Vandalism at 9/11 memorial prompts outpouring of donations, support
Supporters have staged overnight vigils and offered to install surveillance cameras at the shrine to five firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
WASHINGTONVILLE -- Supporters have made a flood of donations, staged overnight vigils at the damaged memorial and offered to install surveillance cameras at the granite-and-brick shrine to five firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center almost two decades ago.
The vandalism perpetrated last week at Washingtonville's 9/11 memorial -- the cutting down of its flagpole -- has sparked national media coverage, waves of outrage on social media and an equal deluge of local support for a landmark with emotional attachments that have only deepened with time.
John Salka, a retired New York City fire battalion chief who lives in Blooming Grove, said hundreds of people had delivered checks or cash to him and a couple of local businesses, while others have donated to two funds for the 9/11 memorial and a planned addition to it. Several thousand dollars in all has flooded in.
Salka, president of the fund that built the memorial and provides scholarships to Washingtonville High School seniors, compared the gushing of public support to the warm greeting he got after the 9/11 tragedy itself, when he came home after toiling at Ground Zero for nearly a week with many other first responders.
"Here we are, 20 years later," Salka said. "This one ridiculous action occurs, and about a hundred nice things have happened since then."
Aside from the donations, a cast of volunteers -- including members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 363 in Harriman -- have taken turns keeping a 24-hour watch to protect the memorial from further vandalism, and local residents and businesses have delivered food and coffee to those volunteers, Salka said.
Another supporter has offered to buy surveillance cameras and wiring, and Anytime Electric, an electrical contractor in Rock Tavern, has volunteered to install the equipment at no charge.
Washingtonville police say someone sheared the flag pole the night of July 7, and is believed to have then knocked over a sign half a mile away at St. Mary's Parish Center, where an eagle figure from the top of the pole was found. No arrests had been reported as of Wednesday, one week after the damage was discovered.
In a tsunami of ensuing news coverage and social media commentary, conservatives have cast the severed flag pole as an outlandish act of destruction by activists bent on social change, though there is no information about who did it and why.
"The mob's latest target?" Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted on July 10. "A 9/11 memorial. Where are Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer? Total lack of leadership!"
"Truly disgusting!," Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, tweeted one day earlier in response to a Breitbart news report about the memorial damage. "This will come to your home town if you let the Democrats and their radicle agenda win in November."
Police found an enigmatic message written in marker on the part of the pole that remained in the ground after the incident last week. If written by the vandal, it does not tout any liberal causes.
"God does not want us bent on a virus," the graffiti read, according to Washingtonville Mayor Joe Bucco.
New Windsor police are investigating two flag poles that were cut down in their town on two nights after the same thing happened in Washingtonville. New Windsor Supervisor George Meyers said Wednesday that one pole was severed at a strip mall on Route 32 on July 9, and the other was severed at a cemetery on Erie Avenue on July 10.
The 9/11 memorial was built within a year of the 2001 terrorist attacks to honor five New York City firefighters from the Washingtonville area who were killed: Mark Whitford, Bobby Hamilton, Gerry Nevins, Batallion Chief Dennis Devlin and Lt. Glenn Perry. Salka and other organizers sold memorial bricks and firefighter calendars to help raise money for the project.
The recent damage came as Salka and others were raising money to install a new monument nearby, one that would pay tribute to the first responders who worked at Ground Zero in 2001 and have since succumbed to cancer and other illnesses attributed to the airborne toxins they breathed.
Salka said his first priority now is to replace the flagpole before the next Sept. 11 anniversary in less than two months. A new pole has been ordered and is expected to arrive within six weeks.
But he said donations are still welcome, both to replace aging bricks and do other upgrades at the existing memorial and to help pay for the planned addition. Payments can be made through the website for the Washingtonville-Blooming Grove 9/11 Benefit Fund: www.wbgny911.org.
©2020 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.