NEWS | Sept. 11, 2021

Divinity among Heroes: A Surge Maintenance Sailor’s 9/11 Memorial Tribute

By Jason Scarborough, Public Affairs Specialist Norfolk Naval Shipyard

The events of September 11, 2001 brought out the fundamental humanity of so many people. The desire for human connection and shared grief had perfect strangers drawn to one another. On the days following 9/11, as it became commonly known, it was discovered how much people can care about one another. Americans reached out in heroic ways to assist those in distress. Differences were replaced with commonality. The fabric of unity and faith united not just a Nation, but much of the whole world. This mindset is what drove Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) reservist Machinist Mate Chief Petty Officer (MMC) Joseph Pisano in creating a 9/11 memorial tribute piece and commemorating the 20th anniversary. MMC Pisano’s goal was that his artwork would provide a reminder of that unity, faith and resolve in America following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. 

U.S. Navy Reservist MMC Pisano was recalled to active duty in July 2020 to support USS Bonhomme Richard’s (LHD-6) post-fire recovery efforts. Upon completion of his duties, he volunteered to support NNSY’s Surge Maintenance (SurgeMain) team providing relief during the pandemic and was mobilized from San Diego, California in December 2020. Upon Pisano’s arrival to NNSY, he became the medical liaison point of contact and demobilization medical team lead where he tracked more than 400 Reserve Sailors mobilized on short-notice orders.  Pisano stated, “Medical readiness has been my focus at NNSY, as well as demobilizing 400 plus Sailors.  Since mobilization for SurgeMain has been a new frontier, so has the medical mobilization aspect, accommodating Sailors with their medical needs and helping to fulfill their medical requirements.” 

Due to the restrictive parameters on social activities, along with travel restrictions for military personnel during the pandemic, Pisano began following his passion, creating unique artwork, to occupy his time outside of work. In March 2021 he began creating a 9/11 memorial tribute piece that he calls “Divinity Among Heroes.”

This tribute was created with iconic imagery in mind.  The idea for a portion of the piece was taken from the images of the American flag draped over the Pentagon after the attack, the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers standing tall with the iconic 360-foot antennae, and the historic photo of New York City firefighters raising the U.S. flag, reminiscent of the Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. The base of the piece evolved into a simulated fire truck with hose panels and gauges. The bumper portion of the firetruck is composed of donated license plates that represent those lost on Sept. 11. The final piece is the cross, hovering above the iconic firefighters, symbolizing the cross of steel beams found among the debris of the World Trade Center site.

“The dimensions, in my mind, needed to be big enough to grab the attention of the audience - the Twin Towers stand at 10 feet in height, the flag is nine feet in length and the entire piece is four feet wide by 12 feet in height.  To date, this is my most ambitious project in terms of size. The size factor is meant to be the first ‘wow’ factor.  The second ‘wow’ factor being the medium of choice,” said Pisano.

Pisano’s top priority, and an initial challenge in creating the piece, was ensuring the art would ultimately be uplifting. He knew the medium would have to quickly allow the audience to identify the image, yet once close enough to see, would challenge the viewer’s perspective and imagination.  The medium is designed to draw the audience into the piece and make it interactive. The piece is made up of more than 30,000 drywall and trim screws that were donated by a local machine shop. The towers are constructed of approximately 26,000 drywall screws. The drywall screws, with the larger surface area of the two screws, make up the towers. The trim screws, with the smaller surface area, make up the iconic firefighter image, which consists of another 4,000 trim screws and topped with real ashes. Fittingly, the firefighters of NNSY installed the initial first screw of the North Tower, first screw of South Tower and first screw of the firefighter image.

The flag is comprised of 2,978 one inch wooden blocks.  When researching, Pisano discovered 2,977 persons perished from the Sept. 11 attacks.  The additional block is for the only K9, Sirius, killed in the attack.  The names of all victims are handwritten on each block, with one victim’s name per block, unless the victim was pregnant.  In that case, ‘unborn’ is written with the pregnant women’s name. 

The base of the piece, a simulated fire truck, is constructed of authentic gauges, cranks, handles, hoses, chevrons, and plates from a decommissioned fire truck. There is a subtle symbolic aspect to the piece, with the three gauges: top, middle and bottom. The top gauge is set at 343+1, middle gauge set at 60 and the bottom gauge is set at eight, indicative of the 412 First Responders lost that day. The cross, fabricated out of clear acrylic to symbolize the two I-beams that were fused together from the heat of the fires at the World Trade Center site that formed a cross. Lastly, a silver bell, mounted above a board of firefighter patches, is positioned behind the piece for ceremonial use if required.

Having served in the U.S. Navy Reserves for more than 21 years, MMC Pisano is committed to the service of our Nation. While serving at NNSY as a medical liaison during the pandemic, Pisano made the most of his free time. He successfully embarked on an artistic journey in hopes that his artwork would unite people, remind others of the faith in humanity following the attacks, and provide another outlet to heal from the losses that occurred 20 years ago on September 11th. These hopes are examples of his passion, vision and commitment to the service to his country. Pisano stated, “My top priority while activated was to serve NNSY; my top priority and initial challenge for 9/11 piece was creating an image that would not open wounds or deepen the wounds already struggling to heal. I am very pleased with how the piece turned out, I feel I accomplished this and to top it all off I created this piece in my hotel room.”