At Fire Station 7 in Garland, a single iron I-beam cross, a 9/11 tribute, weathered by rust and time, stands alone in a field. But two hours away in Belton, Texas, the former Garland firefighter who put it there remembers when that cross had plenty of sobering company.
"It impacts everybody differently," Aron Saffell said wiping a tear from his eye.
Saffell is now a hospital emergency management director in Bell County who keeps a shrine of sorts in the front room of his house. Along with some of his own firefighting gear from his days as a Garland firefighter he keeps mementos of September 11, like the firefighting helmet on which he penned, by hand, the names of each New York firefighter lost. He keeps pictures of that same field next to Station 7 in Garland when that lone cross had plenty of sobering company.
"Most of the firemen that I know wanted to do something," he said of the days following the terrorist attack.
That cross once stood with 343 others. Saffell made each of the wooden crosses by hand, painted them white, then added an engraved nameplate for each fallen Ground Zero firefighter. For five years he put them on display next to the fire station every September 11.
"It was overwhelming, it really was," he said explaining he only did it for one reason: not for you and me, but for New York.
"Just for them to know that way down here in Texas there's a fire department that cares about showing them respect."
And gifts from those firefighter families over these 16 years proved they saw and heard that respect.
"That I accomplished the goal of letting them know that we care," he said. "I'm glad that the people in New York got to see it."
But 16 years later, where are all those crosses now? The crosses are gone but the nameplates now reside at the Garland Fire Department headquarters. They were placed on 7-foot tall twin towers in the Garland FD lobby. Every firefighter, every company they were assigned to. Aron's tribute lives on. And so does his only request.
"I wish that people wouldn't, I wish they wouldn't forget."
And there is plenty of proof we haven't. From the massive flag unfurled at the fire station training building in Garland to Main Street in downtown Belton this September 11. Flags at half-staff, flags of respect and tributes still fly.
"We just can't forget," Saffell said. "Just don't forget. Day in Day out."
Just like the rust on that iron cross, time can make memories and moments fade. But if men like Aron Saffell have their way, our memories and our respect for September 11 never will.
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