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World Trade Center Oculus honors veterans with patriotic, energy-efficient light display

New multicolor LED lights are revealed at the World Trade Center Oculus in honor of Veterans Day in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

JOHN JONES, FOR NJ ADVANCE MEDIA/TNS

By LARRY HIGGS | nj.com | Published: November 11, 2020

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — It might not be the theater lights on Broadway, but Veterans Day is literally up in lights, 13,000 of them, on a bigger stage: illuminating the Oculus at the World Trade Center transit hub in lower Manhattan.

As commuters trudged across the soccer field-sized concourse between the NYC subway and PATH trains, the lights illuminating the white rib cage-like Oculus structure shifted from bright white to red, white and blue in tribute to Veterans Day.

The patriotic display also could be seen through the Oculus windows, giving the white angular structure a splash of color after darkness settled, prompting commuters inside and outside the building to pause and take photos.

Installing 13,000 energy efficient light emitting diodes started 18 months ago and was completed in the last week to 10 days, said Rick Cotton, the Port Authority’s executive director. The $7 million lighting replacement was part of a larger project on the World Trade Center campus, which started at the Oculus, he said.

“What a wonderful coincidence it (was finished) just before Veteran’s Day,” Cotton said. “This inaugurates a new tradition celebrating Veterans Day.”

There are more than 400 veterans who work for the Port Authority, and Cotton paid tribute to the military skills they’ve brought to their jobs.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Army veteran Joe Palermo, 42, of Scotch Plains, N.J., after the patriotic lights went on. “It’s a feeling of honor and of gratitude and being of commemorated.”

Palermo was deployed for several tours of duty as an Army Ranger during Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Veterans Day commemorates all members of the military, as opposed to Memorial Day, which honors those who gave their lives in defense of their country.

“It’s being recognized as an integral part of the country,” said Palermo, who is vice president of the Port Authority Veterans Association.

The association provides coaching and mentoring for employees who are transitioning from the military to civilian life, Palermo said. And they still serve the community.

“We put fun event together for the members, but also do things to serve the community,” he said. “We raised money to provide meals to first responders during the COVID crisis.”

The new lights are part of the Port Authority’s “clean dozen” initiatives that follow the agency’s decisions to follow the Paris Climate accords, Cotton said. Energy savings of 6.4 million kilowatts from the new lighting is expected to be about $1 million annually, meaning it will pay for itself in less than 10 years, he said.

It’s also part of the larger effort that led to replacing 36 diesel buses with electric powered buses at the authorities three airports and converting 50% of the agencies light duty vehicle fleet to electric vehicles.

The red white and blue display will be lit through Wednesday, the official observance of Veteran’s Day. But it will not be the last colorful display. The Oculus will be lit for other holidays and observances, officials said.

“We want this celebration and the lighting to be the occasion to thank and remember the veterans of our armed services,” Cotton said. “We thank them for their dedication, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and dedicate our efforts to veterans across the country.”

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New multicolor LED lights are revealed at the World Trade Center Oculus in honor of Veterans Day in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.
JOHN JONES, FOR NJ ADVANCE MEDIA/TNS