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Vol. LXV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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Firefighter Roy Jones Is On a Mission To Create a Princeton Memorial to 9-11

Anne Levin

Roy Jones didn’t lose anyone close to him in the attacks on the World Trade Center a decade ago. But as Deputy Chief of the Princeton Borough Fire Department, he has been haunted by the tragic events of 9-11.

On that day, Mr. Jones knew that his wife, then a commuter to New York working in the World Trade Center, was at home. Yet he couldn’t help imagining what might have happened had she gone to work and followed her regular routine. “She was pregnant at the time,” Mr. Jones recalls. “If it wasn’t for my daughter giving my wife gestational diabetes, which kept her at home that day, she would have been there. I went into a kind of panic mode. So that’s my emotional thing with 9-11.”

Since then, Mr. Jones has attended ceremonies and been part of different groups commemorating 9-11. A motorcyclist, he has ridden behind trucks transporting pieces of World Trade Center steel to various locations for installation as memorials. While many neighboring communities have used these battered remnants to create shrines to those lost in the attacks, Princeton has yet to do so. Mr. Jones has made it his mission to correct that.

“Princeton is a well known town, and unfortunately had several people who perished on 9-11,” he says. “I want to build something really nice, where kids can learn about the Trade Center and the innocent people who died there. I want to build a place for the people who lost someone. I envision it as a place you can go and touch and see the steel, where people can sit down and remember the ones they loved and lost that day.”

Mr. Jones made a presentation to Borough Council on October 25 requesting assistance in the project, earning a round of applause from those gathered at the meeting. He plans to make a similar appeal to Township Committee. Fellow firefighter Kyle Rendell, an architect with KSS Architects, is assisting Mr. Jones with the project.

A firefighter for two decades, Mr. Jones bought himself a motorcycle a few years ago. He was among the people who started the Red Knights race for firefighters in Hopewell. “We did a 9-11 run a few years ago, and have done it now year after year,” he says. “The most recent one went from here to Shanksville, Pa. to D.C. and then to New York City.”

On that day, 3,000 motorcyclists gathered in Shanksville, where United Airlines Flight #93 went down on 9-11. At the start of the run, each rider was given a card with the name of someone who died that day.

“We went through Leesburg, Virginia, and it seemed as if every single person that lived in that town was on the street supporting us,” Mr. Jones recalls. “While we were stopped, I saw a woman holding a flag and a picture. It was her son. She was crying as we were going through. She approached me and said, ‘You remind me so much of my son. Would you mind if I gave you a hug?’ There wasn’t a dry eye among the 3,000 guys who were there that day.”

Mr. Jones and Mr. Rendell have been to New York City to view pieces of steel from Ground Zero at the USS Intrepid, where remnants have been on display. They have their eye on two pieces in particular. “One is nine feet long, a straight piece with a few curves and bends,” Mr. Jones says. “The other is an S-shape, about four feet long. It really shows the destruction and power of what took place.”

Mr. Rendell says the finished memorial will depend on the site that is provided by the Borough and Township. “We want a site that will make that connection visible — Nassau street, Washington Road, Alexander Road — that sort of area,” he says. “But we also want to make it a place where people can have privacy to mourn. So it would be a place for open observation and for personal, intimate space. Around the perimeter of the Princeton University campus would be ideal. Another concept we had was the Valley Road School site. But it’s such an open book at this point.”

Researching other memorials centered around World Trade Center steel, Mr. Rendell has concluded that landscaping is important. Noting that the World Trade Center was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect who designed Robertson Hall at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, he has thought about making some sort of design reference to that as well.

The steel is available at no cost. During his presentation to Borough Council last month, Mr. Jones said other towns have spent between $40,000 and $70,000 on similar memorials. He plans to reach out to members of the community, as well as to Township Committee, for assistance. “One way or another,” he says, “I promise the town of Princeton I am bringing a piece of steel no matter what I have to do.”

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