For Glen Lawres, the weeks leading up to Sept. 11 are difficult.
It’s been 18 years since planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in a field near Shanksville, Pa. Like so many others who lost family members and friends in the attacks, Lawres said the day itself, almost too hard to bear.
“Every time this week rolls around, or maybe even two weeks, it’s really bad. We lost half of our family,” Lawres said on Wednesday.
While many families lost one, or a few relatives, Lawres, who now lives in Des Moines, lost 20 members of his family in the Sept. 11 attacks. All, from his mother’s side of the family, were New York City firefighters who rushed to the site of the towers after the planes struck and the towers came down. Lawres lived on the east coast at the time of the attacks, but later moved to north-central Iowa before moving to Des Moines.
One of Lawres’ cousins was a member of the Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 Fire Department in the Midtown District of New York City. He died while trying to save others who became trapped in the buildings.
Lawres was present at the VERBIO North America ethanol plant on Lincoln Hwy. in Nevada Wednesday night, where 54 firefighters from 14 departments climbed the plant’s tower to pay tribute to the firefighters who died on 9/11.
The VERBIO tower is approximately 230 feet tall, and it would take six round trips to equal the height of the World Trade Center towers, which each stood over 1,360 feet.
At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the 54 firefighters began their journey up 362 stairs to the top of the tower - many carried 80 to 100 pounds of equipment on their backs. The building had no air conditioning, and the outside temperature hovered at a balmy 86 degrees.
One Bondurant firefighter wanted to make the moment even more memorable.
Lawres reached out to the Bondurant Fire Department about flying his cousin’s New York casket flag at their department.
The firefighter, Tony Collins, heard about the request, and wanted to meet Lawres face-to-face. When the two met, he asked if he could be the one to carry the flag and a United States of America flag which flew in front of his fire station, up the tower in honor of his cousin. Lawres agreed.
“(This is) the most humbling honor of my career, you know, to be able to carry one of the fallen’s casket flag, in memory of them. It’s the most humbling thing I’ve ever done, and even if it kills me, I’m going to climb all six of these trips, even if I have to strip down to my regular clothes,” Collins said.
After climbing up twice with the flags, Collins decided to share the opportunity with his fellow firefighters and offered anyone who wished to carry the flag to do so, to ensure that the flags made it six round trips.
Ashton Briggs of Bondurant, Max Van Maanen and Cole Nielsen of Maxwell, and a few others answered that call, and at around 8:30 p.m., they completed the 1,380 hike up and down the tower.
“It’s special. It’s really special,” Lawres said.
Some climbers single-handedly climbed the tower six times. Others did as much as they could.
For the firefighters, the anniversary of 9/11 holds special significance as 412 first responders, including 343 firefighters, perished that day.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize just how significant (9/11) is; I mean we all think about 9/11, but it is really hard to fathom losing that many public safety people,” said Ray Reynolds, the city of Nevada’s director of fire and EMS. “9/11 as you know it holds a pretty special place for the fire service, so we decided to do this climb.”
The event came to be when Reynolds and the plant administrator at the Nevada biorefinery, Kathlyn Long, were having a conversation while discussing fire resources, Long said.
Reynolds told Long that he had climbed the tower once and it would like to do it again. Long then suggested doing it on 9/11, which got the ball rolling.
The climb was an opportunity for VERBIO to get to know the fire units they may need to call on, while also paying tribute to something that affected everyone.