MADISON, Wis. — Elements from the 21st century’s own day of infamy are now on permanent display outside the Wisconsin National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters.
Twisted steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City. A slab of shattered limestone from the Pentagon. A piece of black granite from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 — the fourth civilian airliner hijacked by terrorists — crashed that fateful day.
The artifacts rest on a large polished five-sided granite pedestal, centered on a pentagon-shaped cement pad. Two granite obelisks flank the pedestal, invoking the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A flagpole stands behind the pedestal, atop which a brass eagle looks down as if on eternal watch over the monument.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, described the artifacts as “representations of the three touchstones of 9/11.” And they pay tribute not only to Sept. 11, 2001, but the dedication and sacrifice that followed in the global war on terror.
“Nine-eleven was a cataclysmic event for our country, and it probably touched every member in the Wisconsin National Guard at the time,” Dunbar said, “and a large percentage of those who joined subsequent to 9/11, and their families and their employers — and by extension, our communities.”
“A memory that is seared into my soul,” he said. “I can still see it burning — thick, black smoke.”
The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the subsequent global war on terror have found the National Guard playing a more active role in national security than at any time since World War II — defying conventional wisdom that reserve component troops would retreat from deployments and that their families and employers would not support their service members’ extended absences.
“The exact opposite happened,” Dunbar said. “Our retention stayed strong, our families stayed with us, employers stayed with us — and I think we’ve got the tightest connection with the American public that we’ve ever had. That is a testament to the founding framers in designing a National Guard. It’s a powerful organization for liberty, for the country.
“I could talk for hours about how proud I am of our Soldiers and Airmen and what they’ve done,” Dunbar continued. “There’s pain associated with that, but there’s pride.”
The pain reflects the mortal costs of combat. Ten Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers have died in the global war on terror, and many more have been wounded, some severely. More than 125 Wisconsin residents have died as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I think the memorial helps us remember and honor what the National Guard is, and what our part was in this event,” Dunbar said.
Planning for the memorial began prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Various locations were discussed, to include the state capitol grounds, but as the monument was dedicated to the National Guard, it was ultimately decided to locate it at the state’s National Guard headquarters.
The inscription on the front of the pedestal reads:
“These vestiges from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks — steel from the World Trade Center, limestone from the Pentagon, and black granite from Shanksville, Pennsylvania — remind us of our duty to maintain eternal vigilance for our nation. While our enemies struck a few of our edifices, our national resilience remains unbroken. The spirit of our nation — the spirit of freedom — cannot be vanquished.
“This memorial is dedicated to the innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001, to the Wisconsin service members who lost their lives in the global war on terror, to the enduring courage and sacrifice of Wisconsin’s military personnel who placed the needs of our nation above their own, and to Wisconsin’s families, communities and employers who provided unconditional support.”
A dedication ceremony for the 9/11 monument will be held Oct. 13.