Juneau’s 9/11 memorial just got an update. The memorial’s original designer, Brent Fischer, was inspired to create a memorial to the lives lost during the event that led to America’s longest war.
Fischer said his wife encouraged him to propose and design a memorial for Juneau after one of his childhood friends died on 9/11.
Christopher Newton was aboard Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon. Fischer said they were in the Boy Scouts together in Lakewood, California, and he remembers him as having the greatest smile.
“So, it was very personal to me. And it just symbolized everything that my wife, Debbie, and I felt,” Fischer said. “And the [Glacier Valley Rotary] Club just totally embraced it as well.”
Fischer was a member of the Glacier Valley Rotary Club at the time, and Riverside Rotary Park is still the club’s most visible service project in town.
For the park, Fischer designed a broken pentagon with two missing sides as a flagpole base.
“Each side measures 4 feet in length,” Fischer explained. “That represents the four lost planes.”
“The two missing sides of the Pentagon represent the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The memorial is constructed with concrete and Pennsylvania marble to represent the strength found in our heroes. The forget-me-not flowers symbolize the rebirth of patriotism and our promise to never forget,” he said.
“Of course, the flag represents the unity of our nation,” Fischer said. “And the head of the memorial, the Pentagon, is aligned with the North Star. And that’s a symbol of all Alaskans.”
It was built by Rotarians in just months and was one of the first 9/11 memorials in the country. The park served as the venue for services on the first anniversary.
Now, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the attacks, is long dead. The war is over, U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan, and many Americans and Afghan allies were airlifted out in a hectic evacuation.
Fischer said initially entering the war and then getting out of Afghanistan were both the right things to do.
“However, I personally think that how it was done and leaving Americans there goes against everything that I think we believe as Americans,” he said. “And I hate to see that. It’s a tragedy. And we should be getting our Americans out of there and our allies that helped us over the last 20 years because they will be killed.”
Fischer originally designed a low wall that would partially enclose the memorial itself. But it was never built. At least not until this summer when the Glacier Valley Rotary Club also moved a shelter closer to the playground and erected a large pavilion in the park.
Charlie Williams with the Glacier Valley Rotary Club said the additions were prompted by a recently developed master plan for the park.
“It always involves money and time,” Williams said. “So, in this situation, we could build a shelter for a fraction of the cost that would cost the city. And so they recognize the value of leveraging a few dollars to get the things that are in the master plan as a wise thing to do.”
He said they will likely install engraved bricks and an interpretive sign at the memorial next spring.
Williams said the latest improvements to the park were made possible by support from the Juneau Community Foundation and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
This year’s memorial ceremony starts at 9:40 a.m Saturday and will wrap up at 10:15 a.m. at Riverside Rotary Park. Those attending the ceremony are encouraged to socially distance and wear a mask.