OC Firefighter Honors Sept. 11 Victims, Heroes With Crosses, Flags in Front Lawn

Scott Townley's front lawn tribute has grown over the years after starting on Sept. 11, 2001 with a single handmade sign

Orange County firefighter Scott Townley welcomed visitors Friday to a memorial on the front lawn of his home, just as he has for the last 14 years, to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The member of the Orange County Fire Authority has placed hundreds of crosses and thousands of U.S. flags in front of his Fullerton home every year since the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. This year's tribute places special emphasis on New York Fire Department Chief Peter Ganci, Army Spc. William J. Gilbert of Hacienda Heights, and Marcy Borders, who was immortalized as "Dust Lady" in an iconic photo of her covered in ash as she emerged from her office in the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Ganci was killed as he responded to the attacks, Gilbert was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in May 2013 and Borders died of stomach cancer Aug. 24.

Ten volunteers set up the flags and crosses in about 15 hours, Townley said. The moving memorial began with a single, handmade sign and about 20 flags in 2001.

"I started with a single sign in the middle of the yard that I hand-painted after the towers fell," Townley said. "Over the years, it grew to encompass what you see now."

Now it includes 343 crosses for the firefighters who died helping victims in the attacks, 74 crosses for the Port Authority officers and police officers who died in New York City, and an 8-foot tall wooden cross that bears the names of every victim who was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and the downed plane in Pennsylvania.

"A little boy came by the other day and said, 'Wow Dad, every one of these little flags in a person,'" said Townley. "He couldn't have been more than 8 years old."

Nearly a decade and a half after the attacks, Townley said the memorial represents an opportunity for younger visitors to learn and better understand the nation's grief. Many young visitors Friday were born after the attacks.

"Why did a lot of people die?" one girl asked as she looked out Friday on the crosses and flags.

"I remember my grandparents telling me about Pearl Harbor," said Leighann Taylor, of Anaheim. "I kind of feel this is our version of Pearl Harbor."

Townley also pays tribute to the first-responders who have died of cancer and other afflictions contracted digging through Ground Zero's rubble, and he's also featuring walls for each branch of the military bearing the thousands of names of the servicemen and women who have died in the war on terrorism.

"I'm running out of real estate here -- I've got my driveway left and that's about it," Townley said.

The memorial has drawn people from around the country, including victims' family members, firefighters and members of law enforcement agencies. The ex-wife of a New York City firefighter visited the solemn memorial, joining others in a moment of silence at 9 a.m.

Other Sept. 11 Tributes in Orange County:

  • Costa Mesa firefighters, police and other city employees are holding a Sept. 11 ceremony at City Hall, 77 Fair Drive at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane struck one of the towers.
  • Long Beach firefighter Gary Biggerstaff's annual motorcycle ride has been rebranded the "Patriot Ride" and is being organized this year by the "Men of Fire MC" and Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys. The motorcycle enthusiasts will meet at the Harley Davidson store at 10 a.m. at 15080 Goldenwest Circle in Westminster and get rolling at 11 a.m. on their way to their Cook's Corner in Trabuco Canyon.
     
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