By David Hotle, The JOURNAL
Like most people who remember the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, Billy Puckett remembers the feelings of helplessness and wanting to do something to help. Seventeen years later he?s found just how to do that by making sure no one forgets the sacrifice.
On Saturday, he drove The 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Memorial along Highway 92 to the Washington County Fairgrounds, surrounded by emergency responders and greeted by hundreds of people along the route.
Working as a firefighter in Plano, Texas, Puckett remembers hearing about the attacks and instantly wanted to do something, but said there were protocols.
?It was a day that everything went silent,? he said. ?It was a day everything was on lockdown. It was a day of being mesmerized that something like that happened in our country.?
Today Puckett, now retired, drives the memorial across the country to share with people the meaning of the event and to keep the day alive in people?s memories. He said the attacks are a part of United States history and a part that needs to be taught to coming generations.
The memorial is on display the Washington County Fair. The high-tech 53-foot trailer transforms into a 1,000 square foot exhibit and educates citizens throughout the country about the tragic day events. Exhibit tours are by former New York firefighters who provide firsthand accounts of the day and aftermath. The memorial will be displayed through Tuesday.
?It?s emotional,? Puckett said. ?It will bring you back to that day and to precisely what you were doing when you found out. Everyone who was alive knows what they were doing that day. They will see artifacts that were found in the rubble. What you see is all that is left.?
Washington County Fair Board member Carol Horning, who first discovered the memorial when she was at an international fair board convention in Las Vegas, was almost moved to tears Saturday when the memorial finally arrived in Washington County. She wasn?t the only one there to see the importance of the memorial, as about 100 local emergency responders came out to escort the semi to the Washington County Fairgrounds.
?I?m so proud of our community,? she said. ?This community came forth again and we got it here.?
Horning began fundraising in January, giving presentations to a variety of clubs. She found the idea was very well received.
Per tradition, first responders guided the semi to the fairgrounds and people from the area lined the streets. From the original meeting place in Ainsworth to the fairgrounds, people turned out to welcome the memorial. Many held large U.S. flags to show respect for the memorial. The flag displayed over the Washington Fire Station, which includes an empty fire uniform to honor the firefighters who died on Sept. 11, was also displayed.
Stephen Smith sat in the parking lot of an area business along Highway 92 to do his part to welcome the memorial. He said he remembers being at work in Muscatine when word came in of the attacks. He remembers the shock.
?It?s an honor and a priveledge to see what they are doing in honor of 9/11 attacks,? he said.
?I?ve been watching everything that was involved in bringing the memorial to Washington,? onlooker Gary Murphy said. ?This is one of only a few places they are going to of this size in Iowa and they don?t normally go to county fairs, so this is something special.?
Next to Murphy, Genie Davis got her hand-held flag ready to wave at the semi.
?This is a big thing in history for us,? she said. ?It will be exciting to go through it when it is here.?
Puckett said another reason for the memoria is to bring awareness to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation which helps to build homes for amputee veterans. So far 70 such homes have been built,
For more information on the hours of the memorial, check the Washington County Fair Association Facebook page.