History is largely written first from the memory of an experience. Memories are written into records of events. Different perspectives can influence the way in which people remember events. While people who actually experienced events are alive, we can hear them tell their memories of what happened. As time passes, these witnesses to history pass away and the memories can fade, leaving only recorded accounts of events.
The sites of events can serve as touchstones, but for many people they may be located too far away to visit. Over time, physical locations can change in appearance or exact locations may become confused over long periods. A king once buried under the floor of a grand church is rediscovered centuries later under a parking lot. A monument placed in antiquity may be replaced or moved. The stories remain but our direct link is missing.
One job of museums is to engage and educate their visitors with objects. The National WWII Museum holds in its collection two objects made of steel that serve as special reminders of tragic events in the history of this great country. These memories of steel provide links to our guests, providing focus for the stories they commemorate.
One object is a piece of the battleship USS Arizona. The piece, from the superstructure of the boat deck, was salvaged during the building of the USS Arizona Memorial. It was generously donated to the Museum by the National Park Service and is on exhibit in the Pearl Harbor Gallery. It provides a tangible touchstone to the events of December 7, 1941.
The second object is much larger. Weighing over 10,000 pounds, it is a portion of a steel column from the World Trade Center that was destroyed in the attack of September 11, 2001.
The steel beam was donated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It was placed on exhibit at the Museum on September 11, 2011. Because of ongoing construction, the beam is currently in storage. It will be returned to a place of prominence in the Battle Barksdale Parade Grounds when construction is complete. The beam serves as a reminder, not only of the events of September 11, 2001, but also of the need for continued vigilance for the future of this country.
In times of past crisis, citizens of this nation have come together to overcome adversity. To insure the future of this nation, they must be reminded of the past and come together when needed.
View photos from the September 11, 2011 artifact dedication here.