9/11 memorial comes to Jefferson City with patriotic escort

Ethan Weston/News Tribune

The mobile 9/11 memorial’s biker escort pose Wednesday in front of the trailer, which houses a part of the World Trade Center South Tower.

Mid-Missourians began their remembrances of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Wednesday night with a patriotic motorcade bringing in what one person called, "precious cargo."

The World Memorial Foundation in San Diego, California, brought their memorial trailer to Jefferson City. This trailer is a rolling memorial to the lives lost on 9/11, as well as containing many artifacts, memorials and displays relating to that terrible day.

Among the items in the trailer is a 720-pound piece of steel from the 43rd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It is one of 236 pieces of steel studied by the National Standards and Technology in Maryland as to, "why the towers collapsed," World Memorial President Mitch Mendlar said.

"Officials in Jefferson City reached out to me last October about coming down here - the first folks to ask about us coming for the anniversary," Mendlar said. "You would figure with the 20th coming up, and a lot of people know what we do, somebody would have reached out long before that, but they didn't.

"I was told by someone on one of our earlier stops coming here that the Midwest is the 'heart of the country - we love America,'" Mendlar said. "I have to tell you we don't hear that a lot. It's sad and this is why we do what we do. Everybody takes for granted that we live in the greatest country on Earth."

The trailer departed San Diego last Friday and stopped Tuesday in Kansas City. Wednesday afternoon, the trailer departed Arrowhead Stadium, arriving at the Missouri Fire Fighters Memorial in Kingdom City where it remained on display until 6:30 p.m.

The trailer then departed the memorial, led by law enforcement agencies and a motorcycle procession, with more than 80 riders, going from Kingdom City to the Capitol on U.S. 54 westbound, arriving in the Capital City around 7 p.m. Along the way, many vehicles stopped on the side of the highway, and many people got out holding flags to salute the memory of those lost on 9/11. There were also people with flags on overpasses along the route.

The trailer and artifacts will be on display on the south side of the Capitol throughout the Missouri Patriot Day activities Friday and Saturday.

Joe Torrillo, a retired New York City Fire Department lieutenant who was found alive after missing and presumed dead for three days in the rubble of the World Trade Center, rode down with the procession. He'll be the keynote speaker at a ceremony Friday evening on the south lawn of the Capitol. Today and Friday, Torillo is scheduled to visit several local schools to talk to students about 9/11.

Torrillo was scheduled to fly into Columbia on Tuesday night, but thunderstorms in Chicago forced his flight to be canceled and he had to sleep at O'Hare International Airport.

He was able to get a flight out of Chicago on Wednesday. Thanks to Patriot Day Chairman Steve Cearlock driving to Quincy, Illinois, to pick him up and bring him to Central Missouri, he was able to participate in Wednesday's activities as planned.

Despite the flight issues, Torrillo said he was glad to come and talk to people, but he emphasized his story was just one of the many that happened that day.

Torillo was scheduled to hold a news conference Sept. 11, 2011, to announce the launching of a toy to help children learn about the 911 emergency phone number.

"We were going to have a first-ever 911 theme safety day and then introduce with Fischer Price Toys a toy called Billy Blazes which was in the likeness of a New York City Fire Fighter," Torilllo said.

On his way to the safety day press conference, Torillo said the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

"I said to heck with the press conference and I made my way to my original fire house, where I started my career, which was across the street from the South Tower," Torillo said. "I took off my dress uniform and borrowed a set of fire fighter clothing."

As he was running to the North Tower, Torillo passed the South Tower first and the second jet came over his head and hit the South Tower.

"I knew we were under a terrorist attack," Torillo said. "Next thing I said was, 'Everyone at the top of the building is going to die because we'll never get to them.' Then I said, 'The building is going to collapse,' but no one believed me."

Torillo ended up buried under the debris of the South Tower.

"A piece of steel split the back of my head open," Torillo said. "My ribs were broke and my neck and spine were crushed. I was bleeding internally and I was suffocating because there was no air in the area I was in. Others were screaming out, but we couldn't see each other or reach each other. After a while they all died and I was still alive."

Torillo said no emergency service agency, nor any branch of the military, could have actually been prepared for what he and his fellow firefighters had to deal with that day.

"At the end of the day, though, it was one of the greatest rescue efforts witnessed as we saved over 17,000 people and many others could have perished had it not been for the heroic acts of the first responders," Torillo said. "People ask me all the time, 'Why do you think you survived?,' and I don't have a legitimate answer, except, I think I owed out so much money everybody was praying for me. So if you want to live a long life, keep borrowing money from people and they'll pray for you every night."

Torillo retired from the fire service in 2004. During his recuperation he became a volunteer tour guide at Ground Zero, something he still does. He also represents the victims and their families and meets with them when they come to the city.

Torillo was also on duty in February 1993 when a bomb was set off in the garage of the Trade Centers.

"We were told, those years back, that they would probably try and do it again," Torillo said. "On Sept. 11, 2001, I realized that, you know what, people knew this was going to happen and there wasn't much we could have done to prevent it, I don't think. I was very angry that they came back a second time and accomplished their mission."

Torillo said as hard as it may be to believe, something good did come out of 9/11 in that the attacks put first responders in the limelight they deserved.

"I think before 9/11 people always appreciated and respected us, but I think 9/11 made people realize the commitment that first responders make," Torillo said. "I think people have gone way out of their way to show us their respect because so many times, whether it's a firefighter, police officer or EMT, people will come up and say, 'Thank you for your service.'"

As he travels the country talking about his 9/11 experience, Torillo said his quest is to make the country, "The re-United States of America," and to put new glory in "Old Glory," the U.S. flag.

"We seemed to put our difference aside for a period of time and we resurrected patriotism," Torillo said about the time after 9/11 occurred. "It seemed people realized how much we meant to each other, regardless or our race, and we were able to come together, as one country, to overcome any future hardships."

As they pulled into Jefferson City, and after seeing the public response during the motorcade, Cearlock said all the hard work the Patriot Day Committee has done to get this event together was worth it.

"This day should never be taken lightly, and the message is simple - never forget," Cearlock said.

To keep up with planned Patriot Day events, visit facebook.com/mopatriots.