- Associated Press - Saturday, September 20, 2014

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) - While the world saw the towers fall, one Pueblo man was there when they went up.

And for Rich Van Manen, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, wiped out not only the World Trade Center but a part of his life.

Van Manen, a native New Yorker now living in Pueblo, was an ambitious 19-year-old when he was hired by the largest consulting engineering firm in New York City. It was late 1971 when Van Manen began work on what he considers his most memorable project, the famed World Trade Center North Tower.

“When I started working in September, the towers were topped off - steel frame completed,” Van Manen said. “In November, I started work on the North Tower. We were told by the boss to meet at the northeast corner of the tower and that we would be going up to the roof to lay out the bolt holes that needed to be drilled on the base plate for the 300-foot television antenna.”

While the huge antenna was transported to the roof by crane piece by piece, Van Manen said crew members took the building’s elevator to the 95th floor and then walked the rest of the way to the top of the 110-floor structure.

“I remember it being bitterly cold and windy that day,” Van Manen said, noting that he also was a bit weary from a night of partying. “Try going up 110 floors, a bit hung over and not dressed properly for the weather.”

Once the antenna was installed, Van Manen worked on the plaza level of the complex on several projects, including laying out the location for the famous German sculpture “The Sphere.”

Van Manen said the completed World Trade Center was “the most amazing structure I had ever seen at my young age of 19. At that time, it was the tallest building in the world. It was beyond my belief that anything that tall could be built.”

Like many Americans, Van Manen first learned of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, while on his way to work. “I heard on the radio that a plane had hit Tower One,” he said. “And I figured it was a small plane, as a similar incident happened at the Empire State Building back in the 1940s.

“But once the second plane hit, I said to myself, ‘Something ain’t right here.’ And then my brother called from New York and told me he was watching the buildings burn. Then I realized we were being attacked.”

As he watched the events unfold on television, Van Manen recalls his first thought being one of “apprehension,” as he tried to unravel what exactly was transpiring. “Then I became angry. Like the thousands of people who worked on the building, I felt like something had been taken from me - like losing a very memorable part of my childhood.”

That feeling of emptiness was compounded as Van Manen saw the crown of the North Tower, the huge television antenna he had helped erect, obliterated in the collapse of the building.

“When I saw the North Tower go down and the antenna disappear into a cloud of dust and debris, it was a sight that brought out all kinds of emotions. I will never forget that moment.”

Afterward, Van Manen said he believed it necessary for the United States to pursue and eventually take down Osama bin Laden. As for the sending of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, Van Manen offered much less support.

Three months after the tragic events of that unforgettable day, Van Manen traveled back to New York City. What he found was that his former place of work and play was unrecognizable.

“I was in shock. They were still removing bodies from the scene. It looked like a war zone, with police everywhere and everything barricaded off. All the familiar landmarks and places in that area were gone,” Van Manen said. “That area in Manhattan was our playground. Not only did we work there but had a lot of fun as well. Our offices were but two blocks north of the North Tower.”

The remnants of that destruction also gave Van Manen cause to reflect on the countless hours spent by thousands of his fellow workers - often in dangerous, life-threatening situations - erecting those two magnificent structures.

“At 19, standing on the roof of the North Tower, I felt like I was on top of the world,” Van Manen said. “And I literally was, as it was the tallest building in the world. Never did any of us think that these buildings would ever come down. With all that steel, they seemed indestructible.”


Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, https://www.chieftain.com

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