[Hpn] Boston, MA - Homeless vet seeks to help preserve a spirit of unity - Boston Globe - August 7, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Thu, 08 Aug 2002 06:39:43 -0500


Wall of photos pays tribute to 9/11
Homeless vet seeks to help preserve a spirit of unity

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By Scott S. Greenberger - Boston Globe - August 7, 2002

A long line of troubles landed Russ Peres in a homeless shelter
next to City Hall: Heavy drinking and hepatitis C, which he
contracted from tattoos he got decades ago; the collapse of his
marriage; and the bankruptcy of his aerial photography business,
doomed, he says, by flight restrictions imposed after Sept. 11.

Now the 46-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Gloucester is
trying to rebuild his own life with a Sept. 11 memorial designed
to rebuild the faith of his countrymen. Each day for almost two
weeks, Peres, helped by other homeless veterans, sets up a wall
of Sept. 11-related photographs on City Hall Plaza.

Peres shot most of the photographs during several visits to New
York City, the first one just a week after the tragedy. But the
theme of the wall is strangely optimistic: Though there are a few
pictures documenting the destruction at Ground Zero, many more
show the posters and flowers and flags from around the country
that sprouted all over New York in the days that followed.

''It was strange, kind of scary. But it was interesting to see
the American people coming together,'' Peres said of his trips to
New York. ''Our country was united at that time.''

To help keep that unity intact, Peres plans to take his wall to
49 states (all except Hawaii) before the second anniversary of
the attacks in September 2003.

With the help of the staff of the New England Shelter for
Homeless Veterans, where he lives, he has set up a charitable
fund to cover his travel expenses, a modest salary, and
scholarships and school supplies for victims' children.

The goal is to collect a total of $150,000, with two-thirds of
the money going to the children.

Peres will leave Boston with his older brother at the end of this
week, making stops in several New England communities - including
South Weymouth, Salisbury, and Worcester - before heading to New
York for the first anniversary of the attacks.

In 11 days on City Hall Plaza, passersby have stuffed about
$1,100 into the empty water-cooler containers in front of the
wall. Conveniently located on a regular route to Faneuil Hall,
the wooden structure is usually surrounded by people, many of
them tourists. The photos are covered in plastic, and Peres keeps
magic markers handy so people can scribble messages.

Peres cleans the plastic every few days, though he allows
survivors and relatives of victims to write in indelible ink.

''It's wonderful - there are pictures on there that really get to
you,'' said Bonnie Spike, a tourist from Cleveland who paused at
the wall this week.

Another visitor, Plymouth firefighter John Hannon, said he
appreciated the wall's positive tone. ''I don't like to look much
more at the pictures of the buildings burning and falling down. I
just think of the firefighters in there, and all the other
people,'' Hannon said.

Lloyd Roberts, a construction worker from Constable, N.Y., in
town for hip surgery, used a disposable camera to take
photographs of the wall.

''It's history - and it's what we're fighting for,'' said
Roberts, whose son is in the Air Force.

One young woman with dreadlocks scribbled antiwar messages on the
plastic, writing ''War is not the answer'' and ''This is sick'' next
to a photo
of President Bush.

Peres wasn't bothered by the woman's messages. ''I don't believe
war is the answer,'' he said. ''But you can't just let people go
around killing each other, either. What choice do you have?''

Unshaven, wearing ragged work boots and a red Marines cap adorned
with pins of police and firefighters, Peres spends most of his
10-hour days on the plaza proudly surveying the crowds that stop
to look at his handiwork.

''I think what he's doing is wonderful. He's really proud of
himself - and he should be,'' said Peres's wife, Denise. The
couple, who have two children, separated four years ago.

Denise Peres said their children's pediatrician, Dr. Frederick
Rimmelle, was on one of the flights that crashed into the World
Trade Center towers and that her husband seemed to be especially
shaken by his death.

Before he constructed the wall, Russ made calendars for the
doctor's wife and office workers, she said.

''He wanted to help, then he just got really into it,'' she said.



Scott S. Greenberger can be reached at greenberger@globe.com
 Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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