Special Reports

Bittersweet piece of 9/11 history to roll in Beaufort

A shining piece of America will ride in the Beaufort Tricentennial Parade this Saturday.

It is a glistening red, 1951 Mack fire truck, as classic as a Norman Rockwell painting with its blinding chrome accents, gold-leaf lettering and a bell made with 40 melted silver dollars.

But the beauty of this engine to America's story, and its appearance in Beaufort during Lt. Dan Weekend to honor wounded warriors, is more than skin deep.

This is Engine 343 from the Fire Department of New York. Assigned to it are all 343 firefighters killed on active duty 10 years ago today in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

A piece of steel from the Twin Towers is expected to ride south with Engine 343 and remain in Beaufort as a tribute to the U.S. Marine Corps "taking up the fight where we left off on 9/11," says retired FDNY firefighter Danny Prince.

Beyond that, Engine 343 will bring to Beaufort's streets steeped in history some other threads of Americana -- Hollywood, a country barn, and an Elvis impersonator.

'What they needed'

Capt. John A. "Woody" Woodall, retired from the Raleigh, N.C., Fire Department, was assigned to be North Carolina's liaison with FDNY after 9/11. He led a drive that raised $7.5 million for the lost firefighters' families.

In doing that, he discovered the department's Fire Family Transport Foundation, headed by Prince. Its volunteers take injured firefighters and family members to doctors appointments, and offer other support to families, especially at times of sickness and death. Woodall said North Carolina kicked in another $500,000 to buy the foundation four 15-passenger vans and help the families of three retired firefighters killed on Sept. 11.

"That was my job -- to find out what they needed," Woodall said.

The foundation wanted a 1950 or 1951 Mack fire engine after the idea of assigning the slain to a single company took root.

Woodall found Engine 343 in Jackie Lee's barn in Wade, N.C. Lee is a lieutenant in the Fayetteville, N.C., Fire Department who generally has more than a dozen old fire trucks under restoration.

Engine 343 now has parts from all over America.

It has two chrome axes donated by the Los Angeles Fire Department. A Chicago firefighter raised money for the gold leafing. A vintage ladder came from a Long Island fire department. The family of a firefighter killed in the Sept. 11 attacks donated the brass plaques placed inside the truck that bear the names of the 343 firefighters lost that day.

World War II Navaho code talkers rode on Engine 343 in a New York City Veterans Day Parade. Earlier this month, it was in the Father Mychal F. Judge Walk of Remembrance, honoring the beloved FDNY chaplain who was killed while giving last rites to firefighters at the World Trade Center. On Saturday, Engine 343 attended the FDNY's 10th Anniversary Memorial Service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

Wounded warriors

Woodall and Prince say the engine is an important piece of American history.

"It makes people aware," Woodall said. "When we go around the country, people ask what the number 343 signifies. When I tell them, you'd be surprised how many people say, 'You're kidding. I knew a lot of firefighters died, but I had no idea it was that many.' "

They also feel she belongs in Beaufort's parade with actor Gary Sinise, the grand marshal. Since he portrayed Vietnam War paraplegic Lt. Dan in the "Forrest Gump" movie filmed in the Beaufort area, Sinise has championed wounded warriors.

The parade takes place during the second Lt. Dan Weekend this Wednesday through Sunday. The Beaufort nonprofit Independence Fund is to bring in 100 wounded warriors and family members to honor them and support them.

The Lt. Dan Band will play Friday night at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

One of the opening acts will be Captain Woody and the Blue Suede Soul Band. That's Woodall. He's an Elvis impersonator.

For this show, he's going to wear Elvis's Aloha outfit with its American eagle pattern in gems. And he's got some special camouflage scarves to toss to the audience.

Engine 343. Wounded warriors. Elvis. A bittersweet American trilogy will now be part of Beaufort's history.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

The FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation

The Independence Fund and Lt. Dan Weekend