CHELMSFORD — Nancy Bernard watched in silence as the rescue vehicle, carrying a twisted, rusted steel beam from the World Trade Center, arrived at this town’s fire station.
Bernard’s husband, David, died three months after Sept. 11, struck by falling debris during the attacks as he walked to a business meeting. On Wednesday, nearly 15 years later, she stood teary-eyed, with her hands clasped, as two Chelmsford firefighters in dress blue uniforms carried the 24-inch piece of metal to the town’s Sept. 11 memorial and placed it on a table near a stone bench dedicated to her husband of 33 years. As they did, a lone trumpet played the Navy Hymn.
“I’m more emotional than I thought I would be,” said Bernard, 70, her eyes moist behind large sunglasses. “I think it will be good, to have it here, to remember.”
In the days after the terrorist attacks, seven Chelmsford firefighters traveled to New York to assist in the recovery.
“It was crazy. When we got there, there was no command staff,” Captain Henry Houle recalled. “We just started going into the pile looking for survivors. . . . It looked like a deserted end-of-the-world movie.“
Four years ago, the Fire Department requested a piece of steel beam from the fallen towers made available as part of the World Trade Center Artifacts Program, which began in 2009.
Since then, more than 2,300 pieces of steel beam have been given to communities, public safety agencies, and nonprofit organizations across the country to create public memorials. Chelmsford received one of the final pieces, a spokesman for the program said.
“We have no more steel available,” said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversaw the artifacts program. “A lot of communities and organizations wanted something. Our main criteria for [awarding] the steel is that it be put on public display.”
In Massachusetts, 61 public memorials include pieces of the fallen buildings, from the Berkshires to Cape Cod. Chelmsford plans to integrate the beam into its granite memorial, built outside the Fire Department’s headquarters two years ago.
“We are honored to have a sacred piece of history and will find an appropriate way to display it with the dignity that it deserves,” Fire Chief Greg Ryan said.
The memorial features two stone pillars that represent the Twin Towers, and two benches that honor two local victims —
The memorial also honors the 343 firefighters killed that day.
“Please keep in your thoughts, and in your prayers, all of those who lost their life on 9/11,” Chelmsford firefighter Donnie Peterson said to a small crowd gathered around him.
Residents said the beam will represent a poignant piece of history. “Sept. 11 was such a monumental event,” said Hilary Anderson, 47, who brought her grandchildren, Anna, 5 and Oliver, 2, to Wednesday’s ceremony.
“It’s not everyone gets to spend time seeing, and touching, a piece of the towers.”
David Dubinsky, 69, a Vietnam-era veteran who played his trumpet, said the ceremony stirred a range of emotions.
“It’s an honor for the Chelmsford Fire Department to acquire a piece of a girder that was part of the World Trade Center,” he said. “But it’s also a very sad reminder of what happened on that day.”