Good Friday morning ...
I recently made a third visit to the site of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City now known as the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. This site commemorates both the September 11, 2001 attacks, which killed 2,996 people, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six.
My first visit to the site was in the fall of 2002, just one year after that fateful day of September 2001. At the time there was just a big hole in the ground where the twin towers had once stood. They were still excavating, still extracting human remains, still digging to bedrock and shoring up the excavation site.
It was a somber scene, sanitized somewhat with banners and flags. The rubble had been carted off, adjacent streets had been repaved, sidewalks replaced, barriers and fencing painted brightly ... but there was still a humongous hole in the ground. The infamous ramp descending floors into the ground was still in place. It was upon this ramp on which firemen and policemen stood lining the sides and saluting as each victim was extracted and brought out to be identified and reunited with family.
St. Paul's Chapel nicknamed "The Little Chapel that Stood" was, at the time, a sanctuary for the entire city, nation and world as people came from all over to visit the site and pay respects to those who died that September day. The chapel, located just east of the WTC, did not have so much as a broken window from the collapse of the twin towers and became a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers. For eight months volunteers had served meals around the clock, made beds for workers, and provided counseling and prayer for fire fighters, construction workers, policemen and others.
At the time of my first visit the fence around the chapel was still the main spot for visitors to place impromptu memorials. It was covered with notes and letters, pictures and postcards, poems and sayings, flags and stuffed animals, ribbons and snatches of cloth. It was an emotional, quiet walk around the perimeter of the church that day. In fact, the entire area around the WTC was like a sanctuary, uncommonly quiet and reverent.
My second visit to the area was in the fall of 2013 immediately following my 50th prep school reunion at Concordia Prep in Bronxville, NY. Sandy and I took the train into the city and then a subway to lower Manhattan exiting at Fulton Street and coming out of the subway to a totally different scene. By that time, a forest of white swamp oaks trees had been planted surrounding two reflecting pools marking where the twin towers had once stood.
The two pools, each about an acre in size, are lined with smooth black granite panels descending 30 feet into the ground. The pools feature 30-foot waterfalls and are set within the footprints of the twin tower buildings. Surrounding the twin Memorial pools are bronze parapets on which are inscribed the nearly 3,000 names of the men, women and children who died on that horrific day. At the time of my second visit, the Memorial Museum had not yet been completed, but the walk around the two pools was amazingly emotional.
I did not know anyone who died on that fateful day, but I felt a kinship as I slowly walked the perimeter because the display of the names is the very heart of the Memorial. The design provides a direct relationship between the visitor, the names and the continuously cascading water, allowing for a feeling of quiet reverence between the visitor and the Memorial. The names are stencil-cut into the parapet allowing visitors to create paper impressions or rubbings of individual names. At night light shines up through the voids created by each letter of the name.
Of the names stenciled in the Memorial many are well-known: names like Donald, Patrick, Marie, Denise, Stephen, Carol, Pamela, and Jennifer. Many are unfamiliar: first names like Liming, Tamitha, Obdulio, Jayceryll, Wai, Kiran, Nezam and Enemencio. The names are of numerous ethnicities: Ukrainian, German, Polish, Scandinavian, Chinese, Bulgarian, Australian, Vietnamese and, of course, many others.
But the most haunting names are those of the mothers of unborn children. They are known as the unborn ten of 9/11 and are interspersed throughout the Memorial according to where the mother died. It is a phrase that just hangs in the air of Ground Zero: Deanna Lynn Galante "and her unborn child." Not one, but two tragedies had to be faced by those ten families and that tragedy is felt as you read the names.
Perhaps just as haunting is the realization that even after eighteen years 1100 (40%) of 911 victims have not been identified. Their remains were simply obliterated in the explosion, fire and destruction of this horrific tragedy. How awfully sad for those families.
My third visit to the Memorial was earlier this month when I visited with ten-year-old grandson, Teddy. We were returning from upstate New York when we tarried in the NYC area with the specific purpose of visiting the site. Even for someone not yet born when the event took place in 2001, Teddy was quietly reserved as we toured the reflecting pools and then descended into the Museum itself.
The Museum, though covering a distasteful event of our recent history, is very tastefully done. After entering above ground adjacent to the reflecting pools, you quickly descend below ground where the entire museum unfolds. As you tour, you find yourself walking beneath the two reflecting pools above and thus beneath the actual twin towers that once stood in this very space. You actually walk past portions of the three-foot-thick slurry walls that surrounded the twin towers and held back seepage from the Hudson River. You view actual foundation footings of three and four-foot-thick concrete with rebar intact. You see steel beams and girders from the actual buildings along with information of how these buildings were unique in their construction.
The spacious displays cover the entire timeline from when the Taliban was first recognized as terrorist enemies until the very end when its leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed. Interspersed throughout the exhibits are actual survivors of September 11th who volunteer to share part of their story. That coupled with all the videos, pictures, sound recordings, artifacts, personal belongings and backgrounds of each victim makes for a very emotional experience. After several hours one is exhausted from the heavy weight of understanding more clearly all that took place when the twin towers fell.
Upon each visit to this Memorial and to any other commemorating events in our national history, I am struck by a strong sense of patriotism. I am thankful for the blessings our country has received through its 243-year history. As I am reminded of the sacrifices so many have made on behalf of these United States of America, I am grateful for the freedoms we enjoy and the privileges we have as citizens of this great and amazing, though imperfect, country we live in. I am proud to be an American!
And, so, I leave you with this simple prayer, not sung nearly enough these days and hardly ever prayed. But it is my prayer for these United States of America.
1. God bless our native land!
Firm may she ever stand
Thro' storm and night!
When the wild tempests rave,
Ruler of wind and wave
Do Thou our country save
By Thy great might.
2. For her our prayer shall rise
To God above the skies;
On Him we wait.
Thou who art ever nigh,
Guarding with watchful eye,
To Thee aloud we cry,
God save the State! Amen.
Have a great weekend in the Lord ... affirming your love for God and country ...