Justin: This may look like a junkyard but these are actually precious pieces of our nation’s history.
Alright. So, Nick, you know something about these trucks, don’t you?
Nick Vernice: Yes. All of the trucks that are here were parked at the foot of the towers on 9/11, and when the towers collapsed, they collapsed over them, which is why they are in such a dilapidated state.
Justin: Soon after 9/11, workers began removing the wreckage of the World Trade Center. It ended up here at an aircraft hangar normally used to store planes at New York’s Kennedy Airport.
Nick, do you know the story behind these stars and crosses?
Nick: Yes. Actually, in the aftermath of the attacks, a lot of the iron workers that were responsible for cutting down the remaining sections of the building cut out religious symbols, such as crosses and Stars of David to give to family members.
Justin: Fifteen-year-old Nick Vernice knows a lot about the remains stored here because the World Trade Center and September 11th have had a special meaning for him since the day he was born.
Nick: My birthday is 9/11. When the attacks unfolded, it was my birthday in kindergarten. My friend lost his mother and I remember her. It added a sense of confusion but also a sense of intrigue.
Justin: And that is not all. Nick’s mom worked in the World Trade Center for several years. And so did many people in Nick’s town, Garden City, Long Island.
Nick: We lost a lot of people, and a lot of people got hurt. It just impacted everyone.
Justin: Reading about the artifacts stored in this hangar is what gave Nick the idea to build a memorial to 9/11 victims.
The rarest items like the TV antenna from the top of the World Trade Center were being shipped off to musuems, but the governement was letting members of the public apply for pieces of the burnt, twisted steel beams from the towers to build their own memorials. Nick wanted to build one for the twenty-three people in his town who were killed on 9/11.
What was your original idea?
Nick: I wanted one beam from Tower One and one beam from Tower Two, something to evoke that day in our hearts.
Justin: When you brought your idea to local leaders here in your village, what was the response?
Nick: They loved it. Initially, they thought it was a great idea. We worked an entire year on this project.
Justin: But in the end, the village trustees voted to pay for another memorial instead of Nick’s.
What happened to you? Did you want to give up or stop, or change course?
Nick: I can’t say it wasn’t disappointing. But I wasn’t going to stop there. I had to pick myself up and regroup and move on.
Justin: Nick’s next idea was to use the steel to build a memorial to the firefighters who died on 9/11. It took him here to New York’s Nassau County Firefighters Museum. After working on his plan for nine months, there was one problem. The museum needed Nick to raise a hundred thousand dollars for the project.
Nick: I can sell cupcakes, but I can’t sell $100,000 worth of cupcakes.
Justin: So Nick’s plans for the firefighters went up in smoke.
How did that feel to almost have to give up again?
Nick: It was almost the lowest point of the entire process because there were doubts the first time and now the doubts were rising.
Justin: But Nick stuck to his guns. He got his third and final idea for a memorial during a religious service at his school.
Nick: There is a very small plaque with the name of the people that were lost from my school.
Justin: Nick asked the principal if he could build a bigger monument to the three graduates who died on 9/11. Since Nick goes to a Catholic high school, he wanted to use one of the pieces of steel that had crosses cut out of it.
Nick: He loved the idea.
Justin: Seven months after Nick got the green light, a 130-pound box arrived at his school.
Justin: Let’s open it!
Nick: Okay, here we go!
Justin: So, Nick, what is it like actually seeing this?
Nick: It’s just so moving. I am without words.
Justin: Two days before the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Nick’s World Trade Center steel was reborn as a momument.
Nick: At the dedication today, I had such a sense of pride and accomplishment and utter satisfaction, really. To know I’ve been working on this for two years to finally see it come to fruition.
Justin: It wasn’t easy, but Nick feels his struggle to get the steel was worth it because of what it means.
Nick: What is particularly satisfying to me about having this steel in our new memorial is that this steel has been given new life as a living testament to the fact that we are Americans, and despite the fact the we may get struck down, we will always rise again.