The tons of warped and gnarled steel that once formed the World Trade Center are nearly gone now, donated far and wide to form sculptures marking the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But one of those fragments, one of those relics of America’s darkest day, has found its way into the newest 9/11 memorial -- in American Canyon.
A mix of memories, silent moments and patriotic tunes from an Air Force brass quintet, the dedication in American Canyon was one of three observances Sunday on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, following a morning event outside the Yountville Community Center and preceding another at the downtown Napa memorial.
A rust-stained half-ton collar of metal, the fragment ties together twin columns of glass representing the collapsed Twin Towers. For some, the installation symbolizes far more -- most of all the ultimate sacrifice made by New York City firefighters who rushed into the burning Twin Towers to rescue as many people as possible.
“As I look at this monument, I can’t help but think that you nailed the location,” Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew J. Frankel told more than 100 spectators sitting outside the fire stations. Almost directly beneath the audience, an enormous U.S. flag, its stars and stripes tied to a ladder truck was starched by the stiff afternoon winds.
“It will serve as a reminder as they set out, potentially in harm’s way, in service and sacrifice,” said Frankel, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and a Berkeley police officer, about the 343 firefighters killed when the Twin Towers collapsed.
Gordon Huether, the Napa artist who designed the new monument, recalled his tour of Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for years stored the debris of 9/11 -- from crushed subway cars to flattened fire wagons down to the shoes of passengers on the jet planes hijacked by al-Qaeda agents and turned into missiles against the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
“I was so struck by the enormity of the destruction, and the enormity of the hatred that caused that destruction,” he said. “And then I was struck by the enormity of love that the (reaction to the) event brought out in all of us.”
The collar was part of a 30-ton load of metal remnants the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey gave the city of Napa for its own memorial project, then donated in turn to American Canyon. After nearly a decade of fundraising to garner $40,000, the memorial was installed Aug. 23 outside the American Canyon police and fire station at 911 Donaldson Way East.
“It’s been a long time coming,” American Canyon firefighter Josh Cordeiro, a main driver of the fundraising effort, told audience members. “But it’s done. Thank you very much,” he said before embracing Fire Chief Glen Weeks.
Later Sunday, a crowd of about 140 people gathered around the Napa 9/11 Memorial, where passers-by laid flowers beside its glass panels -- each framed by vertical steel beams from the Twin Towers -- bearing the names of nearly 3,000 people who died in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 went down in 2001.
The example of Flight 93 passengers who fought their hijackers to seize the cockpit -- and avert a probable second attack on Washington -- should stand as an example for those devoting their lives to service and good works even in a world of terrorism and massacres, said county Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, who in 2001 broke the news to Redwood Middle School students in his seventh-grade social studies class.
“Flight 93 knew their lives were going to hell; they knew their lives were about to come to an end,” he said. “They stood for us all, and for the 2,977 who lost their lives that day. Action in the face of frustration -- today, we stand for them.”
Two of the Napa spectators had been almost as distant from New York, Washington and Pennsylvania as Napans were on 9/11, only in the opposite direction. Fourteen months after moving into town from Northern Ireland, Lisa and Andrew Gillen remembered how the news had come to them == she after teaching school in County Tyrone, he at a construction site where an excavator driver heard the news flash on the radio.
The shock and disbelief of that day still lingered with Lisa Gillen -- as did the knowledge that many of the New York victims had been Irish-Americans, some of them firefighters caught in the Twin Towers’ fall.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to visit today: not only for the firefighters or the Irish, but for everyone,” she said after the ceremony. “It’s the stuff of nightmares, really.”
Earlier Sunday, about 100 spectators gathered for a morning memorial in Yountville at the town's 9/11 monument outside the community center, according to Mayor John Dunbar. A moment of silence was declared at 7:28 a.m. -- the time (10:28 a.m. EDT) when the World Trade Center's north tower collapsed, 29 minutes after the fall of the south tower.
As of late August, the Port Authority, the World Trade Center’s owner, had donated 2,629 artifacts from its ruins to 1,585 fire and police departments, schools and museums, and other nonprofit organizations in all 50 states and at least eight other nations.
Tons of wreckage were salvaged from the Twin Towers site for preservation after the terrorist attacks. Fifteen years on, a crushed van from a government agency motor pool -- likely sheltered in a garage beneath the Trade Center -- is the last artifact without a resting place. The white Dodge Caravan also is likely to go soon, to a group Port Authority officials will not identify until its application has been approved.
“They are the relics of the destruction and they have the same power in the same way as medieval relics that have the power of the saints,” said Harriet Senie, author of “Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11.”
With reports from American Canyon Eagle editor Noel Brinkerhoff and The Associated Press.