The 15-foot, 5,200-pound beam of metal outside the Manheim Township Public Library points toward ground zero in New York City, where, until 20 years ago, the World Trade Center towers once stood.

Dozens of people gathered Saturday at the beam, recovered from ground zero and now part of the township’s World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial, to mark two decades since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that brought the towers down. Attendees paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks and the first responders who lost their lives in efforts to save others that day.

Manheim Township police and firefighters escorted guests to the beam and two other areas of the memorial honoring those who died in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, to lay wreaths.

“We had heroes at all three sites,” said Vin Kneizys, a senior member with the Manheim Township Historical Society, which hosted the event.

David Cook, whose brother Dennis Cook was killed in the World Trade Center that day, laid the first wreath at the steel beam in honor of those who died in New York City. He did not speak at the event.

Family friend Chip Snyder of Snyder Funeral Home said Dennis Cook “was a full-of-life guy.” The middle of three sons, Dennis Cook was survived by two daughters, one who was 3 and the other a newborn when he died.

“I went up to New York to bring Dennis home, and it’s something I will never forget,” Snyder said. “It’s a bond that I’ve had with the Cook family since that day.”

Retired U.S. Army Col. Michael Angelo, a Lancaster native, was inside the Pentagon on 9/11, preparing to attend a meeting on the west side of the building at 9:30 a.m. when he took a call from his son, delaying him.

As the two were discussing the horrors unfolding in New York City, Angelo heard a sudden, loud bang that caused his office to shake. Angelo knew immediately that the Pentagon had been attacked.

“From that moment on, life as we knew it in the United States was changed forever,” he said.

The plane that crashed into the west side of the Pentagon set the building ablaze and filled the structure with smoke. All 23 people who attended the meeting Angelo was headed to were killed.

“Since I chose to be late for my meeting, my son is now my guardian angel,” he said.

It wasn’t until Angelo returned home 10 hours later that his family knew he was safe.

Incredibly, Charles “Chic” Burlingame, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, was a personal friend of Angelo’s.

“We had worked together for years in the Department of Defense,” Angelo said. “He was a reserve Navy captain.”

Another Lancaster native, retired Army Brig. Gen. David Wood, was in Ronks on 9/11 as a member of the state National Guard. News of the attacks on New York City were already spreading when the call came to head to Shanksville — and to be prepared to evacuate casualties.

The radios in the cockpit of Wood’s plane were silent during the trip, with all commercial flights having been grounded. The only chatter Wood heard was from F-16 fighter jets conducting a combat air patrol over the region.

Wood and his unit arrived at the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 to find a field covered with debris.

“The numbing reality of the crash site made us understand just what sacrifice those 40 Americans made,” he said.

Wood spent the rest of that week flying support into both New York City and Washington, D.C. — an effort he described as being one of the longest weeks of his military career.

“Flying a helicopter in the vicinity of Lower Manhattan, the endless smoke and ashes were like permanent clouds,” he said. “The loss and destruction were incredible, visible from 50 miles away.”

Other speakers included Manheim Township Historical Society President Benton Webber and Manheim Township Recreation and Park Planning Director Matt Stopa.

“Those of us who lived through that tragic and fateful day, we recognized in an instant just how tragic and just how historic those acts of desperate madmen were that wreaked havoc on countless innocent lives,” Webber said.

The event Saturday concluded with a brief moment of silence, followed by a rifle salute and the playing of taps. Deacon Michael Oles of St. John Neumann Catholic Church then read a brief benediction.

The fateful day that occurred 20 years ago “is a day that is etched in our collective memory,” Wood said.

Twenty-year anniversaries “are worth special attention,” he said. “Not necessarily because 20 years is a long time, but because they signify a milestone that is intergenerational. It’s an anniversary that allows one to reflect and remind others who did not experience that day about how important it was.”

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