Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering World Trade Center, now Ground Zero, 25 years ago

It was 25 years ago that I visited this site; Ground Zero they now call. That time, it was the exact opposite of being ground zero. It was then an imposing twin tower skyscraper, symbol of America's might and reach. Inside the buildings was a picture of life, with all the hustle and bustle of corporate America. It was after all the World trade Center. Atop was a wide vista and horizon catching anybody in awe.

I came to America early March 1986, exactly one week after the historic EDSA People Power 1. The euphoria of this bloodless coup has reached the U.S. that everywhere we go, we seemed to be openly welcomed and looked up to. They were then hungry for our first hand report we brought from Manila. We were a group of 13 engineers sent by our company, National Steel Corporation, to the U.S. for a 2-month training on the operation and process control of the Blaw-Knox 5stand Cold Rolling Mill we bought from Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The venue was at Bethlehem's plant in Burns Harbor, Indiana.

Towards the end of our training, I made a whirlwind weekend rendezvous with my cousins based in New Jersey. Then came the tour of New York, one of the highlights of my stay in the U.S.

We had a boat cruise (was it Hudson River?), passing by another landmark, the Statue of Liberty at Staten Island while Manhattan and New York's skyline looming all along our cruise. We queued at Chinatown for a lunch of delectable steamed bass and adobong kangkong, strolled along 5th Avenue and St.Patrick Cathedral, relaxing at the Rockefeller Center and finally the must see must go places in New York, the Empire State Tower and the World Trade Center Twin Tower.

Lining up at the entrance was a thrill already, the same feeling I felt the first time I reached a skyscraper weeks ago in Chicago, the Sears Tower. The brief orientation further excited me and the ride in the express elevator to to top ( imagine reaching the first stop at the 90+ floor in 70 minutes) was an adventure. And finally, the view from the top. It was just exhilarating.

So how could I imagine the towers toppled, crushed to the ground by such treacherous terrorist attack of Al-Queda. There was no Al-Queda then. that time, Osama bin Laden was just a mujaheedin in Afghanistan fighting the Russian invaders and of all ironies, a cause supported by the U.S. itself. It was to me the worst attack in American history, far worst than Pearl Harbor which was in far away Hawaii, far from the US mainland. But this one, notwithstanding the thousands who perished, was struck right at the heart of the U.S. Suddenly, the world's mightiest superpower became vulnerable.

Years after 9/11, I got hold of the book, Men of Steel, which described and related how the twin towers came into being, the determination of the Koch family who built it. As my professional life revolved around steel, I was astounded by the sheer genius of the men who designed and built it, the steel structures fabricated and used, etc. Thousands of tons of steel, special steels, special design, simply magnificent. It was built not to fail. Sadly, it did, caused by an unimaginable element to affect the building. Any metallurgist or steel engineer know it: Heat.Heat caused by fire from the premium hi grade jet fuel of the airplanes used to ram the building.

As the Americans and the world commemorates the 10th anniversary of the bombing, now known as 9/11, I sympathize and empathize with all the freedom and peace loving people in the world praying that such acts would be the last. 25 years ago, my visit to this place was just plain enjoyment.