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9/11: Remains of the day

NBC's Brian Williams tours the hangar that serves as a temporary resting place for the remnants of the World Trade Center.

We have a special look tonight at all of the wreckage that was taken from ground zero. All of it is sacred and it's all awaiting a home — a permanent memorial. For now, it's all being cared for in a hangar at New York's JFK airport.

They don't want us to show you the outside, but we can say this: if you've flown out of Kennedy, you've taxied by it.

Inside, it's as if that day is now contained in the room. The violence is over and the heat has cooled, but it’s all here. You can feel it, you can smell it. It's enough to make anyone angry and sad and spiritual all over again.

It's an airline hangar as church.

"There's no questionthis is sacred ground here again as it is down at ground zero," says Charles Gargano of the Port Authority.

In many ways, the symbols of ground zero have moved here, and that makes Gargano responsible for these sacred contents.

In the first big room are the once-mighty, once-shiny outer ribs of the building, now broken, burned and rusted and lying on their sides.

How did they have the presence of mind to mark some of them "SAVE"?

"Immediately when we could gain access to ground zero, we sent in engineers to look for pieces that we should save," says Gargano.

In its own temperature-controlled room is the last column removed from ground zero. New Yorkers remember the day it was removed. It had been signed by the rescuers, the cops and firefighters and ironworkers who needed a way to say goodbye.

"It was treated like a living thing when it was removed from the site," says Alice Greenwald, who is responsible for compiling all of this.

Curator Jan Ramirez is responsible for preserving what's here. The trains, the turnstiles — everything as it was right before life changed forever.

We next enter a room containing a form that's difficult to describe. In any other museum, it could be passed off as a meteorite. And while this was born of intense heat, this is altogether different. This formation is really four separate stories of the World Trade Center, compressed, compacted, incinerated — exposed to temperatures as hot as the inner earth.

On it, you can see the typeface from printer paper that was exposed to so much heat it carbonized. In this thing is everything you would find inside any office. Whatever existed at the moment when life stopped.

Greenwald says in some respects it is New York's tomb of the unknowns.

Our attention then turns to those who answered the call.

This room conjures up the great violence of that day and the great sadness afterward — sadness for the men and women who built these once-gleaming machines, sadness for the men and women who were so proud to serve onboard these rigs — in some cases, the men and women who died in them as well.

"This ambulance apparently was incinerated," Greenwald says as he continues our tour.

"Apart from the horrifying condition it's in, it speaks historically to the loss of the seniority in the fire department that day." Ramirez says.

In another room, a cylinder as big as an Apollo spacecraft — the base of the broadcasting tower that stood atop the World Trade Center —  now here on its side. Just past the crosses and the Stars of David that the ironworkers carved from the girders is the old wooden observation deck inscribed with the goodbyes of the families that lost loved ones.

"You take nothing for granted," Greenwald says. "You do nothing superficially. You have to approach every artifact as if it were once a living thing."

All of the material — a hangar-full of it — still represents less than one percent of the rubble at ground zero.

Much of what you we saw will be on permanent display, as soon as the memorial museum is built.