CHICAGO — A memorial honoring some of Chicago’s bravest who helped out in New York after 9/11 is stuck in storage.
The tribute to Chicago firefighters – one of whom later gave his life while on the job – was donated four years ago but still does not have a home.
Laurie Johnson was in 8th grade when her father Herbie raced to New York’s Ground Zero. He was there to help the people of the city and his comrades in the New York Fire Department in the aftermath of that dreadful day.
“To me he was like my best friend,” she says. “I was very close to my dad.”
Johnson and a team of Chicago firefighters spent the better part of the next month there. They formed friendships with their New York counterparts that still exist to this day.
Only 13 at the time, Laurie remembers 9/11 and her father’s time there very well.
“I remember being scared that he was going out there because he saw all the stuff on the news about New York,” she says. “So I was definitely scared my Dad was going out there.”
Johnson died in November 2012 while battling a blaze in the Gage Park neighborhood. The following summer, some of his friends from the Big Apple came to town to take part in memorial golf outing held in Captain Johnson’s honor. They brought with them some steel from a fallen tower, and it is now at Johnson’s old firehouse, Engine 123 at 51st and Leavitt.
The piece is meant to be put on public display for all the Chicago firefighters who helped during those dark days. But a second piece now sits on a pallet at a city warehouse on 39th Street collecting dust. Johnson’s family and others within the CFD ranks can’t understand why it’s still there and what is taking so long for it to be prominently displayed as a tribute somewhere in Chicago.
“It’s sad it’s been sitting there all this time and we haven’t put it out somewhere for everybody to go and see,” Laurie said.
The Johnsons have called the South Side’s 19th Ward their home for decades. It’s a place where many fire fighters call home. Local Alderman Matt O’Shea said he only recently found out about the steel situation, and he too thinks the fire department has dropped the ball. He suggested King Lockhart Park at 106th and Western, which honors two firefighters who died in 1998, would be perfect for the steel tribute.
Fire department spokesman Larry Langford says they have been working with an artist in Utah who has volunteered his time and efforts to create a memorial. They are waiting for a rendering from him but the artist has been sick. The department said it continues to reach out to him, but to no avail.