March of the Ironworkers
At 7 a.m., on the anniversary of 9/11, a group of ironworkers gathered again, proudly sporting their trademark hardhats and Union shirts. They came together to stand in silence, to hug, to remember, and to honor the 2,801 lost souls at Ground Zero. They stood with their heads bowed, some still visibly affected by their past experience at the site. A few ironworkers recalled what happened to them on one of the most tragic days in America's history.
"I was disoriented when I arrived," said Chris Bruckner, a local ironworker who left his job and made his way to the site after the attack. "There were no towers anymore to tell me where I was. Had I stayed there I would have died. I couldn't breathe and I coughed for weeks afterward." Bruckner suffers from severe asthma and was affected immediately by the smoke and debris that lingered in the air for weeks after. Today, some 500 firefighters are suffering from what may be chronic lung problems due to their work at Ground Zero.
"I pulled firemen from the wreckage for six to eight hours," said Mike Copelton, who spoke as if he were reliving the entire tragedy. "We cut the iron for what seemed like forever, and every few minutes big chunks of glass would fall from surrounding buildings, and we would all have to run."
The 16-acre site grumbled like a volcano, while jagged-edged steel beams glowed red with heat, they recalled. Their job was to break through the crushed beams and hunt for anyone left alive. They scaled the rubble and cut the glowing iron into pieces to get to victims through the flames, heat, smoke, and ash that began to overwhelm them. Many ironworkers succumbed to the heat, made worse by the torches they used to burn through iron beams.
Copelton said he started to cry when he got home that night. "As far as the eye could see, it was a disaster," he said.
Over the next weeks and months, ironworkers came from all over the country to assist their brothers. They were called on to help those already tired and emotionally devastated. Edward McSpadden, an ironworker from upstate New York, arrived shortly after 9/11.
"I felt like this is where I needed to be. I want to help rebuild this city, and I will." A year later, McSpadden remains. He now considers New York City his home, and plans on being a part of rebuilding downtown New York. "Today's memorial was heart-wrenching, but it was a strong show of support for the victims and their families — that they haven't been forgotten."
McSpadden is now working in Times Square, building one of the tallest skyscrapers in the area. "I'm doing exactly what I came here to do, to give something back to the city," he said.