Years in the making, the etching of the names has finally begun on the 152 brass panels that will form the centerpiece of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero.
"I feel honored to be a part of it, to pay tribute to everybody who passed," said Les Storms, 56, a welder with Service Metal Fabricating in Rockaway, N.J.
In all, 2982 names will be cut through half inch thick brass so that lights underneath will illuminate the lost around the clock.
Those names include those who died on Flight 93, at the Pentagon as well as six victims from the first World Trade Center bombing several years earlier.
"The responsibility to do this work is an awesome responsibility, and to do it well," said Jim Moretti, 40, President of Service Metal Fabricating.
Computers actually control the final steps at a second plant in Dover, N.J., as a water jet packed with an abrasive slices through the thick metal letter by letter -- a process that can easily take a day for each pane. Moretti said that depending on the number of letters in names, it could either take a day to do half a panel, or to do two panels.
His company designed the pedestals that will hold all those panels, along with the heating and cooling elements that the Memorial Foundation insisted on so that despite the temperature, they are never too hot or cold to touch.
"We've taken what the architect [Michael Arad] has given us and we created it in a real world atmosphere," said Project Engineer Brian Wyckoff, 40.
Ironically, although Moretti may have the most visible job for the Memorial, his is but a small part of a project that, along with a museum to open in 2012, will cost $610 million.
"It's not necessarily our accomplishment as a fabricator," Moretti explained, "There's been many years of work by many other people, the Memorial Board, the City of New York, the victims' families."
Jim Terry is in charge of the final drilling on the panels, and admitted, "You start looking at the names and think about what were these people like."
Actual installation of the first panels is scheduled for the early part of 2011, according to Foundation spokesman Michael Frazier, who said that the Memorial will be ready for the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
How long will they last?
Moretti said his charge was for a hundred years.
But he added, "We hope it lasts forever and that even after 100 years it just needs some minor cleanup and that sort of thing."
Pictured at the top of this page is an unfinished panel being fabricated in New Jersey. The finished piece will have filled in spaces in the letters as well as a darker finish.
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