April 2, 2012 — As the University of Virginia Navy ROTC presented the colors Sunday afternoon and the Virginia Sil'hooettes a capella group sang the National Anthem, administrators, alumni and students gathered for the unveiling of a new 9/11 memorial in Newcomb Hall.
The display case houses a piece of steel from one of the World Trade Center towers felled by a hijacked plane in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 2,800 people.
Evan Davis, a fourth-year government major in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of the Student Association of Firefighters, EMTs and Rescue-Technicians at U.Va. – also known as SAFER – led the effort to obtain the steel.
He said his inspiration came when he thought about how future generations of students at U.Va. will not have any firsthand memories of 9/11 The attacks to them will be as Pearl Harbor is to current students, who lack the personal connection that makes the event so meaningful to an older generation.
By making the display accessible to the public as an educational piece, he said, "I hope the memory of 9/11 and the victims will jump off the history page and come alive to future students."
The steel is one of nearly 1,700 pieces distributed by the New York Port Authority to memorials in all 50 states and seven foreign countries. Davis' request on behalf of SAFER initially was denied, but months later when the rejected application came to the attention of a 1998 U.Va. School of Law alumnus, it got a second chance.
Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the New York Port Authority, who keeps a picture of the Rotunda on his office wall and a Jefferson Cup on his desk, said he had the rejection reconsidered not because of his connection to U.Va. – steel pieces are on display at 14 different universities, he pointed out – but because of Thomas Jefferson.
"The Jeffersonian ideals in the Declaration of Independence – these were the very principles the people who attacked these buildings talked about," Baroni said of al-Qaeda's opposition to religious freedom and individual liberty. "There is no place, no academic institution that represents the values of Thomas Jefferson better than the University of Virginia."
The display also holds a flag donated by the family of Glenn Davis Kirwin, a U.Va. alumnus and Cantor Fitzgerald employee who died in the attacks. The flag was presented to Kirwin's family by their congresswoman, who had it flown over the U.S. Capitol building in his honor.
"I hope future generations will see this flag and steel and realize there were U.Va. alumni and fellow 'Hoos who were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," Davis said. Kirwin's son, Miles, is a third-year Navy ROTC cadet at U.Va.
Davis has been a firefighter in the area for the past four years. One of his colleagues, Benjamin Hedman, an Albemarle County firefighter and U.S. Army veteran, crafted the base for the display case.
Davis said SAFER and area firefighters felt a personal connection with firefighters killed in the 2001 attacks. "If something like that happened in Charlottesville, we know exactly where we would have been that day," he said.
The display unit was financed by the Student Activities Fund and incorporates a half case donated from the Rotunda and a pentagonal logo adapted from the 9/11 Families Foundation. Accompanied by a wall plaque, it will become a permanent fixture at the top of the stairs on the third floor of Newcomb.
At the dedication, Baroni presented additional American and Virginia flags to Davis for use in the display.
Dean of Students Allen Groves said the heavy traffic of students through Newcomb Hall made it an appropriate place to house the display.
"There are few things more important than making sure young people remember Sept. 11 and its impact on our government," he said.
— by Kate Colwell