Weather Forecast


Framing Sept. 11 a decade later - and beyond

Woodbury resident Joe Cuoco helped erect the original steel frame -- the crumpled remains of which were among the few things left standing on Sept. 11. FEMA photo1 / 2
Joe Cuoco2 / 2

When Joe Cuoco sees images of the contorted steel beams that became grim symbols of Sept. 11, 2001, his memories stretch back farther than 10 years.

Cuoco, a New York, N.Y., native, had a hand in erecting all that steel during construction of the World Trade Center complex, including the Twin Towers.

"The design of the steel girders - I've never seen girders like that, ever," said Cuoco, who now makes his home in Woodbury with his wife Herborg. "It was breathtaking to see the equipment."

In the late 1960s and early 70s, Cuoco - now a police chaplain for Woodbury and neighboring cities - was a steel engineer working on the World Trade Center project in Manhattan.

This week, President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush will come to Ground Zero for a ceremony in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The date marks a decade since terrorists hijacked planes that crashed into both Twin Towers and the Pentagon; passengers who stormed the cockpit of a fourth plane were able to wrest away control from terrorists reportedly bound for the U.S. Capitol building before that plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

Today, the once sprawling World Trade Center site is no more - an open space from the complex that once cast long shadows across Manhattan.

Cuoco said his brother, a survey engineer working on the new World Trade Center project, described just what he believes Ground Zero to represent now.

"He said, 'Joe, that's holy ground,'" Cuoco said, communicating with a thick Brooklyn accent, a remaining vestige from the city where he was born and raised.

Harrowing homecoming

Cuoco made his return to the site in 2007 after he went to visit an old friend after leaving the engineering field to become a pastor.

It was during that visit to New York when Cuoco learned he could be eligible to receive a union pension from his time in the industry.

Cuoco met with a union leader who said he could become eligible for the pension, but that he would have to go to work one day for the union.

Before he could be put back to work, however, he had to get the blessing from the union board.

Cuoco - one of that union's original organizers during the 60s - passed the board with flying colors.

So he went back to work. For one day.

The ceremonial workday brought Cuomo full circle: he was stationed at Ground Zero, where he worked as a "transit man."

"Thirty-five years later I'm back in Ground Zero," he said.

Cuoco said he experienced a "weary feeling" at the site.

"The towers are no longer there, I don't know anybody there anymore," he said. "It was sort of a mixed feeling."

And he agreed with his brother.

"That was holy ground there," Cuoco said.

He had left the engineering field - and its handsome salary - to attend Bible college. He became a pastor after responding to what he said was faith's call.

Cuomo said he never forgot those roots from working as an engineer with ironworkers.

"I still have a heart for that field," he said.

A chaplain's life

Cuoco, 68, has lived in Woodbury now for three years after moving from Albuquerque, N.M., where he was an evangelical pastor.

Most of his children live in Woodbury.

"We thought this would be nice to be with our kids," he said.

Cuoco is a member of a six-person chaplaincy team that works with east metro cities including Woodbury, Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park.

He said serving as a chaplain has given him special insight into public safety - especially what he's learned during ride-along trips with police.

He knows they share a special connection with Sept. 11.

"There is a camaraderie with the police department and firefighters there," he said.

Still, Cuoco knows the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 will be impactful for many Americans, including himself.

"It will be a solemn moment," he said. "I see it as a sad time for the first responders. I'd like to be there just to honor it."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

(715) 426-1072