10/13/11 — A steel tribute

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A steel tribute

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 13, 2011 1:46 PM

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A piece of steel from the World Trade Center that will be on display at the Rosewood Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the station Wednesday afternoon. From left, Operation Chief Chris Overman and Capt. David Grice, who traveled to New York City to pick up the piece of beam, are seen with the piece of steel as it is unloaded. A curio cabinet is being built inside the station to display the steel. A T-shirt from Engine 54, the New York City fire station that lost the most members, 12, in the attacks, will also be on display.

Early on Sept. 11, 2001, it was an I-beam in the north tower of the World Trade Center. But by the end of the day, it was folded and buried in a pile of rubble.

Wednesday, more than a decade later, that same beam sat in the Rosewood Volunteer Fire Station.

Children, firefighters and law enforcement officials posed for photos and gazed at the hunk of steel -- a testimony to what the nation lost that September morning and to the two-year effort to find a way to bring it home as a memorial for those in Wayne County who will never forget.

Leaving Tuesday at 5 a.m., Rosewood firemen David Grice and Chris Overman headed farther north than either of them had ever been and didn't stop until they reached a fire station in Queens, N.Y. There, they stayed the night with firefighters working on Engine 263 and Ladder 117 in the station's bunkhouse.

"They treated us like we were their own," Grice said.

The two headed to lower Manhattan during their daylong stay in New York City and visited Engine 54 and the Ten House, the two stations closest to ground zero.

It was an emotional experience, Grice said.

"I wish my mouth could tell what my eyes have seen," he said.

But the spiritual climax, both firefighters agreed, happened when they arrived at the John F. Kennedy Airport Hangar 17, where the New York Port Authority had been keeping the remains of the twin towers that fell during the terrorist attacks.

Nozzles and fire hoses, other pieces of steel and a subway railing "twisted up like a pretzel" were gathered in the warehouse on the day, the Port Authority told them, would be the last for distributing pieces of the wreckage.

But what surprised them the most was the attitude of the firefighters and Port Authority officials who knew what they were there to do.

"They acted like we were doing something for them, and we felt like they had done something for us," Overman said. "They all told us to take care of it."

And take care of it they will. Overman, who began the two-year process of acquiring the steel, is constructing a curio cabinet for display in the fire department's lounge, and is also putting together a book of all the correspondence and paperwork from the acquisition to chronicle what the wreckage means for future generations of firefighters and visitors. A fire company T-shirt from Engine 54, the station that lost the most members, 12, in the attacks, will also be folded and placed on display.

Visitors, the two said, would be more than welcome to come see the display once it's put together, but its connection with those in New York won't soon die. They will send photos and newspaper clippings to the stations that were hospitable during their trip, which concluded with an escort from Pikeville Volunteer Fire Department and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office from the Wilson County line to the station, where dozens awaited to catch a glimpse of the steel and reflect.

The money to get the steel to Wayne County came from the department's Women's Auxiliary, who held numerous fundraisers to come up with the necessary money.

The campaign to bring the 460-pound chunk of metal to Wayne County has ended, but Overman said he hopes it will offer future visitors a glimpse into what was taken by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and how it affected firefighters, law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces across the world.