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Healdsburg OKs 9/11 memorial


A corner of Healdsburg Plaza soon will become home to a remnant of New York City's World Trade Center, part of a memorial to the thousands killed in the 2001 terrorist attack.

The City Council on Monday night voted 4-0 vote, brushing aside concerns that the memorial might not belong in the plaza because only monuments honoring local residents are there.

"We are honoring our fire and police and the ones who were lost. We also had 3,000 civilians who died," said Mayor Gary Plass, a former police sergeant. "It's the second time in our history that we were attacked on our soil. I, for one, think it belongs in the plaza."

The 90-pound chunk of a steel I-beam from the Twin Towers will be mounted on a concrete pillar next to the gazebo. It will be near a bronze statue of a boy carrying a folded American flag that honors local fallen veterans.

A group of community volunteers said they expect to have the new monument in place by the anniversary of Sept. 11. Its cost, estimated at less than $3,000, is being paid for by former Healdsburg resident Fred Vellutini, who lost a grandson during the 9/11 attacks.

A friend of the Vellutini family who came to Monday's meeting was unable to provide details about the grandson other than that he was on one of the hijacked jetliners.

Council members were solemn and at times emotional as they discussed the 9/11 Memorial Monument.

"I can't talk about it. It makes me emotional," said Councilwoman Susan Jones, a former city police chief, as she took off her glasses and appeared to wipe a tear.

"We're bringing something back to Healdsburg," said Councilman Jim Wood. "It is a wonderful tribute to the fallen firefighters, police officers and other civilians who perished that day."

Plass said the plaza is the right place because it's what town founder Harmon Heald envisioned as the community gathering place when he laid out Healdsburg more than 150 years ago.

While the council unanimously supported the monument, the Parks and Recreation Commission earlier voted 5-2 for it. Dissenters said a more appropriate location would be the fire station or City Hall.

Some commissioners said it was a worthy cause but noted only local people had been honored with memorials, such as a torch monument honoring local athletes who were Olympic champions and world record holders.

Ray Holley, one of the community members who brought the proposal to the city, said 9/11 is one of those days where people remember where they were when it happened.

He recalled those who came together that night in the Healdsburg Plaza in what he described as a "magical experience." Some people sang "God Bless America" and others "Give Peace a Chance."

Ben Gilliam, a former Healdsburg firefighter who requested the piece from New York City's Fire Department and arranged for its delivery, also fought back tears Monday.

"We need to never forget these guys who gave their lives," he said.

Among the dead in the Trade Center destruction were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers, he said.

Gilliam's quest to build a monument began seven years ago. He said it took numerous requests to get a piece of the Twin Towers and finally the help of the co-founder of the World Trade Center Memorial Museum and other officials.

Since it arrived in March, the piece of I-beam has been on display at the Fire Department.

The group of community volunteers worked with an architect and students from the Construction and Sustainability Academy at Healdsburg High School to develop the design of the concrete pillar where the I-beam will be mounted.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.