To the son who followed a family legacy into firefighting, it evokes the father and former Long Island fire chief who fell that day.
To the director of a Georgia park, it explains why he’s been called to war three times in the past decade.
To the residents of Gig Harbor, WA, it required no less than an escort of firefighters, paramedics and as many as 100 motorcycles during its from New York City to the crash site of United Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to its new home in the Pacific Northwest.
Shards of a symbol, hunks of steel. Bolt-studded, fire-scarred beams that until 9/11 supported the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York now lie scattered across American towns — reminders of the morning over which there remains mourning. In hundreds of American communities, each piece recalls a day to remember, a hope for the future, a prayer for one peace.
From , where a new veterans memorial and rain garden will be dedicated Sunday, to Merrick, Long Island, NY, where a high-school valedictorian wrote a letter to launch a memorial. From historic Savannah, GA, to glitzy Beverly Hills, CA, 9/11 isn’t one moment or a decade’s acknowledgement but a constant commemoration.
Remnants of the World Trade Center are honored in various ways in scores of cities and towns throughout a nation that, 10 years ago Sunday, came under terrorist attack for the first time in its history.
During the past three years, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center, has World Trade Center steel lies at the heart of monuments in 50 states, several other countries and the USS New York.
Patch has reported on the acquisition of those artifacts and construction of associated memorials in , and at least 70 U.S. communities, many of which plan to unveil or dedicate their local 9/11 tributes on Sunday, . [See related map: Blue flags indicate dedications set for Sunday; red flags indicate existing or planned memorials.]
No ordinary monuments, these near-sacred relics have been sought and claimed by firefighters and Legionnaires, town folk and clergy, teenage Scouts with no kin among 9/11’s victims and school children too young to have formed their own memories of its images.
“This isn’t just a piece of steel; it’s so much more than that. This represents the 3,000 people who lost their lives in the Sept. 11th attacks,” said Des Plaines, IL, Deputy Fire Chief Ron Eilken, of the his department has incorporated into a City Hall memorial.
“It affected everyone in the nation, and it still does today,” Eilken said. “We don’t fly the same way. We don’t travel the same way. Children lost their parents. People lost friends. This has affected every one of us.”
On the day the towers collapsed, Eilken was at a suburban-Chicago training session with other firefighters. Together they watched the attacks unfold on television.
“Everyone remembers where they were that day. It was something to see how this brought us together as a nation,” Eilken said. “I remember I was driving home, and I saw a big group of people standing in a circle around the American flag on a flagpole, and they were holding hands and praying.
“How often do you see something like that?”
In 2008, the Port Authority began releasing remnants of World Trade Center steel debris from Hanger 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where it had been hauled and stored during the site clean-up. Again, Americans stood shoulder to shoulder over 9/11, gathering for the passage of beams and debris. They lined streets, highways and bridges. Bagpipe bands played “Amazing Grace.”
UPS shipped smaller chunks in plain packages. Larger, heavier beams left the hangar, one by one, draped in flags, covered in roses and strapped to the back of fire engines, pickups or flatbed trucks for solemn processions to new resting places.
Most arrived amid escorts of firefighters and paramedics who traded battered turnout coats for formal dress blues, spurred by spiritual kinship with the 343 New York firefighters and medics who died after responding to the attacks.
Some pieces resembled rustic crosses or oversize anvils, while others were more akin to shimmering pieces of abstract art even before their incorporation into thoughtfully conceived monuments or lush gardens.
There were small shards destined to be embedded in crosses or sculptures. There was the 16-foot beam added to the firehouse memorial in Levittown, NY, which lost when the towers fell.
Across America, tributes evolved:
- "... Here is this crumpled-up piece of steel that used to be a part of something, and it's been through so much," Marshal Charles Belgie said of the tarnished, 898-pound chunk his department claimed in November.
- “Everyone here today holds a cry in their hearts,” Julie Schnaars, a 2010 high school valedictorian, said at last year’s dedication of the crumpled 16-foot beam she helped to acquire for a That display is the third planned in a Long Island community that experienced multiple losses of residents and firefighters.
- “They’re pretty amazing . . . pretty thick and long and everything,” said Merrick firefighter Bobby Gies of the for two other memorials that the Merrick Fire Department planned. Gies’ father, Ronnie Gies, was a former Merrick fire chief and a FDNY firefighter who died while responding with his squad to the trade’s center’s north tower. “It’s very nice to have him back in Merrick.”
- “It has a special place for me in my heart," said Lt. Col. John Gentry, commander of Savannah, GA’s 118th Field Artillery, who has been deployed three times since 9/11. Gentry is director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, where a for a memorial in
- “. . . It’s something that is bigger than any one person,” said Beverly Hills, CA,, who selected the that will be dedicated Sunday in his city’s 9/11 Memorial Garden.
- “We wanted to bring it close to here so people can come and reflect and always remember,” said Michelle Gibson, chief of the in Darien, IL, “Even if you didn’t know anyone in the World Trade Center, we’re still Americans, and everyone felt that.”
On their way, many of the World Trade Center relics passed by columns of elementary schoolchildren, their hands on hearts or clutching flags.
“There is an entire generation that did not see the images from that day,” Barnegat Township, NJ, School Superintendent Karen Wood told the crowd that in August welcomed for a planned memorial at the high school.
“We have a responsibility to educate the generations to come so they never forget everything that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.”
Cindi Lash is a Patch Regional Editor in Western Pennsylvania.