Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I Had To Be There

Tonight on Spike TV there was a documentary, "Metal Of Honor," about the ironworkers who risked their lives in the incredible grave yard of jumbled steel and debris that was the World Trade Center after 9/11. The most common thought these men shared was this, "I had to be there, I had to do this." Several men said, "This is our iron. We put it up, and we'll be the ones to take it out." These were the men who raised the World Trade Center from a hole in the ground to over a thousand feet.

There was no pay, and no thought of getting paid.

These were the men of Ironworkers Local 40. They showed up first as volunteers, helping fire and police workers sort things out almost immediately after the fall of the Towers. In order to organize the site to control the forensic recovery process, bring order to chaotic conditions and prevent further injuries, NYC hired general contractors and assigned them sectors of the site. The ironworkers were then hired by the contractors. Eventually ironworkers from all over the country would show up at the site. Because they had to be there.

The stories of these men were dramatic.

Huge 20, 30, 50 ton pieces of steel twisted and contorted beyond imagination had to be cut into sections and removed. Retired ironworkers with special skills were brought in to teach other ironworkers how to cut into the wreckage without injuring themselves or others. As one ironworker remarked to a new man, "I hope you have bus fare on you 'cause if you cut that wrong you'll end up in Hoboken!"

They worked 12, 14 and 16 hour shifts. They went home, collapsed into their beds and returned to do it all over again for months on end

The site was a huge junkyard; it was like working on a giant pile of pick up sticks ... from hell. Huge pieces of steel half buried in the smoldering wreckage would burst into flame when exposed to the air. Steel does indeed burn. The fires, estimated at over 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, finally went out on December 19, 2001.

Everything was pulverized. Two of the biggest buildings in the country filled with computers, chairs, tables, telephones, fax machines and filing cabinets were reduced to broken steel and dust.

"I was breathing in dead people," stated one worker. The ironworkers, along with fire and police, toiled for over a week without proper masks. Ironworkers became proficient at finding parts of dead bodies, seeing arms and legs that the search dogs missed.

They initially thought that they would find some people still alive in the wreckage and they attacked the site like men possessed. In a relatively short time they were dissuaded of this hope. Later they would rejoice when they simply found a body that was not in pieces.

In eight and a half months the ironworkers removed 190,568 tons of steel. It took 3.1 million man hours. And they finished several months ahead of shedule. The clean up ended in a closing ceremony on May 30, 2002. The last giant column was picked up by a crane and gently laid on the ground.

And the ironworkers paid a price. Although there were no fatal injuries, fifty percent of them suffer from long term health problems because of the fumes and dust.

In your prayers tonight, mention the Ironworkers of America and thank God for men like this..

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