Michigan man crafts guitar to honor Sept. 11 victims

By Erin Albanese

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) -- Of the 90 guitars he has crafted since 1978, Thomas Wayne Felty said the most meaningful is the one made of hard curly maple and designed to honor the Sept. 11 victims of Flight 93.

Felty recently unveiled the six-string guitar at the Terryberry jewelry factory, playing a few chords with a soulful sound.

"There's an angel in there," he said.

He and Terryberry die maker and fellow woodworker Don Bremmer worked on the instrument together, with Terryberry donating some parts.

Felty, 63, completed the design and woodwork, and Bremmer, 52, the inlaying and carving.

Felty, of Grand Rapids, demonstrated how the 40 victims' names engraved on the guitar can be felt in the wood, similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The neck is inlaid with the phrase, "Let's Roll," the legendary words of passenger Todd Beamer, who led the effort to overpower the terrorists who had taken over the airliner with plans to use it in an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"I hope in our humble way we are not only honoring these 40 people, but the thousands of others who died that day," Felty said.

United Airlines Flight 93 was traveling from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, when the aircraft was hijacked by four al-Qaeda terrorists, part of a coordinated attack on American landmarks.

The plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., during an attempt by passengers to regain control.

The Vietnam War veteran said he couldn't put his feelings concerning the passengers into words, but he put them into wood.

"I'm not a wordsmith, but I am a woodworker," he said. "It moved everybody. It touched everybody. It was such an incredible act of bravery," he said.

Felty and Bremmer met through a mutual friend in 2002, and Bremmer said he sees his friend as his woodworking mentor. Bremmer rents a studio from Felty to pursue his hobby.

Felty, who owns Thomas Wayne Felty Builder, used to work for Grand Rapids-based Tontin Lumber Co. While there, he was approached by a local representative of the West Michigan 9/11/01 Memorial, who mentioned he wanted a guitar built as a tribute.

Since then, he and Bremmer have worked for nearly 100 hours on the guitar.

They hope to donate the guitar to a museum.

"The goal is to do some good in the community for the families of 9/11," said Bremmer, who lives in Grand Rapids.

Felty will be participating in The Healing Field event Sept. 9-13 at Cannonsburg Ski Area, marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Attendees will have the opportunity to sign a memorial journal and play the guitar.

Published: Tue, Sep 6, 2011