were on duty in New York the day of the 9/11 attacks.

“They talked about the silence that was on the radio. There was no chatter. There were no sirens going off. He said it was the sense that the firefighters knew they were fixing to commit themselves into a building and they probably weren’t coming out. They had that quietness about themselves but at the same time the courage to enter that building while knowing they may not come home,” he said.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com