1 World Trade Center hits symbolic height

Cranes slowly pulled the last section of the 408-foot spire on top of One World Trade Center on Thursday. It was a moment construction workers and many walking the streets of Manhattan watched with a sense that their skyline has returned since the 9/11 terror attacks nearly 12 years ago. Videojournalist: Charles Eckert (May 2, 2013)

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On a day fittingly blessed with blue skies and warm sun, a huge silver spire was secured into place atop 1 World Trade Center Friday, bringing the tower to a symbolic height of 1,776 feet.

The addition of the final two pieces of the 408-foot, 758-ton spire makes the structure perhaps the tallest in the Western Hemisphere -- and a symbol of national resilience and remembrance.

Construction workers burst into applause as a giant crane gently lowered the tip of the spire, which officials say will double as a world-class broadcast antenna.

"I got goose bumps," said iron worker Steve Broome, 51, of Smithtown, as he watched from a temporary platform on the roof of the skyscraper.

The significance of the moment -- nearly 12 years after 9/11 -- was noted by the two governors who witnessed the installation.

"This milestone at the World Trade Center site symbolizes the resurgence and the resilience of our state and our nation," New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

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"Today's achievement is a fitting tribute to the sacrifices made by so many brave and innocent souls nearly 12 years ago," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie noted.

After workers used 60 bolts to fasten the steel pieces, the building became the third-tallest skyscraper in the world. Only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 2,717 feet and the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at 1,972 feet, are taller.

Some experts dispute whether the spire is actually an antenna -- a crucial distinction in measuring the building's height. Without the spire, it would be shorter than the Willis Tower in Chicago, which stands at 1,451 feet and currently has the title of tallest building in the United States, not including its own antennas.

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The structure is at the northwest corner of the site where the twin World Trade Center towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001 -- a bright sunny day like Friday.

The final installation evoked strong emotions that rippled far beyond the construction site.

Iron worker and Iraq War veteran John Looby, 29, of Mahopac, Putnam County, said the topping of the building previously called Freedom Tower was uplifting.

Looby remembers seeing the cloud of smoke and dust rising from the attack while he was out on Long Island Sound. About two years later, "young and fired up," he joined the Marines at 19.

"Now, as an older man, I have had the opportunity to experience the next phase -- the rebuilding," he said. "Today, I feel gratitude. We bounced back, and it gives me hope that we can work together and stop attacking."

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Filip Appeldorn, 55, of the Netherlands, made it a point to visit Ground Zero as the first city landmark on his visit after learning of the raising of the spire. "It's beautiful," he said. "This is the resurrection. It's America getting back on top and making it better."

Glen Klein, 54, of Centereach, watched the topping-off on TV and felt chills. The retired detective worked in NYPD's emergency services unit on 9/11.

"It shows the people who did the harm to us -- who are still alive -- that when we are down we pop back up," he said.

With Maria Alvarez

and AP