You need only spend a couple of minutes with Carmel resident, Carrie Ann, to have a better appreciation of words such as patriotism, involvement, and of how much one person can accomplish when she believes in something with her whole being.
On September 11, 2001, Carrie was living in Westport, Connecticut, about 50 miles northeast of New York City. Westport is where Gregory Peck as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit commuted to NYC from the Saugatuck Train Station in that town.
“You cannot imagine what it was like on that day,” Carrie said, “it was like watching a never ending movie outside your window. When you looked out at Long Island Sound you could see smoke and residue from the World Trade Center in the air. There was no communication. Landlines, cell phones, everything was down. I didn’t know until after six that night whether or not my husband was alive. Schools were closed for a week as new security systems were implemented.” Carrie explained that no one really knew the extent of the terrorist attack which led to all kinds of precautions taken. She wanted to do something to help. As an active Red Cross volunteer, she ran to the office to help.
“It was unbelievable,” she said, “people came in crying, looking for any news about their loved ones. Others came in and offered blank checks telling us to fill in any amount to go after the SOB’s who attacked us.”
Carrie explained how the physical and emotional trauma went on long after the attack on the World Trade Center:
“Lives were destroyed. Families fell apart. Businesses failed. No matter where you went you took the emotional trauma with you. The county I lived in, Fairfield, Connecticut, is 626 square miles, and Monterey County is 3771 square miles — yet my county lost 65 residents, 152 in the state which slightly larger than all of Monterey County. We were having funerals in football fields. They went on for years as deaths of residents were confirmed. It just never stopped.”
Fast forward to seven years ago. Carrie, now divorced, has come back to Carmel. She has not forgotten the bravery of the New York Fire Fighters. Every September 11th, she took either cookies or flowers to the Carmel Fire Department to show her appreciation and understanding for what firefighters do.
In August of 2010 she learned that the firefighters had been trying to acquire a piece of metal from the World Trade Center. She thought that some kind of fitting memorial could be built around such a piece of metal. She was told by members of the city council that “citizen participation” was what was needed to construct any kind of 911 Memorial. That’s when she went into action.
In October of 2011 she learned that the deadline for municipalities to request metal from the WTC had passed two years earlier. It would be impossible to get a piece of steel. Carrie didn’t think so. She emailed and called the head of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority and the New York Fire Commissioners Office. The only response she received after several weeks was that Carmel was not on any list to receive metal. She did not give up. From that point on she began phoning and emailing the office of the Mayor of New York.
In late October 2011, only one week after she began her mission, she received a call from a man named Lee Lelpi, a retired New York firefighter and President of the 911 Families Foundation.
“I don’t know who you wrote or spoke to, but I got a call from the New York Fire Commissioner himself, and he told me to see that you get your steel.” Carrie held back the tears as she rushed to share the news with Carmel firefighters.
Carrie subsequently learned that Mr. Lelpi had a 26 year career with the FDNY and Rescue Company 2 in Brooklyn, and at the time of his retirement was one of the most decorated firefighters in the history of the New York Fire Department. Tragically, his retirement did not progress as he had anticipated. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lee Lelpi un-retired and went back to work for the FDNY. He would later play an integral role in every function of search, rescue, and recovery at “ground zero.” He was there every day until he was able to recover the body of his son, Jonathan Lelpi, who was a firefighter with FDNY Squad 288. Carrie, who had lost many friends, understood the emotional involvement she shared with Mr. Lelpi. She spoke to him at great length to ensure that she had only the best of intentions for any placement of material from “ground zero.” The piece of steel would be cut from a World Trade Center I-Beam by another firefighter, Carl Sheetz, in a private ceremony in New York.
Now that she was going to get her piece of steel Carrie had to determine how to get it from New York City to Carmel-by-the-Sea. It could be trucked or shipped by air but she thought that too ordinary for her. Transporting the metal needed more heart … a way to show honor and respect to this relic of 9-11. That’s when she remembered that there was a town, also named Carmel, about sixty miles north of New York City and not far from where she lived in Connecticut. Carrie called their city officials and Fire department and told her story. The response was positive, they wanted to help. After the steel is cut by Mr. Sheetz it will be handed off to a first responder from the Carmel, NY fire department. From there it will follow a planned path, assisted by the Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey Fire Departments, and continue along its 3,080 mile historical journey from first responder to first responder, from city to city, from state to state until it reaches Carmel, California.
But that is not all. A GPS system will be placed in the case housing the metal so that all who log on to Carrie’s website (www.carmel911memorial.us ) can witness the journey. Carrie and her son Garrett, along with Mr. Jim Courtney, President of the Monterey Firefighters Association, and 3 other local firefighters, will fly to New York City for the actual cutting of the steel by Mr. Sheetz on March 19.
“This is a historical journey,” Carrie said, “children from all across the country will be able to follow the progress of the steel and know when the it is coming to their town. It will be displayed where they will be able to see and touch it. The expedition can be followed in live time and will be on Twitter and Facebook and by downloading the free app from Pocket Finders, the company furnishing the GPS system. The ID is “WTC,” the password is “USA.”
Once here, the metal will be circulated among all local firehouses and it will be shown to children at area schools. It will then rest in the Monterey or Carmel Fire House until a fitting memorial can be constructed in Carmel. In that regard, there is still a lot of work to be done. Carrie would like the memorial to be something very tasteful, perhaps on a base of Carmel Stone, with the steel spanning two monoliths, not more than a few feet tall, representing the World Trade Center footprint with a sculpted flag designed by a local sculptor. Visitors to the memorial will be able to touch the metal. She wants it to be near the ocean in a peaceful setting where people can reflect on the true meaning of the memorial’s title, “Resolve and Remembrance.” Perhaps, a place with the feeling of an outdoor chapel where you can touch the metal and feel and hear something beating … something below your heart.
At a forum held at Carmel’s Church of the Wayfarer last week all the candidates seeking election to the positions of Mayor, or to the City Council discussed ways to bring more visitors to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Through her efforts Carrie Ann has placed a bright and shining steel opportunity at their feet