The steel beam once was straight, its strength helping to support one of the Twin Towers that reached toward the sky in New York City.
Eleven years later, the symbolic memorabilia from the Sept. 11 tragedy rests honorably on a brick pedestal in a manicured garden outside Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Station No. 3. The beam now looks like ribbon candy, succumbing to the heat from the terrorist-caused inferno. But the bent beam still represents strength — of the brave firefighters, courageous police officers and every day citizens who lost their lives in those towers.
The beam also represents the strength of a nation to overcome the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
“This is no ordinary piece of steel,” said Michael Opalka, retired chief and chaplain of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, during the invocation Tuesday morning. “It is anointed with the blood of our heroes.”
The ceremony to unveil the beam was among the thousands of remembrance services all across America. The most emotional were at the three hallowed grounds of the attack — the World Trade Center site in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and a field in Shanksville, Pa. — where a combined 2,977 people died on a day that shocked the world.
At the year-old Sept. 11 memorial in New York, about 1,000 people gathered, holding balloons, flowers and photographs of their loved ones. As bagpipes played, they bowed their heads in silence at exactly 8:46 a.m., when the first hijacked plane crashed into the north tower. Bells also tolled to mark the moments the three other hijacked planes crashed, and the moments that each tower collapsed.
Joe Torres, whose sister-in-law was killed in the attacks, put in 16-hour days in ground zero’s “pit” cleaning up tons of debris from the Twin Towers.
“The 11th year, for me, it’s the same as if it happened yesterday,” he said. “It could be 50 years from now, and to me, it’ll be just as important as year one, or year five or year ten.”
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observed the moment the first plane crashed in a ceremony on the White House’s south lawn. He later laid a white floral wreath at the Pentagon, above a concrete slab that said: “Sept. 11, 2001 – 9:37 am.”
Vice President Joe Biden was in Pennsylvania to attend the memorial for United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field. It was headed for a target somewhere in the Nation’s Capital, perhaps the White House, but passengers who knew about the other crashes fought the hijackers to prevent even more deaths.
“We wish we weren’t here,” Biden said of the sacred site about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. “We wish we didn’t have to be here. We wish we didn’t have to commemorate any of this. … I also hope it continues to give you some solace that this nation, that all of the people who are gathered here today, that they have not forgotten.
The victims were not forgotten at Keystone Halls, a Fort Lauderdale center for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Many of them are homeless veterans. As a tribute to the Sept. 11 victims, volunteers from HandsOn Broward, American Express and Miami Job Corps Center peeled tar from roof gutters and repainted a home in the blazing sun.