BREWER, Maine — A hush fell over the crowd of about 150 people Wednesday as three remnants of the World Trade Center rolled into the city’s new public safety complex on the back of a flatbed truck.
Accompanying the pieces of metal was a sign that said, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET 09-11-2001.”
The pieces were part of the Twin Towers that once graced New York City’s skyline. That ended seven years ago last month, when the towers were struck by two airlin-ers piloted by terrorist hijackers.
Within hours, both structures collapsed, killing an estimated 3,000 people, many of them fire and police personnel who had entered the towers to try to save the lives of strangers.
The artifacts from that fateful day ar-rived Wednesday in Brewer amid a cortege of police cars, firetrucks and ambulances carrying personnel from almost a dozen area municipal, county and state public safety agencies.
The arrival of the mangled, twisted sec-tions of steel beam brought tears to the eyes of many who gathered to welcome them. Among the emotional witnesses were some of the area’s most seasoned public safety professionals — police officers, firefighters, medics and others.
“It affects you. It moves you,” said Brewer police Officer Amy Nickerson, who recalled her own pilgrimage to ground zero. The experience of remembering Sept. 11 is especially profound for those in the busi-ness of helping others, she said. “They’re family.”
The convoy, an honor guard of sorts, convened at Dysart’s Truck Stop & Restau-rant in Hermon for the final leg of the arti-facts’ nearly 500-mile journey from their former resting place, a cavernous hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York.
Hangar 17 is the repository for what little is left of the wreckage, and the city of Brewer is among only a handful of places to be granted the honor of becoming a steward of what many here consider pieces of na-tional history, noted Karl Ward. Ward is president and CEO of Brewer-based Nicker-son & O’Day, builder of the city’s soon-to-open $6.75 million police and fire station, where the artifacts will be housed.
He was the driving force behind the ef-fort to bring the small reminders of the Sept. 11 attacks to Brewer. On Wednesday, he said he did so as a way to remember those who perished trying to help others and to thank those who continue to do so despite the risks.
Speaking to those gathered in Brewer, Ward related what he and the others who brought the relics home experienced when seeing what’s left of ground zero, particu-larly the room housing the last column re-moved from the wreckage.
“There were many touching personal messages,” Ward said, pausing briefly to maintain control over his emotions. “They were written by the wives and the sons, the daughters, the brothers, the sisters, the parents,” he said after describing the eerie silence inside Hangar 17.
Ward was not the only one profoundly moved by the mission.
“I’m honored,” said Walter Shannon, the Nickerson & O’Day project manager who drove the steel to Brewer.
“I’m humbled just to bring it back,” Shannon said, his eyes glistening and voice breaking.
In all, Brewer received three artifacts, according to Ward.
The largest is an 18-foot-long section of mangled and rusted steel beam that still bears the yellow stenciled lettering it had when it was installed during the towers’ construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It will be displayed in the Fire De-partment’s truck bays.
A smaller section of beam will be housed in the new Public Safety Building’s small museum, while a third relic, a piece of the towers’ aluminum exterior, will be dis-played on the Police Department side of the complex.
The pieces of history will be watched over with care.
“It is an artifact that needs to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Brewer Po-lice Chief Perry Antone, who along with Fire Chief Rick Bronson paid tribute to their fallen colleagues during a brief cere-mony in the new complex.
“Every generation seems to have a day that they can go back to and say, ‘I was here on this particular day,’” Antone said.
For this generation, he said, that day is Sept. 11, 2001.