(Originally published on Aug. 2, 2011)
Soldiers, first responders, and citizens gathered at Oconee Veterans Park Tuesday to respectfully welcome a piece of 9/11 history to the county.
The 52”x18”x18", 923-pound section of rusted steel beam draped with an American flag arrived on the bed of a truck from Winder’s Company E 148th Brigade Support Battalion, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team escorted by Oconee County Sheriff's deputies and Emergency Management personnel.
The New York and Georgia Army National Guards, FedEx, and Clarke County authorities were instrumental is bringing the beam from the World Trade Center Storage Facility at the JFK airport, said Lieutenant Col. John Gentry, commander of Savannah’s 118th Field Artillery and director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department.
Deputy director Tom Popps submitted an application for the artifact in September of 2009 and in April 2011, the county learned the request had been approved, Gentry explained.
He warmly thanked Popps during a brief ceremony.
"It means a lot, I know, to our emergency services personnel, police officers, and security," Gentry said. "It means a lot to the veterans and those that are serving today."
Oconee County Emergency Management Director Bruce Thaxton said he is proud the beam will forever have a home in Oconee.
"We need to have a symbol of this, like in Veterans Park, just to remind our children and grandchildren of the heroes and sacrifices that our country made on 9/11 and our continued battle against terrorism," he remarked.
Those sentiments were echoed by Sheriff Scott Berry.
"This is a living symbol and I'm humbled and honored to be here today," he said. "God bless America."
Angela Bearden attended the ceremony with her husband Don, an employee of the Parks and Recreation Department, and their daughter Karly.
"It's a piece of history," said Angela Bearden. "It means a lot."
17-year-old Karly said she remembers being at home sick on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Most kids today growing up are not going to remember, but they can come here and see [the beam] and know," she said.
The beam is temporarily available for all citizens to view inside the lobby of the community center. At 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2011, it will become a permanent addition to the park during a remembrance ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Gentry said. The exact permanent site for the beam has yet to be decided.
To see more than 250 photos documenting the event, view local blogger Kate McDaniel's website, A Positive Voice for Oconee County.