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A steely resolve

Pieces of ground zero, transplanted here, honor 9/11 victims

Firefighters (from left) Tom Brophy and Manny Ataide and Lieutenant Scott Hebert work on Salem’s memorial. Firefighters (from left) Tom Brophy and Manny Ataide and Lieutenant Scott Hebert work on Salem’s memorial. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / September 11, 2011

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The rust-colored beam was pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The 3 1/2-foot piece of steel now is the centerpiece of a memorial at Salem Fire Headquarters, honoring the nearly 3,000 people who died 10 years ago today in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

In Tewksbury too, a steel beam, bent from the intense heat of ground zero, was added last month to a gazebo built in 2005 in memory of 9/11 victims.

A decade after the World Trade Center collapsed in a plume of fire and smoke, steel recovered from its ashes is rising at local public memorials. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey made the steel available to communities and organizations across the country to honor and remember the victims of Sept. 11.

“Our only criteria were that it be used for public display,’’ said Steve Coleman, a port authority spokesman.

Organizers of memorials say the steel offered a rare chance for the public to see and learn about Sept. 11. “At our memorial, people can actually touch the steel,’’ said firefighter Tom Brophy, who designed the Salem memorial, which will be unveiled at 10 a.m. today. “It’s like touching a piece of history.’’

When Tewksbury displayed its beam on an antique fire truck in its Memorial Day parade, residents reached out to touch it, Fire Chief Michael Hazel.

“People just ran right out to it,’’ Hazel said. “It kind of caught us off guard, but it just goes to show you how deeply Sept. 11 affected people.’’

Other local recipients of the steel are the Dracut and Tyngsborough fire departments, a Federal Emergency Management Agency rescue team in Beverly, and St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers.

Thousands of items, including wrecked emergency vehicles, turnstiles, and street signs, were recovered from ground zero. Materials were stored in a hangar at JFK International Airport. Items were first offered to a committee planning a national memorial at ground zero that is due to be dedicated today.

The port authority offered anything left over for public memorials. The agency received 2,000 requests, from all 50 states and seven foreign countries, including a US military base in Afghanistan. The authority chose 1,200 projects, chosen on a first come, first served basis, Coleman said.

“The response was overwhelming,’’ Coleman said. “It showed us that everybody wanted to have some link to what happened on 9/11. These memorials aren’t only for people now living in a community. They will also be there for future generations to reflect and remember.’’

St. John’s Preparatory School today will install an 18-inch piece of beam in a garden during an 11:45 a.m. Mass and dedication at the boys’ Catholic high school.

The Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue Team, the FEMA squad based at Beverly Airport, will display a 21-foot beam during an open house from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today in its headquarters at Beverly Airport. The team assisted with recovery efforts at ground zero. A memorial will be built later, an official said.

The Dracut Fire Department placed a seven-foot piece of steel in a memorial outside the Jones Avenue fire station in July. The memorial is across the street from the family homestead of John Ogonowski, the captain of American Airlines flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

Tyngsborough’s fire department has yet to receive its piece of steel, but will put it into a memorial, a fire captain said.

Tewksbury’s steel beam is suspended inside the granite gazebo. A plot of land outside the library was chosen to honor the memory of two local residents, Peter A. Gay and Peter P. Hashem, who died aboard American Airlines Flight 11.

“Both Peter Gay and Peter Hashem were avid users of the library,’’ said Dick Cuoco, a committee member. “We wanted this to be a place where people might come with a book, for quiet time.’’

Bricks around the square gazebo are dedicated to each victim of 9/11. Each corner is a tribute to those aboard the four airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Bricks honoring victims who worked at the World Trade Center line two sides.

“It was a lot of work to build this memorial, but it was worth it,’’ said Tony Ippolito, a committee member. “It was a national tragedy that people should never forget.’’

The memorial, built with over $500,000 in donations from residents and businesses, has bronze plaques in memory of Gay and Hashem. The committee hopes to add two more such plaques, explaining the steel and the story of 9/11. The small town’s tribute often draws visitors from far away.

An Ohio couple stopped on their honeymoon to find a relative’s name. A niece from Vermont often visits bricks laid for her aunt and uncle. “Sometimes you’ll see a flower left by a brick,’’ said Jim Carter, the committee treasurer. “It’s very moving, to see how people respond to what we’ve done here.’’

Salem’s memorial was designed and built by firefighters. Although 343 firefighters died at the World Trade Center, a bronze plaque dedicates the memorial to all who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I didn’t want this to be only a memorial for firefighters,’’ said Manny Ataide, a firefighter who led the project with Brophy. “As much as the loss of hundreds of firefighters hits home to us, this was a national tragedy. Everyone was affected by it.’’

The steel beam is bolted to a rose-colored granite stone. Gray granite replicas of the twin towers stand behind it. Flowers and trees are planted around the memorial, built in an old flower bed outside the station’s front bay.

The Lafayette Street station draws frequent visits from tourists looking for directions. “People from all over the world stop in here,’’ said Captain Paul Cranney, who supervised the crew that built the memorial. “Now they’ll be able to see and reflect on this memorial.’’

Firefighters of all ranks pitched in to build it, often on their own time.

A deputy chief built a granite wall, a captain loaned tools, and a lieutenant added curbing. Two rookies helped maneuver the steel into place. The memorial cost about $10,000 to build, including private contributions and donations of materials. Two underground lights bathe it in a soft glow.

“At night, it will always be lit,’’ Ataide said. “We will always remember.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.