By Clarissa Kell-Holland
and Reed Black
After all, the steel on those flatbed trailers was never supposed to return to Coatesville. It had been forged at the local Lukens Steel Co. more than 40 years ago and was shipped off to New York City to provide the exterior columns for the World Trade Center.
Then 9/11 changed everything.
As a nation watched the twin towers collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, the Lukens custom steel structures withstood the destruction. Known as steel “trees,” the only U.S. steel used in building the World Trade Center remained standing, resolute amid the massive devastation.
Solemn journey home
Leading the convoy were two OOIDA members, Rudy Acevedo of Cantonment, FL, and Tim Philmon of Middleburg, FL, who both said that being part of the 206-mile journey was the highlight of their professional driving careers.
Two fire department ladder trucks formed an arch displaying an American flag for the truckers to drive under as they entered Coatesville. Both Acevedo and Philmon said that sight made the journey worthwhile.
The Graystone Society of Coatesville arranged for the steel to return home for a planned 9/11 memorial and selected Acevedo, a native New Yorker, to be the lead truck in the convoy. His childhood friend’s son, a firefighter, was killed when the buildings collapsed.
“It was really touching for me,” he said. “I am a product of New York. It was an honor to do this.”
He said as the convoy drew closer to its destination, the larger the “welcoming committees” grew.
“People were just cheering. … It was great; it was fantastic that the spirit of America still lives,” Acevedo said.
Philmon told Land Line that while he was physically prepared for the journey to Pennsylvania, he wasn’t emotionally prepared for how the public would react to seeing these loads of steel from the WTC draped with American flags.
“We parked a couple of times in these small country towns in Pennsylvania, and people would just empty out of the buildings and converge all around us,” he said. “They just wanted to touch the loads, say a prayer and walk away. It was our way to honor all of those that died.”
Eric Flynn, an agent with Landstar Global, handled all the logistics involved in returning the steel to Coatesville.
Flynn said all of the drivers who were a part of the convoy were “very sensitive” about what they were hauling. He added that a number of truckers expressed concerns about “scratching the steel” when securing their loads after all it had been through.
Both Acevedo and Philmon said it was therapeutic for them, as well as for the public, to see the steel return home.
“Over and over again, we heard from the public ‘we respect you truckers for doing this for us’ and ‘thanks for bringing this home,’ ” Philmon said. “For us, we were just so honored to be a part of it.”
Eugene DiOrio, executive director of The Graystone Society, said returning the loads of steel to Coatesville was important to so many people because they became “sort of the icons to the tragedy.”
DiOrio and Scott Huston, Graystone’s president, personally traveled to New York City to watch the loading of the steel and to meet with some of the drivers who would later be hauling it.
“The truckers wanted to do this,” DiOrio told Land Line Now. “These aren’t just hunks of steel. There’s an emotional attachment because of the tragedy in New York and that thousands of people were killed on that morning. We were told they (truckers) were honored to bring this home.” LL