By Paul Alongi nky.cincinnatti.com
A 1,360-pound piece of the World Trade Center has a new home in Greenville County thanks to a community fund-raising drive that survived a devastating recession more than a decade after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The jagged I-beam stands on a pedestal, forming the centerpiece of a plaza that organizers said was 100 percent privately funded.
The hard work that it took to build the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza was recognized Wednesday in an Independence Day ceremony attended by about 200 firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and spectators.
The plaza is open to the public and can be found in front of the Boiling Springs Fire District headquarters at 5020 Pelham Road.
The I-beam is meant as a reminder of the sacrifice and heroism that won the day after terrorists flew planes into the twin towers. Next to the I-beam are two pieces of frosted glass that symbolize the Freedom Tower, the skyscraper planned for the trade center site.
Scattered below are chunks of concrete are a reminder of the rubble left by the towers’ collapse.
“Every day when we drive by it, we will be remembering the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom,” said Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer.
Fire Marshall Jeff Nelson said that when he went to New York to pick up the I-beam last year, he had a glimpse of the 9/11 artifacts inside hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
A rack still had bicycles chained to it, and an antenna the size of a pickup lay on its side, he said.
When the I-beam first arrived in Greenville, the plaza wasn’t ready. Firefighters wheeled the I-beam in front of the station with a donation booth and U.S.flag every day and brought it back inside every night, Nelson said.
“For over a year, they did that,” he said.
Meanwhile, supporters dropped dollars in boots and businesses donated money, services and materials. Everything from the turf and fencing that surrounds the memorial to the lights that keep it illuminated at night were from private donations, organizers said.
It took a few months longer than hoped to finish the plaza. Original plans called for it to be dedicated on the attacks’ 10th anniversary, Fire Chief Steve Graham said.
The economy precluded fund-raising, he said.
“But what better day to do it than our nation’s birthday?” Graham asked.
When the 45-minute dedication did happen, it was solemn.
About 30 firefighters wearing dress uniforms stood in rank on a blacktop parking lot as the morning sun grew hotter. Eight others helped raise the U.S., state and firefighters’ flags before standing in a semi-circle around the memorial.
With about five minutes left in the ceremony, a few firefighters had to leave early to respond to a medical call — a reminder their job is never done.
Nearly 3,000 people died when terrorists hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
Greenville County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said the memorial shows that not much has changed since America won its independence from England 236 years ago.
“If we want to defend our freedom, we have to be prepared, we have to be vigilant and we have to fight for it,” Kirven said.