Wherever you were on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans from coast to coast were affected by the terrorist attacks unleashed on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, even if they had no personal connection.
That’s why John Jackson — a Tenino metal worker, U.S. Army veteran and owner of Jackson Field Welding Services, Inc. — was confused and frustrated when, after years of working with Washington state officials to get a 9/11 memorial placed on the Capitol campus in Olympia, he was suddenly told the memorial had no significance to the state in 2011.
Eventually, the memorial found a home in Cashmere in Central Washington in 2015.
The bronze statue features a firefighter, a military service member, a flight attendant and an office worker standing around the footprint of the Twin Towers, joined in hands facing outwards in a semi circle, signaling a missing person.
“To complete the memorial, you actually have to join in and hold hands,” Jackson said. “I wanted to be able to say it represented every single human being on the planet. If you feel like you’re not represented, then you can stand there.”
Back in November 2001, Jackson created the Spirit of America Memorial Foundation to build a memorial.
The goal was to use pieces from the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the memorial itself. Jackson knew many who lost loved ones on that day would never recover their bodies. He wanted to help them find closure.
He knows the pain of not being able to recover a loved one.
In January 1997, Jackson’s cousin, John Ferry, was one of four men lost at sea when their Seattle-based fishing boat, the Pacific Alliance, capsized and sank north of Vancouver Island.
Following his cousin’s death, Jackson built a stainless steel cross memorial with the names of the four men lost at sea, and he, along with other friends and family members of those lost, held a memorial service out at sea where the ship sank.
“We dropped that cross overboard in 7,000 feet of water, and that was closure for my family because at least we were able to do something,” Jackson said.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Jackson’s mother-in-law pointed out how a monsignor at the National Cathedral who was talking on TV shared his late cousin’s name.
“He was talking about how we need to find a path of healing and compassion for the future, and that’s what gave me the idea to build this memorial using steel from the World Trade Center and pieces from the Pentagon, because I knew there would be no more bodies recovered,” Jackson said. “Just like what I experienced with our loved one, John, who we never recovered.”
To Jackson, this was a sign to create the memorial.
That’s when he created the Spirit of America Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit, to raise money for the memorial’s creation. Jackson was helped by one of his welders, Morgan Lindbergh, the grandson of the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh.
Jackson began working with former Third Congressional District Rep. Brian Baird, who wanted to help him put a 9/11 memorial on the Washington Capitol campus. Baird helped expedite the foundation getting its nonprofit status.
The Capitol was chosen because Jackson knew aside from those lost in the terrorist attacks, many more military service members would lose their lives fighting in the wars that ensued in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the first few years, Jackson met others who wanted to help design and create the memorial, including a local sculptor whose wife was an American Airlines flight attendant and knew several of the crew members killed on 9/11.
Another architect who helped create the memorial, Robert Miller, also had a personal connection to the tragedy.
“Miller came up to talk to me and asked if I had a minute, and he said, ‘I just want to let you know that my sister-in-law’s husband was killed in the World Trade Center,’” Jackson recalled.
With Baird’s help, Jackson was able to coordinate with New York state representatives and iron workers in New Jersey who were processing the remains of the World Trade Center and secured pieces of steel for the memorial.
Getting pieces of the Pentagon was another issue.
“I was just hitting dead ends and couldn’t get a hold of anybody,” Jackson said.
Finally, he found a doctor whose father worked at the Pentagon who offered help.
“I deeply appreciated that because I wasn’t getting anywhere with my phone calls, and about two days later, I got a phone call from Major General Dean Cash, of the Future War Scenarios Department, who happened to be her dad at the Pentagon,” Jackson said. “He immediately asked, ‘well son, how much do you need and how soon can you get here?’”
Stone pieces from the Pentagon had been secured, and with help from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the artifacts from World Trade Center and Pentagon were transported across the country.
With the pieces for the memorial secured, Jackson met with the members of the Washington state Capitol Grounds Committee, former Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland, former Secretary of State Sam Reed and former Gov. Gary Locke, to finalize the memorial’s location in Olympia in 2004.
“They were all overwhelmingly supportive,” Jackson added.
The plans for the memorial satisfied almost every committee criteria except for one, a law that dictated no commemorative memorials could be placed on Capitol grounds until 10 years after the event.
“I thought, ‘OK, well, that will give us some time to fundraise,’” Jackson said.
Jackson took the remnants around the state to county fairs and other events, and raised nearly $800,000 to pay for the bronze statues and the rest of the memorial. He hoped to have it complete and ready to dedicate on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
In 2011, the memorial was finally ready and was escorted to the Capitol in Olympia by more than 400 Patriot Guard motorcycle riders, according to Jackson, and the final plans to install it were submitted.
“I got a letter back, not too long after, that said basically, ‘9/11 didn’t have anything to do with our state, and none of our citizens were affected. Therefore, we don’t want it,’” Jackson said. “And that came from Governor Inslee’s mouth. I was just shocked.”
A news release went out saying Washington state had rejected a 9/11 memorial shortly after that. The release included Jackson’s contact information, and soon he was getting calls from across the country from communities offering to give the memorial a home.
“Colorado, South Carolina, Missouri, you wouldn’t believe how many calls I got. And they were all like, ‘Hey, we’ll take that memorial. What’s the matter with your state?’” Jackson said. “I said it’s not our state, it’s our governor.”
Despite the offers, Jackson wanted to keep the memorial in the state, as it was Washington citizens who raised the money for it in the first place.
“They paid for it,” Jackson added.
The Spirit of America Memorial Foundation opened up to take proposals from any Washington communities interested in giving the 9/11 memorial a home. A total of 17 cities applied.
“It came down to three finalists, and through a secret vote of the (Spirit of America Memorial Foundation) board, Cashmere was picked,” Jackson said.
Located at Riverside Park in Cashmere, the memorial was officially dedicated in 2015 and stands there permanently. Aside from the bronze statues, the memorial includes the pieces of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Twin Tower statues, a Flight 93 memorial and reflection benches.
“I had no personal connection to 9/11. I just felt God was pushing me through this whole process, because everytime I needed something to happen, something would happen. This person would appear, and each challenge kept getting met,” Jackson said.
As for the book, titled “The Message,” Jackson has completed the first draft and is currently editing it and preparing to submit it to Christian Faith Publishing. He is looking for help editing. Anyone interested can email Jackson at email@example.com.
Riverside Park is located at 201 Riverside Drive in Cashmere. For more information on the 9/11 memorial, visit 911memorialwa.org.
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