The much-anticipated dedication of the City of West Fallen Heroes Memorial Saturday offered much worthy of praise, including an appropriate speech about sacrifice, loss and resilience by Gov. Greg Abbott, complete with admiration for “the remarkable work the people of West have done to rebuild this community.” But the centerpiece was quite obviously missing. Because of thunderstorms, this engaging hometown memorial — complete with informatively written individual tributes to those who perished in the West Fertilizer Company ammonium nitrate explosion of April 17, 2013 — could be conjured indoors only through a hastily but astonishingly well-produced video of the memorial, complete with scene-setting drone footage, by West videographer Ben Ranzinger.
Credit: Ben Ranzinger
Afterward, some family members and friends left the high school and, in the downpour, paused at the nearby circular memorial honoring first responders Morris Bridges, Cody Dragoo, Joey Pustejovsky, Doug and Robert Snokhous, Jimmy Matus, Buck Uptmor, Luckey Harris, Perry Calvin, Jerry Chapman, Cyrus Reed and Kevin Sanders as well as residents Adolph Lander, Judith Monroe and Mariano Saldivar. The most heartfelt moments during the ceremony came from West Mayor Tommy Muska, who served as a first responder alongside those who died and spoke warmly of them.
“To those of you who knew these fellow first responders and individuals, who worked with them, volunteered with them, lived with them, let this memorial be a place where you can remember and cherish their memory,” he said. “Remember Joey Pustejovsky’s dimple, Cody’s grin, the infectious personality and smile of Luckey Harris, Buck’s love for animals, the Snokhous brothers’ zest for life, dedication to the fire service and the way they enjoyed a good, cold beer. For those of you who didn’t know them, let this memorial be a little glimpse, a little glance into their lives. They were friends, husbands, wives, sons, brothers. This memorial will allow you to know their passion, their love of beauty, their love of life. Their passing still leaves a large hole in this community and in our hearts.”
The people of West properly honor the fallen by so thoughtfully memorializing them — and this goes not just regarding the vision that Pustejovsky’s father Joe and Dallas architect (and former West resident) Kurt Vrbas invested in the stunning memorial dedicated Saturday but the makeshift roadside memorial erected in the immediate wake of the blast, complete with cross, flowers and small U.S. flags, just beyond the railroad tracks from the new memorial and still cared for six years later. The people of West honor the fallen by demonstrating faith in themselves, enduring optimism and sturdy resolve in rebuilding a town of 2,800 that sustained significant property and infrastructure damage.
And let’s cheer those such as Mayor Muska who greatly honor the fallen by recognizing first responders’ broad concern for the public welfare. He and a handful of others do so by continually pressing for tighter regulations to prevent any other community from suffering so horribly. One firefighter after the ceremony praised state legislators for insisting on sprinklers in all businesses storing ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Well, yes, that was proposed, but the fertilizer industry helped kill it as an onerous expense. So much for sacrifice.
Granted, the politicians who came to honor the dead have made some safety reforms since the West explosion. But only when they champion the advice of firefighters and first responders more completely will they measure up to the stature and courage displayed by the fallen heroes of West.