It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since the 9/11 attacks. Those of us who are old enough to remember that day distinctly recall what life was like before 9/11, and what it became after. The feelings of anguish for all the innocent who died in the attacks never went away, although they did become masked by anger — anger at those who killed Americans.
The heroes of 9/11 were those who ran towards danger to save people, even though they had the knowledge that they might not return home. Those who later signed up to become first responders and those who joined the military because they wanted to do whatever they could to help, became heroes as well. Sadly, many heroes never returned home.
For this reason, on Saturday, first responders throughout the nation will take a solemn drive as they get into their fire trucks, their police cars and their ambulances and turn on their lights to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those who later lost their lives through military service. They want to ensure that America never forgets.
The annual Parade of Lights for the city of Beckley will begin at dusk on Sept. 11.
According to parade organizer and Raleigh County Fire Levy Coordinator Kevin Price, hundreds of first responders from throughout southern West Virginia will make the drive from Independence High School in Coal City, through Sophia down Robert C. Byrd Drive to the city of Beckley and on to Linda K. Epling Stadium where a special closing ceremony will take place.
Along the way, the parade will drive by the 9/11 memorial at Word Park in uptown Beckley. The park is home to a 1,058-pound steel beam that was once a part of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
The piece of steel, designated by the New York Port Authority as I-0158, is 8’ long, 32” high and 12” thick, Price said. It is believed that this piece of steel was located between the 40th and 45th floors near an elevator shaft.
The steel piece sits on a 9,000-pound mount and is connected to that mount by 1,000-pound steel plates, Price continued. It was officially dedicated on September 11, 2011.
Price explained that he, along with members of the Beckley Police Department, had wanted to create something in the city to honor those killed in the line of duty.
“The police department had lost a couple officers as well as the fire department some years back,” Price said. “We were trying to find something that would memorialize them.”
During this process, former Beckley Fire Captain Billie Trump had come across a website from the New York Port Authority that stated cities were eligible to get a piece of steel from the Twin Towers. So, Trump filled out the application and one year later received an email that the city of Beckley would receive a piece of steel, Price added. They had a choice between a straight piece of steel, or one with character.
“I said we’ll take one with character,” Price recalled.
So, plans were made to drive a pickup truck to New York and bring the piece of steel home.
“Myself and Captain Trump and Brian Trump, we drove up there to New York, because we had a very narrow window of time to pick this up. We just took off outta here one evening and drove all night and showed up the next morning, in the nick of time, to get it.”
The drive home was interesting to say the least, Price remembered.
“We stopped somewhere in Maryland to get fuel and we were just sitting there with our arms leaned in the back of the pickup truck just looking at this piece of steel — amazed at what we had,” Price said. “We had a gentleman come up to us and ask ‘Is this from the World Trade Center?’ and we told him that it was. He asked us if it would be okay for him to touch it, and we said yes. I mean, who were we to say no? We didn’t know him. We didn’t know his story. He may have lost someone there. We don’t know. So, he just reached down and patted it a couple of times and looked at us and said ‘This is powerful.’”
“It was a very quiet, somber moment,” Price continued. “At that point, we knew we had something pretty darn special. I mean, we knew what we had, but when it was able to just reach a stranger like that, that was pretty awesome.”
Once the steel beam was safely home in Beckley, it was time to make the decision of what to do with it.
The date was Aug. 10, 2011, and the only thing Price said that he and others knew was that they wanted to have it ready for unveiling by the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
“We had to scramble to get this to work,” Price noted. “It was an effort, but lo and behold, everything came together. All of the vendors and everybody who chipped in to help, I mean, I had to raise $15,000 in less than 30 days to pay for the big piece of marble, to pay the guys for the steel and to build this. At that time, I had to convince the Beckley Common Council to allow this monument to be there. So, it wasn’t just here it is, have at it. There was a lot that needed to be done to see this come to fruition.”
Now, tens years later, Price goes to the monument once a year, just before 9/11, and cleans it.
“I take it and clean the base and repaint, just some normal maintenance that has to be done,” Price said. “I will buff the rust that gets on the metal. You can’t stop that stuff, so I just clean it up and make it shine every year.”
“I just sit there and take the time to remember what happened,” Price continued. “There is always rust on it when I clean it up, but as I scrub away the rust, I call it wiping the tears away from the victims who died that day. I don’t remove all the rust. I always leave some on there. I want the people to see it how it is. When people go up there and see a light hint of rust on it, it’s there for a purpose.”
Price said that he stresses to people the importance of remembering what happened that day, but it’s more important to never forget.
“It’s unfortunate, but we are getting to the point of not remembering, and it’s just the culture that has reared its ugly head in recent years of going after one another on Facebook or whatever —all this bickering. When something comes around, they say ‘oh, I remember that.’ No. I don’t want you to remember it. I just want to make sure that you never forget it. I think there is a big difference in that.”
Price said that he wants everyone to perform a little act of kindness each day.
“Buy a meal for someone in their uniform for the military or take a cake to a fire department and just say thank you to the guys. Buy a tray of something for the police departments. These guys are out there day in and day out, whether they are paid or whether they volunteer, they are there for us. Just say thank you. It shouldn’t just be on Sept. 11, it should be all the time.”
“I had one goal while I served on the fire department for 22 years, and that was to come home,” Price said. “That was goal number one. On Sept. 11, you had 343 firefighters, 29 police officers, nine EMS workers and almost 3,000 citizens who didn’t get that opportunity. That is the part we don’t need to forget.”