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The Journal Gazette

  • Benjamin Vandeveer, 3, helps plant flags Tuesday evening before a ceremony at the Law Enforcement/Firefighters Memorial of Allen County on Wells Street. (Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette)

  • At Tuesday’s ceremony, Mark Bulmahn, left, and Toby von Holdt of Fort Wayne Trees plant a sapling taken from a tree that survived the 9/11 attack in New York City.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 1:00 am

Piece of 9/11 history finds home in city

Tree 'symbol of rebirth'

Sapling that survived NYC attack planted at Wells Street memorial


Just a few minutes after 5 p.m., sirens were heard coming slowly from the north as a main character in a ceremony honoring the fallen of Sept. 11, 2001, was delivered to a place of honor in Fort Wayne.

One of the vehicles in a procession that started in Elkhart County held a 4-foot-high Callery pear sapling that was taken from a tree that survived the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.

A few minutes later, it was planted in the ground between the fire and police memorial stones at the Fort Wayne Law Enforcement/Firefighters Memorial along North Wells Street.

“In the past, we'd had things come through Fort Wayne to see and touch and maybe to cry over, but now we have something of our own,” said Jerry Vandeveer, who with his wife, Linda, helped establish the memorial.

“It's just a symbol of rebirth and revival,” Vandeveer said of the offspring of the Manhattan tree dubbed the Survivor Tree.

Even 17 years after the attacks that shook the nation and the world, Vandeveer still gets choked up about the many sacrifices made that day. It happened again Tuesday, as he read the last words of one of the people onboard Flight 93, which crashed in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Vandeveer shed a tear and mumbled “Sorry” after relating that the man told his wife via cellphone that the passengers were going to try to thwart the hijackers. “I know we're all going to die. I love you, honey,” the man said.

The Rev. Richard Hartman, a Lutheran police chaplain who offered prayer during the ceremony, said the attacks still have power over many people.

“While it's in our past, it's never forgotten,” he said, adding that many people who risked or gave their lives “for people they didn't know” showed the power of love.

Kimberly Wagner, 39, said the irony that another name will be added to the local memorial stone honoring police officers was not lost on her.

David A. Tinsley, a Fort Wayne police officer, died around midnight Monday after collapsing on Fort Wayne's southeast side near the Rivergreenway following a pursuit of a suspect.

“Knowing we lost another Fort Wayne officer today who is going to be on the wall, I wanted to pay my respects,” she said, adding that her father, brother-in-law and sister-in-law all work in local police or fire service.

“It's exciting to have the tree coming here,” she added. “Having a tie to 9/11 with the tree is an incredible honor.”

Charred and damaged, the tree was pulled from the World Trade Center rubble and saved by New York parks workers who nursed it back to health.

The tree was replanted at the national memorial at the World Trade Center in 2010, and saplings from it have been distributed to groups around the nation.

Fort Wayne was one of 16 Indiana communities to receive a sapling this year, arranged through an Elkhart County fire department with the help of Fort Wayne Fire Department Capts. James Noll and Dennis Giere.

Planting the tree were Toby von Holdt and Mark Bulmahn of Fort Wayne Trees.

“It's amazing. ... It's an honor to be a part of it,” Bulmahn said.

His partner called it “a blessing” to plant the tree.

“My hat truly goes off to all the men and women who protect us,” von Holdt said.

About 80 people, including police and fire officials, looked on during the ceremony.

Vandeveer said the plans are eventually to erect a decorative iron fence around the tree and place a plaque telling its story.