By JOHN HOWELL Tom Isacco was listening to "e;Imus in the Morning"e; while working in his metal fabrication shop when it was reported that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The first reports were a small private plane had flown into the
Tom Isacco was listening to “Imus in the Morning” while working in his metal fabrication shop when it was reported that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.
The first reports were a small private plane had flown into the tower. Isacco switched on the black and white TV he had at work and soon learned something far more serious was happening.
The night before, he had been at a party with Renee Newell and Carol Bouchard. He knew the two friends would be flying to Las Angeles the following morning on an American Airlines flight from Boston. Carol was especially excited because she had never flown first class.
As he watched the news, Isacco wondered if that could be the girls’ flight. He left work for Track 84, which was across Kilvert Street from his shop and where Renee had worked. Everyone was watching the televisions, including a woman who worked at American Airlines. It wasn’t long after that she was able to confirm that was the flight Renee and Carol were on. And it was the day that he and Larry Andrews, who also knew the girls, realized: “We can’t let this go, we have to have a memorial.”
Isacco was at the memorial in Oakland Beach Friday as he has been for every 9/11 and at least once a week or more frequently since it was completed.
Because of the pandemic, no major ceremony was planned and those inquiring of Warwick City Hall were informed a video of last year’s ceremony could be viewed on the web. Quietly, state Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson put a small observance together. She contacted the mayor’s office, Councilwoman Donna Travis, the local chapter of the Disabled American War Veterans and a 9-11 survivor and member of the Warwick School Committee Judy Cobden. The word also went out to the families of Rhode Island victims.
As a tradition, Vella-Wilkinson started the ceremony at 10:28 a.m. the time the second tower fell with a minute of silence. Isacco was at the memorial by 9 o’clock to check things out. The flag at the center of the memorial was lowered to half-staff. It was cool and gray, the wind blowing off Greenwich Bay.
Isacco has been one constant since he and Andrews agreed there needed to be a monument not only to recognize the three Warwick natives who lost their lives on 9/11 but also a place to reflect on the events of that day and where we are today. Mark Charette, who was working in the first tower as an employee of the insurance agency Marsh & McLennan, was the third Warwick native to lose his life in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Members of the committees that were formed to build the memorial held golf tournaments and other fundraisers and were there to help build it, but have since gone their separate ways. Isacco is still there, committed.
Isacco and Andrews took the idea of a memorial to then Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian.
“He liked it,” Isacco said. They started looking at locations. City Park was a prime consideration, but Isacco said, “I didn’t like it.” City Park is off the beaten path. It’s not a place where people commonly visit.
When Avedisian suggested Oakland Beach, he indicated there were plans for a carrousel and the spot that seemed to be best for a memorial was to the east near the end of the loop around the commons. The site is not hidden, yet it offers seclusion from the bustle of the rest of the park.
The initial plan was to hold a contest between the city’s high schools to design the park. It never got that far. Paul Jansson, who worked for Warwick schools, drew up some plans to get the ball rolling. The memorial committee liked them so much they went ahead with his proposal.
From paper to reality took months, and the morning after it was completed, Isacco visited to find most of the flowers had been ripped out. He couldn’t imagine who would have done such a thing. Isacco soon learned who was responsible, realizing there were issues that went beyond vandalism. He let it pass.
The memorial is still an occasional target. Barbara Croker and Donna Gill, who Isacco described as “flower children” for their dedication to landscaping and keeping the site clean, replace plants that are stolen or die. Croker planted mums last week. They call Isacco the “Tin Man” because of his metal fabrication business.
Travis has nicknamed Isacco “Tom Brick,” as he is the man to go to when there’s a request for inscribed brick. Even 19 years after 9/11, Isacco said he gets two to three orders a month from people looking to remember a family member or friend of one of the victims. The bricks sell for $50 with the money going to help maintain the memorial.
Her voice quivering, Vella-Wilkinson opened the brief ceremony. Mayor Solomon spoke about the strength of community and the commitment of first responders on 9/11.
Cobden, who was at Ground Zero, has in prior years described the horrors of the day – how she made it out, walking seven miles through air-choking dust to her home in Brooklyn and what it has physically done to her. This year, she chose to focus on how the unity and concern for one another forged by the event has turned to divisiveness and outright “nastiness.”
After singing “God Bless America” and the playing of taps by School Committee member Nathan Cornell, the group dissipated.
Isacco was not far from where he had been standing earlier in the morning. He sure to be there many days – 9/11won’t be forgotten.