By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
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The girder from Ground Zero will be on display today and Thursday at Ruddell Auto Mall, 110 S. Golf Course Road, Port Angeles.
Reaching out with his right hand, with his wife helping him keep his balance, he grasped the piece of Ground Zero as gently and with as much respect as he would a religious relic or war memorial.
“It's something you will never forget,” said the man, 85-year-old Mel Rice, with tears falling down his face.
“It's in your heart; it's in your head.”
Rice, a World War II Navy veteran and Port Angeles resident, was one of the approximately 200 people who touched or gazed upon a World Trade Center I-beam as it toured Clallam County on Tuesday.
The piece of one of America's worst tragedies, carried by trailer and given an escort by police and American Legion and Patriot Guard riders, made
stops in Sequim, Port Angeles, Clallam Bay, Neah Bay and Forks.
The I-beam is now on display in Port Angeles for two more days before it is forged into a waterfront memorial in tribute to the thousands who died in the 9/11 attacks.
Most stops, heavily attended by firefighters and police, were informal, with visitors left free to gather around the beam.
The relic is destined to be the centerpiece of a memorial at Francis Street Park in Port Angeles.
Organizers hope to dedicate it on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Speeches and other formalities were absent from the tour, except at Neah Bay, where Makah tribal members blessed the 1,400-pound beam and spoke of its importance to them.
Makah Tribal Chairman Micah McCarty, while speaking to the approximately 50 people present, said it should be remembered that the piece of metal in front of them, with its mangled bolts, once supported the World Trade Center and the people in it.
“I call it sacred,” he said.
“Let this I-beam be a reminder,” said Tribal Treasurer and former Police Chief TJ Green, “. . . that freedom comes at a price.”
Many of those who saw the beam Tuesday said they felt a connection with it, either because they knew someone directly impacted by the attacks or simply for the tragedy it represents.
For Peter Loeb, a Clallam County Fire District No. 3 firefighter in Sequim, seeing the beam made him feel both pride and sorrow.
“I get choked up,” he said.
“I think of the brave men and women who fundamentally were just doing their jobs.”
Michael Tumulty, a Clallam County Fire District No. 5 firefighter, said he thought of the more than 400 firefighters and police who lost their lives in the attacks, as well as a friend of his who died in Iraq.
“It reminds us of the extreme sacrifices they made so that others can live,” he said.
For Pam Hunter of Forks, the beam brought back memories of fellow parishioners in Connecticut, where she lived at the time, who lost loved ones in the attacks, and how her own nephew had a job interview that day in the World Trade Center but missed it due to car trouble.
Hunter, a Lutheran pastor, said the beam was too important for her to touch.
“It seems too sacred for that,” she said.
At each stop, 18 members of the American Legion and Patriot Guard riders, who helped escort the beam, held a flag line in stoic silence while others viewed the future memorial.
“We want to let everyone know that we're not going to forget,” said rider Tracy Boutwell, who has five family members who responded to the terrorist attacks as New York City police and firefighters. All survived.
The idea for turning a World Trade Center I-beam into a memorial came from two Coast Guardsmen, Andrew Moravec and Sam Allen.
Moravec summed up the response to the beam in one word: “Amazing.”
“I just think for these small communities, to have everyone come out and show as much support as they did, it was a great sign,” he said.
Moravec and Allen were both stationed at Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles when they came up with the idea for the memorial about two years ago after reading an article on the availability of 9/11 pieces for monuments in the Peninsula Daily News.
Allen was transferred to Puerto Rico earlier this month, while Moravec is still stationed in Port Angeles.
The Port Angeles Fire Department Auxiliary sponsored the beam so that it could be delivered from New York City.
Alan Barnard of Port Angeles, the main organizer of the tour, said the attendance far exceeded his expectations.
“I almost have to pinch myself it went so well,” he said.
To build the memorial, Barnard said, about $2,500 still needs to be raised.
He said he received a few donations on the tour but hadn't counted them yet.
“It was negligible,” Barnard said, “but I think it really wasn't about that today.”
Donations can be sent to the Public Safety Tribute Committee, P.O. Box 845, Port Angeles, WA 98362.
Barnard is the committee chairman.
The beam will be on display today and Thursday at Ruddell Auto Mall, which donated the truck and trailer for the tour.
The auto dealer is located at 110 S. Golf Course Road, Port Angeles.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.