COLUMBIA, S.C. – A traveling exhibit featuring a 4-ton steel beam that will be part of a Sept. 11 memorial at ground zero kicked off a national tour Monday in Columbia, S.C., the state where it was made.
City and state officials signed the 37-foot beam and victims' family members wrote messages of remembrance on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
"People say that, after six years, it's time to move on. It's time to get back to normal. Well, there is no normal anymore," said Jason Viglione, 28, of New Jersey.
He joined the Air Force after his uncle, a veteran New York City firefighter, died at the World Trade Center.
"I go on with my life. I have friends, relationships. I try to prepare for my future. But it's not the normal that I was on Sept. 10, 2001," said Viglione, who is based at Shaw Air Force Base about 30 miles east of Columbia.
Workers who responded to the disaster and other loved ones of victims were also on hand to view the exhibit, which includes photos and a minute-by-minute timeline of the disaster to accompany the beam.
The beam, made by Owen Steel Co. in Columbia, will be used in the construction of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the site of the World Trade Center.
More than $300 million has been raised privately and more than $250 million is committed by the federal government to build the 8-acre memorial. It will set two waterfall-filled pools just above the twin towers' footprints, surrounded by a glade of oak and sweetgum trees. Visitors will descend underground to a Sept. 11 museum.
Retired Army Col. Victor Correa, who rescued injured Pentagon workers from the burning building attacked the same day, now lives in Columbia. He said this city's relationship with nearby Fort Jackson made it the perfect place to begin the tour.
"When you have a military installation working in the community, people understand and can identify with what the military is going through," Correa said. "And to have this start here, it's fantastic."
Students from a Columbia-area school that raised more than half a million dollars after 9/11 to purchase a fire engine for the New York City Fire Department were also at the ceremony. The truck now flies a South Carolina flag, said Joe Daniels, president and chief executive of the memorial and museum.
Other stops for the exhibition include Cincinnati, Des Moines, Iowa, Madison, Wis., Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne, Ind.