WEST VALLEY CITY — This coming September marks the 18th anniversary of a day that changed America forever: the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center, now known as 9/11.
While most people honor those who lost their lives closer to the day, one foundation works hard to ensure the heroes and victims are never far from memory year-round.
A mobile memorial display, launched by Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation in 2013, is intended to educate people across the country about the terrorist attacks that cost thousands their lives and includes guided tours by retired New York Fire Department firefighters, actual steel beams from the twin towers and recordings of first responder radio transmissions.
The 53-foot semitractor-trailer, which transforms into a 1,000-square-foot exhibit, arrived at Centennial Park Wednesday, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, and will be on display until Wednesday.
An opening ceremony was held Thursday to welcome the temporary museum to Utah. About 100 community members, police officers and firefighters were in attendance, including Jennie Taylor, wife of late North Ogden Mayor Maj. Brent Taylor, who was shot and killed Nov. 3 while deployed to Afghanistan with the Utah National Guard.
Jennie Taylor's mortgage was paid in full just two days after her husband's death by the foundation's Gold Star Family program, which provides mortgage-free homes to surviving spouses with young children.
As a new widow with seven children she tearfully told news media Thursday to have that financial weight and burden lifted was "nothing short of a gift from God."
She spoke highly of the foundation and its mission to bring a piece of New York all across the country; something she said touches her heart.
"To hear the stories firsthand from firefighters who were there that day, that is just heart stopping," she said. "Unbelievable opportunity."
Another Utah Gold Star Family attended the event: Lorena Mendez, wife of Marine Lance Cpl. Norberto Mendez, who was killed during a combat mission in the Helmand province of Afghanistan on July 10, 2011. Thanks to the foundation, she and her children will receive a mortgage-free home in Springville.
Two members of the foundation's Smart Home program, which offers specially built homes for injured service members, were in attendance as well.
The "9/11 NEVER FORGET Mobile Exhibit," just as its name implies, ensures people never forget the sacrifice made by first responders that day and serves as a tribute to all who lost their lives.
"That's it," said Billy Puckett, an exhibit caretaker with the foundation. It really is that simple, he explained: never forget.
Along with the exhibit, West Valley City displayed more than 400 flags across the park, each representing a service member lost in the 9/11 attacks; 343 firefighters and 69 police officers and first responders, including 3 Utah firefighters who deployed to aid New York and later died due to health complications.
"Remember that each (flag) represents a person — a father, a brother, a mother, a son," Taylor said. "And teach this next generation … they don't have the memories of their own — they weren't old enough, but we can share that with them."
Keeping the memory of the tragic attacks that changed a nation and world was a theme among speakers at the ceremony. Three retired New York firefighters who assisted at ground zero on 9/11 spoke at the event.
The saying "grown men don't cry," went out the window that day, said retired New York firefighter Christopher Edwards.
Edwards began his remarks by asking for a standing ovation for anyone who's served in the military.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Edwards was home recovering from knee surgery and said he felt sick to his stomach when he saw the second plane crash into the twin towers.
"I knew that New York City was under attack and that I was going to lose a lot of friends," he said.
He, along with some of the biggest and toughest guys he knew, "cried our eyes out" that day, he said.
Edwards was involved in rescue efforts for some of the last recovered survivors. He spoke Thursday about how he witnessed a community band together that day — he witnessed long lines of people waiting to donate blood to survivors; he saw Rikers Island prison guards busing down to fire stations, bringing meals to feed the workers.
"The bad was bad but the good will always be the greatest," he said. A simple four-letter word — hope — was strong during the first few days after the incident, he added. Hope that they would find more people alive. Hope they would bring closure to families.
"That four-letter word of hope wore out," he said at the ceremony. Which is why he said he knows it's important to travel around the country and make sure people don't forget what happened that day.
"For us, it's something that has to be done," he told the Deseret News after the ceremony. "That day hasn't ended."
For some first responders, the pain didn't end that day, just like Edwards said. Countless suffer from respiratory and other health issues as a result of the fires.
Retired New York firefighter Jack Carter's experienced this firsthand — he had to retire early due to respiratory damage he sustained during the recovery effort for 9/11.
"I could not believe my eyes," he told the crowd Thursday, speaking of when he first saw the attack on TV. "It was something that scared the hell out of me."
But he said with fervor and confidence that being a firefighter is still the "best job in the world."
Anthony Tomesheski spoke about how he realized the far-reaching impact of the event — children had parents who would never return home and the retired firefighter had close friends he would never get a chance to laugh with again.Comment on this story
Since its launch, the truck's traveled to more than 30 states and Canada and welcomed more than 350,000 people to date, according to its website. Before Wednesday, it had never been to Utah.
Free tours opened to the public Thursday and run 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
Sisters Fawn Nielsen, of Copperton, and Carol Stone, of West Valley City, were glad they came to the ceremony.
"I can't believe it's been almost 18 years," Nielsen said, adding she thought the ceremony was "amazing."
"It's just really remarkable how … many people really come together in such hard times," Stone noted.