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Elizabeth Fullon and Gary Edwards plan Sept. 11 memorial
Montana State University Billings College of Technology faculty members Elizabeth Fullon, left, and Gary Edwards hope to bring a piece of the World Trade Center to Billings for a permanent Sept. 11 monument at the COT.

A memorial honoring those responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is expected to be built at Montana State University Billings College of Technology.

The commemorative site, believed to be the first of its kind in Montana, will include a piece of the World Trade Center that fell after being hit by airliners.

It is scheduled to be dedicated this Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, said Vern Gagnon, the interim COT dean.

The idea to create a permanent memorial started with Elizabeth Fullon, who teaches writing at the COT.

The day that terrorists struck in 2001, she was a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard working as an education and training manager at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod.

Her husband was in Germany on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.

When two planes taking off from Boston were reported hijacked, fighter jets from Otis were the first to be scrambled. The military planes reached New York City just after the second tower was hit, and both structures were still standing, she said.

She and other base personnel immediately were put on alert and worked around the clock for months.

Not long after Fullon came to Billings two years ago, she began thinking about a memorial dedicated to the police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who went to the devastated World Trade Center. More than 400 first-responders were among the more than 2,700 people killed at the site when the towers collapsed.

The Billings memorial also will honor those who have served in the U.S. military since the attacks.

The college would be an appropriate place for such a memorial for several reasons, Fullon said.

The growing importance of two-year education makes "the COT the place to be," she said. The COT has fire science and paramedic programs that train first responders.

Billings also is well-known on the East Coast for its response to the 1993 attack on the home of a local Jewish family that led to the "Not in Our Town" effort. The 9/11 attacks brought people together in the same way that the "Not in Our Town" effort did in Billings, Fullon said.

She asked Gary Edwards, director of the COT fire science program, for help, and the project was off and running.

As a retired firefighter and fire chief, Edwards feels a close connection to the Sept. 11 tragedies, he said.

The COT memorial is designed for the whole state, not just for the college or Billings, Edwards said.

The memorial also will help educate those too young to remember what happened that day and honor COT students who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In February, MSU Billings Chancellor Rolf Groseth signed an agreement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to receive a piece of the World Trade Center debris.

"What better way of paying tribute and having ownership of the WTC than bringing a piece of it to Billings," Edwards said.

At this point, it's uncertain what that piece of debris is, although Fullon thinks it may be a 6-foot I-beam.

There is no charge for the artifact, but the college needed a way to get it to Billings. Whitewood Transportation of Billings volunteered to bring the relic from New York for no charge.

The artifact may be in Billings by mid-May, Gagnon said.

When it gets here, he hopes to send it on a tour around the state so others can see it, too.

Just where it will permanently be placed has not been decided. But it will be outside on the COT campus, so the public can view it anytime, Gagnon said.

The site for the artifact will be designed when the college learns what the artifact is, said Dan Carter, director of MSU Billings university relations.

Faculty and staff from the COT's computer drafting and design program, the university's College of Arts and Sciences and other departments are working on that project, Gagnon said, adding that he hopes students in every MSU Billings college will play some role in creating the display or learning from the memorial event.

Volunteer labor may build the memorial. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts also have asked to lend a hand.

"It will really be a collaborative event," Gagnon said.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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