A steel beam rescued from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City found its final resting place Thursday outside the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park.
In a ceremony that drew hundreds of soldiers, firefighters, police officers and civilians to the outskirts of the museum's green parade field, the sacred steel was unveiled in the shadow of a bronze statue depicting former infantryman Rick Rescorla.
Following a distinguished career serving as an officer in the U.S. Army, Rescorla worked as a World Trade Center security chief for the financial services firm Morgan Stanley. The morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, the retired colonel implemented evacuation procedures that are credited with saving at least 2,700 lives. Rescorla died a hero that day in lower Manhattan.
His wife, Susan Rescorla, and the couple's children, Trevor and Kim, attended Thursday's unveiling along with Fort Benning's commanding general, Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, and several local dignitaries.
Rick Rescorla fought in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and is featured on the cover of the book, "We Were Soldiers Once and Young," by Moore and Joe Galloway.
Duane Paulson of New York served in the same unit as Rick Rescorla - the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment - in Vietnam. Though he never fought alongside the Rick Rescorla while in Vietnam, Paulson said he met and became friends with Rick Rescorla years later during a 2-7 Cav reunion.
"General Moore and Joe Gallaway, they usually hosted these reunions," Paulson said after Thursday's ceremony. "That's where I really got to meet Rick Rescorla. And the way his men talked about him, that he was just simply the best soldier they ever served with, that's why his photo is on the front of the book, ‘We Were Soldiers Once and Young.'
"From my home in Brooklyn, New York, right across the river is the World Trade Center," Paulson continued, his voice cracking slightly. "And I watched the second plane come in and just veer to the left and hit that building and I didn't realize at the time that Rick was still working in that tower. I found out later that yes he was."
From Brooklyn to Columbus
Measuring more than 12 feet in length and weighing approximately 1 1/2 tons, the steel beam that was selected 15 months ago to make the approximately 1,000-mile journey from Brooklyn to Columbus came from the World Trade Center's north tower, the same tower in which Rick Rescorla worked.
It took scores of New York City firefighters and volunteers - many of whom traveled by motorcycle - five days to transport the sacred steel south. Along the way, they encountered countless well-wishers and supporters.
"We had fire trucks, we had motorcycles, we had police escorts," said Lt. Paddy Concannon, president and founder of the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation. "It was a grass roots trip that just got bigger and bigger and bigger. By the time we hit Georgia, we had 20 state police in front, we had squad cars on either side, we had people on overpasses, we had American flags off pick-up trucks. It was the most patriotic, inspirational thing that I think I've ever experienced."
Susan Rescorla became involved in the transport mission after she received a phone call on Dec. 20, 2008, from a member of Concannon's team asking if she'd join the caravan.
"And when they told me what they were doing I said to myself, ‘My God, I wonder if people are really going to realize the significance of this steel,'" Susan Rescorla said. "Because the souls of those murdered on that day are on this piece of steel. They are bringing it down to Fort Benning to lay next to not only my husband's statue ... but to honor all of the men and women who have been fighting for us since 9/11, that died, that are fighting right now... Patriotism is alive and well and it's living in the hearts of the firemen, the policemen, the homeland security, the veterans, all of those people that all came together in this wonderful route from Brooklyn to bring this steel down."
This was the third such transport mission conducted by the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation.