By Paula Rogo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks nears, workers at an airplane hangar filled with World Trade Center steel have dispatched charred hunks of metal to towns across America for building memorials.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the steel left behind when the World Trade Center collapsed, has already dispatched thousands of artifacts and is hoping to fill hundreds of last minute requests before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when many memorials will be unveiled.
"These serve as centerpieces of history for towns all over the country," said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"The public will have access to this piece of history displayed with honor, dignity and respect."
The most iconic pieces, such as the last standing column of the World Trade Center and a FDNY Engine 3 fire truck, will be on display at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum when it opens on September 11 this year.
Most of the 1,200 pieces of steel the program began with have been dispatched to fire departments, police departments, and cities from 50 states and five countries which requested a piece of World Trade Center metal.
"People have short memories," said Frank Byrnes, at the hangar to help escort a piece of steel donated to the St. James Fire District on New York's Long Island. "If it raises public awareness, even after 10 years, then it's great."
MUSEUM OF SORTS
The Port Authority hopes to move most of the steel before the 10th anniversary but will continue to give out steel until the supply is exhausted.
Meanwhile, Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport has become a sort of museum for the men and women who come here to transport their piece home.
The Wauseon Fire Department from Wauseon, Ohio drove 10 hours overnight to transport a 12-foot, 3,615 pound piece of steel home. While at the 80,000 square foot hangar, they took a tour of the artifacts.
Among the items catching the attention of Wauseon Fire Captain Neil Kuszmaul, 34, was a mangled fire truck.
"Being a firefighter and looking at this pumper, it really brings things into perspective of what we lost that day," he said.
The hangar is full of contorted pieces of steel as well as burned fire trucks and police cars.
A slipper sits atop a pile of dust-covered clothes. Messages from well-wishers scribbled and stuck on debris have been eerily preserved.
The application to be given artifacts is long and the process is complicated, intended to discourage frivolous requests.
For the St. James Fire District in Long Island, New York, it took two years to be granted a "bow-tie" piece of steel which was part of the outer steel lobby of the World Trade Center.
"We have done a lot to make this happen," said Liam Carroll, assistant chief of the St. James Fire District.
The steel has a deeper meaning for Carroll and his brigade. They lost one of their crew members, Douglas E. Oelschlager, when he was detailed to a short-staffed Ladder 7 on September 11, 2001. Many wear a laminated photo of him in their hats.
"It gives us something to reflect on," Carroll said.
World Trade Center steel has already been used at some well-known sites. The USS New York, commissioned by the U.S. Navy, was a vessel built with over seven tons of the steel.
A monument dedicated to nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, killed during the attempted assassination of U.S. Senator Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona last year, also used World Trade Center steel since she was born on the day of the attacks.
(Editing by Mark Egan and Jerry Norton)
(This story corrects agency in 3rd paragraph, opening date in 5th, steel pieces number in 6th)