North Fork welder called to Ground Zero


Welder Joe Polashock of New Suffolk working on the frame for a waterfall that will be part of the plaza at the World Trade Center Memorial.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Joe Polashock. 64, of New Suffolk was watching television when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. Not unlike many parked in front of television sets that morning, he thought the crash was a horrible accident. By the time a second plane slammed into the south tower almost an hour later, he knew the country he loved was under attack.

Today, Mr. Polashock commutes five days a week into Manhattan to join the crew working to build a memorial to the almost 3,000 people who perished in the twin towers, the Pentagon and in a field southeast of Pittsburgh that day.

He’s a second-generation member of the Millwright Local Union 740 and is part of a five-man crew welding components on a waterfall that is part of the memorial.

The memorial features two large pools set within the footprints of the twin towers with the largest man-made waterfalls in the country running down the sides. The names of those killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania will be engraved around the edges of the pools and the site will be surrounded by nearly 400 trees.

“I was sick, just short of physically ill,” Mr. Polashock said, recalling that morning when the towers fell, while spotty reports continued to pour in about a similar attack at the Pentagon and a downed plane in a field in near Pittsburgh.

“It’s a privilege,” he said of his work today on the memorial. “We take a lot of pride in being involved in the project,” he explained.

In recent years, he has provided services to various contractors in need of skilled welders. But he has tried to take jobs on Long Island to avoid long commutes. He couldn’t refuse when a contractor for whom he previously worked asked him to join the crew at Ground Zero.

He said it’s no chore that he rises at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Ronkonkoma to connect with a 4:55 a.m. train that takes him to Manhattan, where he boards a subway. The long commute means he puts in 14 hours a day to do eight hours of work. He has been keeping that schedule for several weeks and expects his part of the job will last another couple of months.

Mr. Polashock is married with grown step-children. His wife, Eleanor, said about his schedule, “It’s not a problem. He really knows what he’s doing. He wants to leave his mark down there.”

With 43 years in the business, Mr. Polashock has worked on power plants and sewage disposal and water treatment facilities, but never anything as meaningful as his current assignment, he said.

He can’t help but be aware of the controversy swirling over plans to erect an Islamic center in the former Burlington Coat Factory building a couple of blocks away.

“I’m as tolerant as anybody,” Mr. Polashock said, “but it’s time for somebody to be a little tolerant of our feelings,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s going to turn physical.” A lot of New York City Police and federal officials provide security at the memorial site, he said.

As for the debate over whether the construction of a new World Trade Center complex is only inviting another terrorist attack, Mr. Polashock said, “I think it’s the right thing. We have to stick our chests out a little bit and say here we are.”

The United States takes care of everybody, he said. “They’re still holding their hands out while they’re looking down at us,” he said about those countries that accept U.S. foreign aid while complaining about America.

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