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More than a decade later, aftershocks from the 9/11 terrorist attacks continue to touch hearts in the Newton-Conover community.
UPS recently delivered a tightly stuffed box to Newton-Conover High School. Tom Mentzer, senior Naval science instructor and Navy JROTC commander, retrieved the heavy box at the school's office.
"When I opened it, my heart was beating so fast," Mentzer said, "because I knew what was inside."
The box housed 110 pounds of history â€” a piece of one of the two World Trade Center (WTC) towers that collapsed after planes hit them in 2001.
A long process brought the piece from the Port Authority of New York's control to NCHS, where it will be officially celebrated later this month and then showcased in the school's library in a cabinet built in the school's shop class.
Mentzer started working with the Port Authority in June 2011 to obtain the piece, which he hoped would arrive in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in September. The long transfer process â€” which included the signing of legal documents to take custody of the artifact â€” eventually resulted in the piece's arrival this year.
Alexiss Yanez, a NCHS senior and NJROTC student, said he hopes the artifact brings the community together, much as 9/11 united the nation a decade ago. Yanez was 6 on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers flew planes into the WTC north and south towers.
"I, quite frankly, remember that day clearly, coming home from school to tell my mom happy birthday," Yanez said. "She was sitting in front of the TV, crying. It became very real for me.
"Hopefully, this piece and ceremony instill a connection between people as it did that day, and it will stay engraved in our minds and on our hearts forever," he continued.
Nicole Jenkins said she doesn't remember 9/11 well because of her age at the time.
She said NCHS' WTC piece will help conjure memories for everyone in the community.
"What I'm hoping is they'll remember lives we lost and this will inspire students to be better people," said Jenkins, a NCHS senior.
Melinda Wagner's older brother joined the U.S. Army Rangers after 9/11.
He's now served almost four years and deployed multiple times to Afghanistan. Wagner, also a NCHS senior, said members of the Newton-Conover community continue to fight a battle that did not end in 2001.
"You still have all these people who are committed to fight," she said, "even after events where people have died."
Catawba County citizens are invited to attend a World Trade Center artifact dedication ceremony that will begin about 2 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Newton-Conover High School gym. Area military veterans, fire and police personnel, and public officials are expected to attend. NCHS encourages citizens who lost friends and family members in the 9/11 attacks to attend, too.