They laid their hands on the warped piece of steel, one by one, and bowed their heads.
The 1-foot-by-1-foot chunk was cut with a torch from a World Trade Center beam and brought to Tacoma to be part of Thursday’s 9/11 memorial on Ruston Way.
Fire officials dedicated the memorial during a remembrance ceremony that brought more than 100 people to the Firefighters Memorial.
Ryan Sexauer and Anakarina Lance, both 19, took turns running their hands across the steel.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Sexauer said of the experience. “It was part of something so horrible at the time but now it will help us remember people who sacrificed so much.”
They were in first grade when planes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2011, but both said they recall where they were for the attack.
Sexauer was home sick with his mom. Lance was in her classroom when the teacher switched on the news.
They said this year was the first time they’d attended such a memorial event. They chose to do so now that they’re older and have a better grasp of how significant the day was.
Fire Chief Jim Duggan told the crowd, which included many uniformed firefighters, that he was humbled by the turnout so many years after Sept. 11, 2001.
One day, he said, “this day will move from our memories into history.”
“We are here today because we vowed to never forget the tremendous sacrifices (first responders) made,” he said.
James Joyce, a retired New York Fire Department lieutenant, talked about how countless firefighters continue to struggle with illnesses acquired from that fateful day.
“Here we are 13 years later and the fallout continues,” he said.
Joyce was instrumental in helping the Tacoma Fire Department acquire a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
He worked with Karen Leming, commander emeritus for the department’s Honor Guard and organizer of the annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony, to bring the 82-pound piece of metal to the city.
The Fire Department is one of four agencies in the area to display steel from the World Trade Center.
West Pierce Fire & Rescue, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One and South King Fire & Rescue also have memorials where the public can see mementos from the attack.
At the end of Thursday’s ceremony in Tacoma, the Sonoro Women’s Choir sang “The Road Home” while organizers prepared to release nine white doves and then 11 white doves.
Long after the ceremony ended, people continued to approach the memorial.
Each placed a hand on the steel and remembered.