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From Ground Zero to the Southland

Father Andrew Harisslights candles World Trade Center memorial beam St. Luke Orthodox Church Palos Hills Illinois Friday September 2 2011.

Father Andrew Harisson lights candles in the World Trade Center memorial beam at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, Illinois, Friday, September, 2, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:46AM



In a temporary storage area at the Midlothian Fire Department sits a 130-pound steel beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Kevin Bewley, a retired Midlothian firefighter, hasn’t seen it yet, even though he helped secure it for the village.

The remnant eventually will serve as a community memorial for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,973 people. But its public debut will come Sunday in a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and Bewley wants to share in what he anticipates will be a powerful moment.

“I’m going to wait until then (to see it),” said Bewley, who retired from the fire department in 2010. “I’m so proud Midlothian got it. I think the regular citizen is going to say, ‘Wow, Midlothian has a piece of the tower.’ ”

Similar moving moments could be played out throughout the Southland on Sunday. Frankfort, Oak Lawn and Tinley Park also have or are in the process of acquiring pieces of wreckage from the World Trade Center, and St. Luke Orthodox Church in Palos Hills has a beam from there, rubble from the attack on the Pentagon and a rock from the crash sight of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

While Oak Lawn, Frankfort and Midlothian only recently obtained their remnants — and Tinley Park as of Wednesday still was waiting to pick up its steel beam from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — St. Luke obtained its World Trade Center relic in 2002. So Sunday’s 9/11 memorial program at 6 p.m. at the church, 9300 W. 107th St., will be its 10th annual with the beam on hand.

The piece of steel is mounted in the narthex of the church, which is perched on a hilltop where Palos Hills gives way to a forest preserve.

The Rev. Andrew Harrison drove to New York City in June 2002 to collect the 200-pound, 2-foot span of steel.

“We were the first in the area to get it,” Harrison said.

The church secured the beam when it was planning an addition to the building and takes its stewardship seriously.

“Now we have a responsibility,” Harrison said. “People see it every Sunday.”

The Sunday lineup

In Midlothian, the candlelight ceremony at which its beam will be revealed begins at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the village green, 147th Street and Springfield Avenue.

To get the beam, Bewley applied in 2009 to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has been making pieces of the wreckage available to towns, museums, police and fire departments and other appropriate organizations that have suitable plans for public displays.

The Midlothian beam is 24 inches long, 24 inches deep and 7 inches wide. It will travel to various schools in the village before being placed permanently at the village green.

“I think it’s a part of history most kids would not get to experience firsthand,” village Trustee Jerry Gillis said.

Gillis said Bewley deserves much of the credit for bringing the beam to Midlothian.

“He was getting ready to retire, so it was really important to him,” Gillis said.

Tinley Park expects a 6-foot-long beam that weighs 1,008 pounds and hopes to have it for Sunday’s Patriot Day celebration. But as of Wednesday afternoon, that was still just a hope.

“We’re waiting for some paperwork to clear so we can pick it up,” Fire Chief Ken Dunn said, adding that four firefighters planned to drive a pickup truck to New York to get the beam.

“The guys are ready to leave,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the letter of authorization. We still have time to pick it up, but probably not a lot of time.”

Tinley Park also will incorporate its remnant into a permanent memorial, but plans have not been finalized.

Oak Lawn obtained four pieces of steel several months ago, with firefighters and police escorting them back from Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The beams were stored at a defunct lumber yard while renowned Crystal Lake artist Erik Blome worked on a memorial that will be located near the village’s Metra station. But the memorial will not be completed in time for Sunday’s dedication, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

The beams, however, will be on display on a flatbed truck, similar to the way they were presented at the village’s Independence Day parade.

Blome’s design features two 14-foot-tall bronze spires mounted on top of the 8-foot-tall beams. It also will include imprints of World Trade Center architecture or three-dimensional faces or objects, and each spire is topped with a set of wings that could belong to an eagle or an angel.

The $100,000 project was commissioned by the Oak Lawn Rotary, and a local Marine, Lt. Art Clark, worked tirelessly to help the village obtain the four World Trade Center beams. He since has been redeployed to Afghanistan and wouldn’t have been able to attend the dedication.

Sandra Bury, the Oak Lawn Rotary’s fundraising chair, said she was disappointed the memorial won’t be done by Sunday, but she does not want it rushed and hopes it’s completed in time for Clark’s return from Afghanistan.

“At first, I was heartbroken,” she said. “But we’re going to do it right. We’re going to do it once. It’s magnificent.”

A steel beam that the Frankfort Fire Protection District obtained recently was the centerpiece of the Frankfort Fall Fest parade Sunday. It eventually will become part of a memorial built in front of the fire department.

Contributing: Steve Metsch



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