I don’t have anything to add to this great essay about the Islamic-style Flight 93 Memorial; Velvet Hammer covers it very well. I am just glad that we are still having this discussion, however quiet.
Tag Archives: September 11
More than seven and a half years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the city medical examiner identified the remains of yet another victim.
Manuel Emilio Mejia, 54, was a worker at the Windows on the World restaurant, which was situated on the top floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
The medical examiner says the remains were found during the second phase of clean up and recovery, which began in January of 2006.
Mr. Mejia is the 1624th person to be identified from the atrocity; more than 1,100 others have not been found or identified.
The slow process of discovery and identification continues, all these years later…
I am weary of seeing the gaping maw in the center of Manhattan – but this story makes me feel a tiny bit better about our utter lack of progress with the 9/11 memorial.
Construction workers digging at ground zero have uncovered a 40-foot pothole and other features carved by glaciers about 20,000 years ago.
A hole was discovered under the hole. But the Ice Age was interesting and this is interesting, even if it does nothing to sooth the ache in our collective soul.
That same article has some amazing photos I have never seen before of the artifacts found at Ground Zero, including the shimmery silver facade of the WTC and a New York Times dated June 23, 1969, which conservationists say must have been left inside the structure of the buildings by a worker who built the skyscraper. It was open to the obituary of Judy Garland and was unscathed – beautifully whole, but yellowed with time.
343 firefighters were killed.
91 FDNY vehicles were destroyed.
213 members of the senior command were lost to retirement in the weeks after 9/11.
$104 million was paid out in death benefits to the families of firefighters.
500 firefighters are at risk of leaving the force because of lung damage suffered at ground zero.
In 2002, FDNY received 4,971 applicants for the department.
25,000 applications are normally received in a given year.
4,400 years of collective experience vaporized in the span of 30 minutes.
I got tied up yesterday and didn’t get to post some things I wanted. I asked two friends, both with the FDNY, to write something about 9/11 for me. These are their replies:
(John – FDNY)
The other day I am at a bar in Brooklyn, way down in Brooklyn, and I see a sign on the back of the bar with my friend’s name on it. It blew me away. I mean, my friend lived in Queens right near me. We went to the academy together. And he died downtown. And I saw his name behind some random bar in the middle of Brooklyn nowhere near where he worked or lived. I asked the bartender about it ‘cause it was ONLY my friend, not the other 342, and he said the owner was friends with him. I thought that was great. He had a street sign up over the bar and pictures of him.
(Kevin – FDNY)
I got there after the towers fell. I was too shocked at the time to be angry. Anger came later. I remember seeing it and just being stunned at seeing the devastation. Fires were still burning in most of the other WTC buildings. Smoke .. rubble … bodies .. dust … it wasn’t like you were in NYC .. It was like Bosnia or something. Not NYC.
I got there early wed morning and spent the whole day … and every day after that for weeks.
They wouldn’t let us go into the pit on Tuesday actually. They were turning us back. Someone told me there were bombs planted on the bridge crossings. Rumors were everywhere. They said the caught people on the Whitestone Bridge. I don’t think it turned out to be true. So we waited at this staging area all Tuesday, desperate for word. I had just come off a 24 hour shift and was exhausted. Tues night I passed out and got a few hours sleep. Wed morning they said they wanted us back in the staging area. So we jumped in our own cars, packed them with guys, and got down there to help. Then we were there for days. We got their early when we were still pulling out guys. No one alive of course. I remember my friend found a Cantor golfball. I didn’t even know Cantor had their own golfballs. And it was in perfect condition. He showed me.
[I post this every year on September 11. Since 2004. I guess you could call it a tradition.]
Sean does not like it when I call him a 9/11 Victim. He tells me he’s not a victim. His coworkers who died were victims. His wife of ten years was a victim. He was just there when it happened.
When we are together, I ask him questions about her. He is patient with me, explaining their relationship, not diminishing it just because she is no longer here, which I appreciate. I listen, trying to understand how it must feel to be in his skin and to live through that day and the thousand days that have passed. A few weeks ago, while in New York, I sat on the counter of his modern kitchen while he poured glasses of red wine. On the fridge was a snapshot of his wife and their son taken in Central Park that September. She’s tiny, with a brown ponytail, bright brown eyes, and a natural, genuinely happy grin. Had things been different, she is the kind of woman who might be one of my best friends.
Instead, I’m dating her husband.
I knew I had fallen in love with him and his life – his beautiful son, his beautiful apartment with the astonishing views, his thoughts and mind and heart, all of it, everything – when I woke up one Saturday morning to a knock on the door. I grabbed a sweater to throw over my pajamas and went to the door, and there he was, like the continuation of a very nice dream. Unexpectedly, he had flown down on the breakfast flight from New York. I threw my arms around him, and told him I was exhausted and to come nap with me. After that, we’ve known that this was not a trivial thing.
I realize that I am getting into something that is both wonderful and daunting. Every time 9/11 is mentioned, I see the crinkles around his eyes tighten up, just for a second. It’s personal to him, and by extension, it’s personal to me. The other night he called me at three in the morning. I stay up late, so I didn’t mind, but I knew he had to be at work early the next morning. As soon as I saw his name on my caller ID I answered, “Hey, is everything okay?”
He said yes. I guess I already know him well enough to not press him. I said okay and asked what he was doing. He deflected the question, and asked what I was doing. I told him I was writing and watching television and doing yoga and thinking about baking some butterscotch cookies for him when I go up to New York on Saturday. He was very quiet. I said, “Are you okay?”
And then he said, “I had a nightmare.”
I shut off the television with the remote.
He started to tell me that he had a nightmare that she had jumped. She was standing in the window, in her little pantsuit and pumps, looking down. It was flames or freefall. Then he was there, beside her, and he was asking her to try and get out, then she fell suddenly, into the vast blue nothingness. When he woke up he was sick. He hadn’t had a nightmare in a long time, nearly a year. I told him it was okay. He said that he was afraid that she was in pain when she died. That she was burned or crushed or …. jumped. I told him that she wasn’t in pain. It was fast, it was very fast, I say – because what else can I say? I start to cry. I don’t know that his wife didn’t die a horrible painful death – and neither does he. He doesn’t know how she died because they did not find enough of her to determine that. We talk for a long time. He tells me he feels guilty and that he should have gone inside and gotten her out of there. I remind him, gently, that he was lucky to get out of his own building alive. He didn’t know that the building would topple. He didn’t know that she wasn’t on her way out. There was nothing he could have done. He is quiet, so I keep saying it. “There is nothing you could have done. It’s not your fault.”
After half an hour, he is calm. He tells me that he loves me. I say, “I know you do. I love you too.” Sean is quiet. I can imagine him perfectly. He’s in bed, the crimson coverlet kicked to the foot of the bed while the cream colored comforter is up to his waist. He’s kept the lights off, the phone is against his ear. The sheers are down over the windows, though the curtains are pulled back. Through the gauze, the lights of the city filter in. He is thinking about his wife, and me, and this new life. Finally I can hear him shift in bed, rolling over to his left side, probably. He says, “Thank you for listening to me.”
I wipe a few tears out of my eyes. “It’s my pleasure. I love listening to you.”
“It’s us now,” he says in a rush, like he has to get this overwith quickly. “Isn’t it?”
The breath is knocked out of me. I say “Yes.”
We say goodnight and hang up. I pace around my house, thinking about the conversation. I feel suddenly very angry and very sad. It’s overwhelming, like I can’t get on top of it. I am sad for Sean, but also for all of us. The West: UK, the USA… just all of us who have to live with the damage, and who have to find a way to stop this so it doesn’t happen again.
The fight against terrorism isn’t just happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world. It’s still happening here at home, in places like Virginia and New York City. It’s being waged in the 3,000 families who aren’t finished grieving over their loved ones and who will never be finished grieving. It’s being waged every time a wife wakes up to the crying baby who will never know his father, and every time a man wakes up in a cold sweat dreaming that his wife jumped to avoid being burned alive. That is why I can’t believe that the war on terror is some make believe idea, an inconvenience that has no relevance to our daily lives. I say this as someone who has experienced firsthand the sorrow and ache and the misery of war, but who nevertheless believes, with beaten resolve, that it is simply the only proper way to address the current state of the world.
[A friend wrote this for me two years ago, and I think today is a fine day to re-post it.]
It was late on a cold Saturday night in mid-December, 1987. There was about an inch of powdery snow blanketing the city. I had failed a course my first semester, so was staying in a fraternity house in which I was a pledge while taking a two week cram course to make up for the failing grade.
I was lying on a couch studying or doing homework. The house was quiet; the campus was quiet except for maybe a TV or radio off in the distance. With somewhat of a ruckus, the front door opened up and a senior came stumbling in with another guy who I didn’t know. I poked my head over the couch to the call of “PLEDGE! Get a coat on. You’re coming with us.” I was a pledge, a freshman, it was a Saturday night, Christmas was a few days away – was there a choice?
Senior rounded up another freshman who was in the same situation as me, we’ll call him Brooklyn.
Five minutes later we’re heading through the Lincoln Tunnel in Guy I Don’t Know’s car. It was some big ‘ol 4 door from the late 70’s, early 80’s. Big. I’m in the backseat with Brooklyn wondering where this night’s heading – I never cared for NYC too much even though I grew up a little more than an hour away.
After some turns and some slow rolling, Senior starts intently looking out the window, searching for something. We’re circling around and finally he says “There it is!”
Guy I Don’t Know pulls the car over to the curb of an otherwise empty street and we pile out into some snow flurries. Senior grabs my arm and pulls me towards a snowplow tractor with “WTC” written on the sides. I look down the slight hill, following the tracks the two of them made earlier while dragging the snowplow. The Twin Towers stood there a block away, like quiet sentinels that just knew we were about to steal their snowplow.
So the four of us picked up this plow and shuffled over to the trunk of the car. It was HEAVY. As engineering students, it should’ve been quite apparent that there was no way in hell this would fit.
One end of the plow was just about to the trunk when a police car had stopped at a red light about 200 feet down the hill. Brooklyn, being from Brooklyn, yells “the fuzz!” drops his end immediately, and starts running up the street. The weight was too much for the rest of us to bear and Senior got his finger caught briefly as the plow dropped onto the trunk, then tumbled onto the street crushing Guys bumper. The Finest must’ve been listening to some good Christmas carols on the radio that night since the running Brooklyn, the yelling Senior, and the crashing WTC snowplow didn’t catch their attention.
As we drove back through the Lincoln Tunnel, defeated, I thought I heard the Towers laughing at us. Of course I couldn’t have known that 5 years later terrorists would detonate a truck bomb in the parking garage. I had no idea that the spectacular view from my campus would change 14 years later, in a matter of hours. The thought never entered my mind that 14 years later, freshman engineering students with a dorm room on the riverside would never again be able to gaze out the window late at night, and gaze upon the Twin Towers marveling at that particular feat of engineering.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Sean watched his building collapse. The second building held his wife, and it collapsed too, literally while he was watching it; he was on the phone with her. After the call disconnected and the waves of white dust rolled through midtown Manhattan, he stood up and staggered around, dazed. Open sunshiny sky existed where before the buildings had stood. All around him, paper and artifacts of a civilization that was gone spread out before him, coated in white dust, like a nuclear winter.
He was not in his right mind. He could not process what had just happened, so in an almost casual way, he reached down and picked up some fluttering papers that had been caught in the wheel well of an SUV. He recognized them. In the stunned haze where nothing could be random or strange because everything was random and strange, he realized that they were documents from his office. He held on to them, and started picking up other pieces of paper, as much as he could find. Thinking it would help, somehow. It would bring order, it would comfort. It would… something.
He carried the papers with him from Lower Manhattan up through Central Park, to his apartment.
Returning home, he was shocked that it was peaceful. His parents had come. The nanny was there, his little son in his bed for his morning nap. They were gathered in the kitchen, crying, watching the news. But the house itself was intact, and there was love in the house, like heat from a stove on Christmas eve. As certain as that.
He set the papers down on the table. In the bathroom he climbed into the shower with his clothes still on. Charcoal grey pinstripe trousers, white shirt, now coated with chalk, blue necktie. He took them off as the water pounded into his face, and threw them onto the floors in front of the sink. He waited for the ring of the phone, or for his wife to come staggering in, dazed too, and needing a shower too. He would wash her hair with her favorite Aveda shampoo. He would kiss her neck. He would quit his job – if there was still such a thing as the word “job” – just so he could stay home with her every day and count the freckles on the bridge of her nose. He would tell her every day he loved her. He would make her favorite blueberry pancakes. He would feed her with a fork engraved with her name.
She did not come home. He has the suit in a paper bag at the back of his closet. It is folded up, not neatly. Not cleaned. Gritty with dirt and dust and fiberglass and coffee mugs and cabling and windows and jet fuel. He never looks at the suit.
But he keeps the papers on his desk, so he can see them every day. As if they belonged there.
My friend David sent me a link yesterday to a conspiracy website. It basically said that there was no way a plane could have struck the Pentagon because the NTSB report on the crash says the last received ping from the CVR was at 300 feet and the Pentagon is only 70 feet high. The first thing that jumps out at me is this: if there was no airplane, how did a CVR get into the wreckage? And if it was last pinged at 300 feet, that means that SOME airplane SOMEWHERE – quite possibly in the wreckage of the Pentagon since that’s where the black box was found – had crashed.
Well I made my second call to the NTSB in as many days. Helpful again. The nice lady told me to hold on a sec. It took a few minutes but she came back and said the NTSB actually didn’t investigate the crashes – the FBI did.
Which blows the whole conspiracy of an NTSB report right out the window. A quick search of the NTSB website for Flight 77 will give you this message:
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Safety Board provided requested technical assistance to the FBI, and any material generated by the NTSB is under the control of the FBI. The Safety Board does not plan to issue a report or open a public docket.
So there. But to be safe, I made the call and asked. And the lady said the same thing. So I called the FBI. Anyone who has been reading my blog knows I love, love, love the FBI. Usually. But today was not one of those days. They said, “We don’t have that.”
“Who has it?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
The conversation came to a halt. There was simply no more information to be had. I don’t believe he was part of some conspiracy who didn’t want to tell me what’s what. I think he just doesn’t know, which, judging from the FBI agents I call friends, would not shock me in the least.
When I wrote back my friend he directed me to a google video which would, ostensibly, clear up everything for me.
I like my friend a lot (you know I do, David). But my friend has clearly got it in his head that the US government committed 9/11 and no amount of facts is going to change his mind.
I run into this a lot with the Enron stuff. People ask me why Ken Lay met with Dick Cheney, if I believe that Dr. Lay is really dead, if I think its any coincidence that Enron prosecution documents were stored in the Twin Towers. For that last one, I had a good laugh. Enron wasn’t even collapsed until AFTER 9/11 – when there would have been no towers to store the documents. (Incidentally, why would documents for a federal case in Houston, Texas be stored in New York, and far out of the District Court’s jurisdiction? They would not.) Its the same thing: you tell them the facts and they come up with another reason you’re wrong and they’re right. After a while you just get tired of it, and they think its a victory that you no longer accept their phone calls because you’re too scared to “face the truth.”
Conspiracies are fun for people to ponder because it makes them feel like they have special inside knowledge that nobody else does. It makes them think they’re smarter than everyone else. Of course there was no plane that hit the Pentagon! The video of it was faked. The planes were switched. Ken Lay is alive and kicking it old skool in the Cayman Islands. It’s just silly, not to mention hurtful to those of us who care about Dr. Lay – and the Pentagon.
There is no 9/11 conspiracy. No Enron conspiracy. There are just acts that are so baffling or horrible we search our souls for ways to re-interpret them. But sometimes, things really are exactly as they seem.