A heavy steel beam from the collapsed towers of New York's World Trade Center is on its way to a U.S. Marine Corps base for the celebration of Independence Day, July 4, a gift from New York City firefighters. The presentation of the beam is a symbolic gesture of thanks for the Marines' efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The New York City Firefighters' Bagpipe Band played the Marine Corps anthem at a ceremony sending off the beam.
Hundreds of New York City firefighters, who helped rescue thousands of civilians in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are escorting the 3.5 meter steel column from the demolished World Trade Center to a Marine Corps base.
Fire Department Lieutenant Dan Williams, a former U.S. Marine who fought in Vietnam and survived the attack on the World Trade Center towers, is making the trip to Camp Lejeune.
"I am going down to show the Marines and, on that note, all the military people, that we are supporting them and what they are doing for us and this country; and it is apropos for the Fourth of July weekend, it really is," he said.
Lieutenant Williams says firefighters share a strong bond with Marines as first responders in a common goal against terrorism.
For years, the Marines have been called "leathernecks" because of the high leather collars of their historic uniforms. Likewise, New York City Firefighters used to wear leather helmets. So, the trip to North Carolina is being called "From Leather Helmets to Leather Necks." "A lot of our firefighters came out of the Marine Corp., said New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta. "We feel we have a lot in common with the Marine Corps, and a partnership with the Marine Corps is enormously valuable, and this beam and all that it symbolizes deserves to be at the parade ground of Camp Lejeune."
The World Trade Center beam will be the center of a memorial at the Camp Lejeune base, honoring the 343 firefighters who died in the September 11 attacks. It will be placed next to an existing memorial for the 241 Marines killed in a terrorist attack at their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983.
Former Marine and retired firefighter Joe Higgis says the beam will serve as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices Marines and firefighters have made for the nation.
"When these young Marines come on to this base for the next 100 years, they are gong to see that Trade Center beam next to that Beirut memorial, and it is going to make them understand why they joined the service in the first place," he said. "It is to protect this wonderful free nation that we live in."
The New York City firefighters will join more than 20,000 Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune. Many of the Marines only recently returned from Iraq.