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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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9/11: a steel requiem
By THOMAS LAKE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 15, 2007
Retired FDNY Firefighter Lee Ielpi embraces Anne Muldowney after Ielpi spoke during the opening ceremonies of National September 11 Memorial & Museum Tribute Exhibition at Legends Field. Ielpi lost his son Jonathan Ielpi and Muldowney lost her son Richie Muldowney and her nephew Kenny Watson. All three were FDNY firefighters.
[Cherie Diez | Times]
Firefighter Richie Muldowney's family put their world on the memorial.
TAMPA - Six years ago, when the fires still burned and the wounds were fresh, Brian Muldowney ordered a batch of navy blue T-shirts.
Each one was printed with six names. Each name was a firefighter. Each firefighter - including Muldowney's brother, Richie, whose body had not been identified - was lost when the World Trade Center towers fell.
Muldowney gave the T-shirts to many people, including his mother and his sister, who wore them as often as twice a week.
More recently, at a mill in Virginia, a heap of junk metal went into a furnace. There it was melted and refined, reborn as two steel beams, four tons each, 37 feet long. These beams came out and they toured America.
The beams were destined become part of the structure of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, right there at ground zero where Richie Muldowney died, but first the museum's organizers decided to drive them around the country and let people sign them. Names have a certain collective power.
This week the beams rolled into Tampa, home city of their creator, Gerdau Ameristeel, for the 25th stop on the tour. The Muldowneys came out to sign them Friday morning. They wore their navy blue T-shirts, faded by time and laundry soap.
Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, in the south parking lot of Legends Field, home of the Tampa Yankees. Bagpipes played, and children sang, and the sun shone behind a wall of sand-colored clouds.
"This is nice," said Colleen Muldowney, Richie's sister.
She and her mother, Anne, stood on the asphalt as Lee Ielpi, a former New York firefighter, told the crowd about losing his son, Jonathan. Ielpi said he was fortunate: Of 2,749 peopled killed at the World Trade Center, his son's was one of only 174 bodies recovered whole.
The Muldowney women wept. Anne wedged a crumpled tissue beneath her glasses to stop the tears.
Ielpi said 1,130 people were still listed as missing after vanishing in the rubble.
"We know they're not missing," he said. "They're gone. Will we ever find them? Probably not."
The speeches ended just before 11 a.m. and then the survivors got in line and took black Sharpies and permanently marked the steel. This is part of what Anne Muldowney wrote:
Miss you + love you Richie
In March, the Muldowneys learned that a piece of Richie's body had been identified through DNA testing. They buried that piece in a cemetery on Long Island, next to four other firefighters from Richie's crew. Now they have a grave to visit. Now they have something.
Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3416.
Sign the beams
If you go: Steel beamsto be used in the construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum will be at Legends Field from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and at Raymond James Stadium from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. The public is invited to sign them.
For more information on the tour, visit www.national911memorial.org.