A Labor of Love

On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 departed John F. Kennedy Airport en route to France with 230 passengers from three continents on board. The plane suddenly burst into flames over the waters of Smith Point Beach on Long Island, New York, and hundreds of lives were lost in the crash.

A magnificent memorial site, constructed with the assistance of union volunteers from IBEW Local 25, Long Island, New York was officially commemorated in a poignant ceremony July 14, 2002, at Smith Point Beach. On the 6th anniversary of the tragedy, numerous dignitaries addressed the gathering of families and friends.

Within hours of the fatal 1996 crash, a massive rescue mission began, aided by retired IBEW Local 25 member Thomas Cashman and his son Matt Cashman, also a Local 25 member. The father and son team worked through the night with total disregard for their own safety, braving smoke and flames to aid the recovery effort. With the help of many volunteers, the U.S. Coast Guard and police diver rescue teams, the remains of every victim and the entire Boeing 747 jumbo jet liner were recovered.

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, approximately 1,000 family members met at Smith Point for a candlelight service. Drawing strength from their support of one another, they formed "The Families of TWA Flight 800 Association," and made plans to erect a permanent memorial site at Smith Point.

At the July 14, 2002, memorial ceremony, from left: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York state Governor George E. Pataki, IBEW Local 25 "Conduit" Editor in Chief John Guadagno and Local 25 Press Secretary Rich Kammarada.

The memorial project, funded solely by donations and built by volunteer labor, bogged down in July 2001 when money ran out.

The Flight 800 Association approached the Nassau-Suffolk Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, for support to finish the memorial. BCTC President John M. "Jack" Kennedy, a former business manager of IBEW Local 25, referred the request to Local 25 President James Plant.

"Local 25 electricians, some 20 strong, volunteered their own time and labor to complete the memorial project," said Plant, who also volunteered. "When the electrical and construction work was complete, volunteers had donated over $1 million of labor." NECA contractor Don Quenzer of Quenzer Electric, Bay Shore, New York, donated equipment and material, and together with Local 25 supervised the entire electrical project. "Working with Local 25 at the memorial was a true cooperative effort and a pleasure," Don Quenzer said. Local 25 Business Manager Bob Dow, Jr. said the joint effort of the IBEW and NECA on the memorial is a perfect example of the benefits of partnering. "The IBEW and NECA joining forces for the common good," Dow said. "I think partnering will be the wave of our future."

With one year to complete the project for the scheduled 6th anniversary opening, IBEW Local 25 volunteers and the U.S. Navy Seabees worked long, hard hours, running conduit, setting pole bases, pulling wire and completing final wire terminations.

"Completion of the elaborate and complex lighting system, the heart of the memorial, is testimony to the skill and determination of Local 25 electricians," said Business Manager Dow, who also volunteered his services. "The pride of accomplishment, along with the love and generosity of so many, will remain forever at the memorial to ease the emotions of the many affected."

Memorial Ceremony

Local 25, Long Island, New York, bagpipers John Martin and Gregory Walsh lead a procession to the TWA Flight 800 International Memorial site at Smith Point Beach on Long Island.On the sixth anniversary this year, the TWA Flight 800 International Memorial site was commemorated on schedule. Noted speakers included New York state Governor George E. Pataki, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Rep. Felix J. Grucci, Jr., Local 25 President Plant and numerous other dignitaries.

Local 25 bagpipers Gregory Walsh and John Martin filled the air with the sound of "Amazing Grace" as they marched in precision cadence with the New York Fire Department Honor Guard to the Memorial Wall to hoist the colors and officially open the memorial.

Family members and friends of those lost filed into the site, past 14 flags representing the countries of the victims. They laid flowers at a polished black granite memorial wall engraved with the names of 230 victims.

Monty Siekerman of Ada, Ohio, was making his third visit to the memorial site. "It brings tears to your eyes when you come back and see what [the volunteers] have done," said Monty, who lost his daughter and son-in-law in the tragedy. "This memorial will be forever. Itll be beautiful forever."

"Amazingly, the somber, sad mood turned to relief and acceptance as the family members gathered," said Local 25 Press Secretary Rich Kammarada. "Families and friends of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, people of 14 countries, some not able to converse in the same language, were able to reach out to one another and draw an incredible strength. That strength and perseverance, that positive power, permeated the air."

Speaking of the design etched on the back wall of the monument depicting a roaring white cap wave turning into soaring birds, Kamarrada said, "I looked at the back wall of the monument as I spoke with [family members] and for a fleeting moment those soaring birds turned into angels." The inscription on the monument at the entrance to the memorial reads: "A Labor of Love for All Those Lost and Who Must Remember Still Find Comfort Here."

[Adapted in part from an article by Press Secretary Rich Kammarada published in the Local 25 newsletter, "The Conduit."]

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