A sculpted steel eagle, perched on a shattered section of an I-beam from the World Trade Center, highlights the memorial monument that will be placed at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to commemorate the lives lost and recall the unity that emerged from the worst terrorist attack ever committed on American soil.
Behind the eagle, a massive circular plaque with bas-relief imagery of the twin towers, overlaid with an American flag showing nine stars and 11 stripes, in memory of 9-11.
And across the top of the plaque, the words, “We will never forget.”
The sculpture was unveiled Wednesday in a ceremony at the Airport Hilton Hotel, keynoted by Gov. Sam Brownback and Scott Johnson, general manager of field operations for the Transportation Security Administration in Washington.
“My eyes are drawn to the piece of steel (from the World Trade Center) because that’s the emotive piece of it,” Brownback said. “That’s what happened. We lost thousands of Americans that day and have invested billions of dollars since and lost thousands of American lives.
“It’s that piece of steel that was attacked, that was in the attack, that represents those lives that have been lost.”
But the governor also found cause for hope in the sculpture and its message, nearly 10 years to the day after the attack that changed America and the world.
Brownback saluted the US troops that have fought against radicalism in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said those efforts have greatly reduced the strength of the Al Quaida terrorist network and help spur widespread uprisings against dictatorial Middle Eastern leaders.
“We’ve seen the Arab spring now taking place and they’re not calling for militant Islam to replace Mubarek or Gaddafi or Assad,” he said. “They’re calling for democracy and for freedom. And that’s a dramatic change from 10 years ago.”
The monument will go on display Friday afternoon at the airport.
Johnson spoke of the ongoing challenge of securing the nation’s airports and preventing future attacks like 9-11.
“Wichita last year screened 850,000 (air travelers),” he said. “That’s just Wichita. So how many shoes is that? One-point-seven million shoes. Nationally, we have screened more than 5.6 billion people since 9-11.”
And although Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday the TSA may revise the screening policy of requiring all passengers to remove their shoes, the agency still intercepted 27 guns at the nation’s airports over the four days of Labor Day weekend, Johnson said.
“Why are people bringing through guns at checkpoints 10 years after 9-11? I will never know,” he said. “Why do people think they can bring firecrackers in through the checkpoint and get on an airplane anymore? I have no idea. So if we look at all these things nationally, it’s still a major undertaking for TSA to make sure the public is traveling safely.”
The new sculpture was designed by brothers Bruce and Brent Bitter of B&B Metal Arts in Hoisington.
Bruce Bitter said the eagle was crafted to draw the eye to the Twin Towers artifact and that creating a suitable display for it was the big challenge.
“We used the best of our knowledge, the best of our talents, the best of materials to produce this piece of art,” he said, to loud applause from about 150 dignitaries, TSA agents, airport workers and others who gathered for the unveiling.
Brownback said he sees parallels to 9-11 when it comes to today’s economic struggles.
“It’s a different feeling, but still it reminds me of that moment 10 years ago when America’s been shook,” he said. “America’s confidence has been shook a little bit.”
He likened it to a basketball player who’s ordinarily a good shooter but gets rattled and starts missing shots.
“Any coach at that point in time pulls the player out and says you’re all right, you’re the same you’ve always been, just don’t try to guide it, just do what you do, you’re good,” Brownback said.
He said America needs that kind of reminder now.
“We’ve just got to get our confidence back, get back to our basics … those basics of faith, family and freedom, hard work, responsibility,” he said. “We know we’ve got to do them. We know we can do them. We know the generations before us have done it, is get back to the old paths and we can do this and get the groove back.”