By B. Scott Mohr
Not only does Freedom Plaza at G.H. Herrmann Funeral Homes’ The Gardens at Olive Branch boast a steel beam from World Trade Center 1, it also features leftover limestone from rebuilding the Pentagon and constructing the 9-11 Memorial in New York City and soil from the crash site of Flight 93.
The beam is supported by brick columns that contain cremation niches and a pentagon-shaped planter -- which brims with knockout rosebushes -- filled with 8 yards of dirt hauled in from Shanksville, Pa. There’s also the eternal flame, with its limestone base crafted by Brian Swersky, who built an identical flame at John F. Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. He also constructed a similar one at Ronald Reagan’s library in California.
“The flame’s bright; it’s an awesome site at night and lights up the plaza. The ambiance is awesome,” said Jeff Herrmann, who is technically president and owner of the family-owned business. “We really don’t use titles around here. Dad (Bob) and Mom (Noramae) still work daily in the business and are very proud at what the family has accomplished.
“You can’t miss the flame from 135, and the kids love it. I don’t know of a memorial that has artifacts from all three sites.”
The official unveiling of the plaza, 1605 S. State Road 135, Greenwood, will be held during a daylong program Wednesday, Sept. 11. Herrmann said he hopes a lot of people are around at dusk because that is when the flame is most beautiful. “We encourage people to come out and touch the beam and limestone.”
The idea for a memorial came to Jeff Herrmann in September 2006, when he was in New York City for the fifth anniversary of the terrorists attack on the World Trade Center. The occasion marked the debut of the memorial lights depicting the Twin Towers. While there he read a story in the New York Times about the surplus wreckage from the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.
He had been in the Twin Towers about a month before the attack, which killed 2,753 people.
“I had always wanted to build a memorial for Southsiders. There were none down here to reflect what our veterans had gone through.”
Shortly after returning home and while patronizing Hal’s Fabulous Vegas Bar & Grille, he sketched out his design on a bar napkin. “I gave those plans to my architect/engineer. Within a couple of days he had the blueprints for me,” said Herrmann, who had the napkin framed.
As it turned out, having the design drawn up was by far the easiest step in the arduous undertaking.
“It was an uphill battle to get the artifacts; I worked on getting the beam for two years,” said Herrmann. “There was a lot a red tape. I was told multiple times that I wouldn’t get a beam. I didn’t stop asking and eventually called in a favor to Senator Dick Lugar. In less than two weeks we were in line to get approved for a beam.
“Senator Lugar told me: ‘The Southside of Indianapolis has been good to me, and I want to be good to them.’ ”
Herrmann, 41, said the sense of accomplishment was indescribable when he had secured materials from all three sites. His longtime dream was becoming a reality.
He dug the footers and poured the concrete for the plaza in the spring of 2010. “This has been my baby. Like Senator Lugar, the Southside has been good to us. This is something for the community.”
The plaza, surrounded by the cemetery’s Field of Fallen Heroes, has been a labor of love for Herrmann, who prides himself in taking care of veterans and knowing that he helps run the oldest family-founded funeral home and cemetery on the Southside. “We take care of the final expenses for any military member who dies in the line of duty.”
His grandfather, the late G.H. Herrmann, launched the business in 1926 and paid a great deal of attention to details and professionalism, which have only been approved upon over the years.
“We so wish he was still alive so he could see what we have done and been able to accomplish,” said Herrmann.
“We are the premier funeral provider. We can tailor a service to fit the needs of all families. We hope you are able to enjoy our lasting tributes to the families we serve.”