Steel beam returns to ground zero

NEW YORK - August 24, 2009 After more than seven years in storage at a hangar at Kennedy International Airport, the 58-ton, 36-foot-tall beam was delivered before dawn Monday to the World Trade Center site.

A crane lifted it and placed it upright in a new footing below street level. American flags fluttered near the column, which had a white protective covering.

"It's a proud day," said retired firefighter Lee Ielpi, who watched.

His son, Jonathan, also a firefighter, died in the attack. "I also lost 80 to 100 good friends. I'm proud of all of them," said Ielpi, wiping away a tear.

Column No. 1,0001 B of 2 World Trade Center, as it's officially known, will become part of the planned National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.

Dubbed the "Last Column," it became the final standing steel column removed from ground zero, and a steel canvas for tributes from recovery workers and victims' families.

It was adorned with firehouse patches, police logos and union stickers, and spray-painted with the shorthand messages "PAPD 37," "NYPD 23," and "FDNY 343" in honor of Port Authority and city police officers and firefighters who died in the 2001 attacks.

It was cut down, wrapped in black muslin and an American flag, and taken out as part of a ceremony marking the end of recovery efforts on May 30, 2002.

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