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Memorial set to honor lost firefighters

| Wednesday, June 5, 2002

West Virginia firefighters will lead a 2,500-pound hunk of twisted steel through the streets of Morgantown this evening in a procession they hope will help them bid farewell at last to fallen comrades.

Firefighters, police officers and emergency service workers from about three dozen Morgantown-area departments will accompany the 8-foot-long beam recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center to a 7 p.m. memorial service on the courthouse square on High Street.

"I knew something had to be done in tribute to those who lost their lives," said Capt. Max Humphreys of the Morgantown Fire Department.

Morgantown is the first stop on an eight-city tour for the salvaged steel beam, which is heading cross-country to Brooks, Ore., to take its place in a Sept. 11 memorial display at a fire service museum now being built.

"This will give (people) the physical ability to touch the World Trade Center and to realize the number of people who answered their final call there," Humphreys said.

The sacrifices of American military personnel overseas were brought home to Morgantown last month along with the body of West Virginia National Guard Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr. Vance, 38, a member of the 19th Special Forces Unit of the West Virginia National Guard, was killed in a gun battle May 19 with suspected al-Qaida or Taliban forces in eastern Afghanistan. He was the first guardsman from West Virginia to die on active duty since World War II.

The tour and display of the beam are the brainchild of Lt. Bill O'Neil of the Marion County (Oregon) Fire Department.

The former social studies teacher said he hopes making a memorial and educational display of a remnant from the leveled financial center will "pay tribute to all our firefighters and police officers, so that future generations of Oregon children don't forget" the events of Sept. 11, O'Neil said.

O'Neil said the steel beam will be part of a memorial display during the Oregon State Fair in Salem from Aug. 22 to Sept. 3. After the fair, it will be on display in Brooks, Ore., the future home of the Oregon Fire Service Museum.

"We're kind of hoping other fire departments get the idea to do this," O'Neil said.

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