Dan Slack was driving his tractor trailer across the George Washington Bridge when he saw smoke billowing out of World Trade Center’s North Tower. He was the only person from Gibsonburg, Ohio, to witness 9/11 in person. When officials there decided in 2015 to dedicate a memorial made from a piece of the North Tower antenna, Mr. Slack volunteered to haul the artifact from New York.
Between 2010 and 2016, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey distributed nearly 2,000 pieces of steel to communities that wanted to build 9/11 memorials. At about 7,000 pounds and 36 feet long, the Gibsonburg relic is one of the largest pieces of the World Trade Center outside the Northeast. The memorial features the antenna leaning on a 17-foot scale model of Freedom Tower, the new 1 World Trade Center. A plaque honoring the 343 firefighters who died responding to the attacks adorns the walls, alongside plates with Bible verses and prayers. Although the theme of the memorial is 9/11, it also honors all police, firefighters and emergency medical teams throughout the U.S.
Gibsonburg village administrator Marc Glotzbecker conceived the idea for a memorial in 2013 when he learned about the Port Authority program. But after two years of correspondence, the Port Authority informed Mr. Glotzbecker that there were no pieces of the World Trade Center small enough to ship to Ohio. It instead promised him one of the larger artifacts if he picked it up himself. The Port Authority sent him pictures of several pieces.
Along with local artist Jim Havens, “I started flipping through the pictures, and when he saw that picture of the main antenna mast, he said that’s our one—and immediately started drawing sketches,” Mr. Glotzbecker said in an interview last month.
Within two days Mr. Havens had drawn up schematics, and Mr. Glotzbecker made arrangements to retrieve the antenna with Mr. Slack. Construction took more than a year, finishing in September 2016. Local stone and iron workers volunteered. The Gibsonburg Volunteer Fire Department lent its services as well, laying concrete for the path to the memorial.
“It’s a true reflection of the ethics of small-town America,” Mr. Glotzbecker explained. “That was during the presidential election. We would stand out here and joke around that if anyone thinks that America was ever not great or somehow broken, they need to come here and take a look at what we’re doing.” When the memorial was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2016, Mr. Glotzbecker said thousands of visitors came.
Retired New Jersey fireman Matt Long spoke about his experiences as a first responder on 9/11. He told the village not to forget the attack—and to treat it as a calling to patriotism: “Why not have Gibsonburg be the place that inspires someone young who visits this memorial to go on to greatness?” he asked. “Let it be you.”
Visitors still come to see the memorial. As they reflect on loss, they often leave flowers or other mementos. Its presence also has inspired Gibsonburg residents. Mr. Slack said the town’s spirit in hallowing 9/11 helped lead him to join the fire department: “I saw all the patriotism that came out of Gibsonburg, and it was unbelievable. Everyone just came together.”
Mr. Rowan is a senior at Hillsdale College.