By Fr. George Welzbacher
September 18, 2011
While the 9/11 memorial services held last Sunday in our nation's capital and in the open field at Shanksville, Pennsylvania were conspicuously religious in tone, the official service honoring the victims and their families at Lower Manhattan's Ground Zero was notably, indeed professedly, secular. At the behest of New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, clergy were expressly excluded from participation in the proceedings. If anything, still more surprising was the mayor's decree excluding from the ceremony those who would represent the heroic First Responders, the firemen, police officers and Port Authority officials who had rushed to the scene of the enflamed Twin Towers and then sacrificed their own lives in their effort to save the lives of others. By way of compensation for such exclusion from the ceremonies at Ground Zero, and at the initiative of their surviving fellow firefighters, the 343 firemen who were engulfed in the flames as the towers collapsed or who were crushed under the debris that exploded from the towers were honored at a Solemn High Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, with Archbishop Timothy Dolan presiding, on Saturday, September the tenth.
Members of the First Responders' families were justifiably indignant at Mayor Bloomberg's high-handed action. May I share with you here the eloquent tribute written by the brother of one of the fallen firemen, an expression, too, of protest against Mayor Bloomberg's insulting diktat. The tribute appeared as an Op-Ed essay in the September 7th edition of The Wall Street Journal.
* * * * *No Firemen at Ground Zero this 9/11?
The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2011
In our darkest hour, they gave us hope - the firefighters of September 11. In the chaos at the World Trade Center, the rigs pulled up, the men climbed out, retrieved their roll-up hoses and marched stalwart to the towers. Carrying nearly a hundred pounds of equipment they climbed the stairs, flight after flight after flight. A woman in the North Tower, descending from the 89th floor said, "When I saw the firemen I knew we would be all right."
When they arrived at the base of the towers, there were jumpers by the score. Two firefighters, terribly, were struck. "There is no way to put it," an EMS who witnessed it said; "they exploded."
And still they went in.
In the lobby of the towers the men gathered, awaiting their orders. Outside the bodies rained down. Before a blown out elevator lay two victims, their clothes burnt off, their bodies charred. The huge pane-glass windows were shattered, the stone walls cracked. There was a report that more planes had been hijacked; they were headed to New York.
And still they went up.
In the South Tower, Battalion Chief Oreo Palmer, a marathon runner, shed his heavy equipment and coat and ran up the stairs. By 10 a.m. he had reached the 78th floor, the point of the plane's impact. The fires raged. "Send up two engine companies," he radioed down, "and we'll knock this down." Minutes later the tower collapsed.
In the North Tower, four office workers, two young men and two young women, were crossing the lower lobby, heading for the exit where a fireman waved.
Then the South Tower collapsed.
Its debris blew into the North Tower, killing Fire Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge and destroying the lower lobby. The ceiling caved in and the lights were knocked out. Now injured and bloodied, the four office workers climbed out from beneath the debris. Breathing dust, they gazed about in the pitch blackness. They had made it all this way only to die steps from escape. Then they saw the light. The fireman at the exit was still there, waving his small flashlight. The four headed for it and made their way out.
As they crossed the plaza into the daylight, one of the men looked back. The fireman was still there, standing his ground in case others needed help.
And there he undoubtedly was when the full 110-story tower came down upon him.
"Courage," Winston Churchill said, "is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all of the others."
Three hundred and forty-three firefighters, 37 Port Authority police officers, 23 New York Police Department officers and three court officers died at the World Trade Center. In response, America and the world hailed their heroism and sacrifice. Firehouses across the city became virtual shrines. New Yorkers gathered on the West Side Highway at a place that came to be called "Gratitude Point" to thank the police, firefighters and iron workers as they traveled to and from Ground Zero. Professional ball players wore their caps. School children's drawings honored them.
For weeks ordinary New Yorkers and visitors from out of town attended their hundreds of memorial services across the city and area suburbs - and were grateful for the opportunity to do so. When they were held at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue - New York's Main Street - came to a halt.
Who - especially on the 10th anniversary of their sacrifice - would deny the first responders their due and proper honor? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His office says that because of the number of victims' family members attending there's not enough room to accommodate first responders at Ground Zero that day, though "we're working to find ways to recognize and honor first responders, and other groups, at different places and times." Different places and times?
When President Obama, after the killing of Osama bin Laden, visited New York City, he stopped by a Times Square firehouse that lost 15 men. Why did he do that? Later that day I had the opportunity to meet the president. I showed him a photo of my brother, FDNY Capt. Billy Burke, Engine Co. 21, who perished in the North Tower after refusing to leave the side of Ed Beyea, a computer programmer and wheel-chair-bound quadriplegic. "I feel that the Navy Seals walked in the steps of my brother and all the other first responders of 9/11," I told him.
"That is just what I told the firefighters this morning," he replied.
The firemen, being who they are, would never complain or bring attention to themselves. I, however, am not a fireman. Just the son of one and the brother of another. To deny the firefighters and our first responders - these most humble and dedicated servants of New York -the opportunity to honor, at Ground Zero on 9/11, their lost brothers and sisters is atrocious. [Emphasis added]
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Life, however, does go on. And sometimes, phoenix-like, it does rise up from the ashes. A successor to the Twin Towers is now four-fifths of the way towards reaching its planned final height of 104 storeys. Whatever you may think of its aesthetic quality, at the very least the popularly designated "Freedom Tower" reaffirms America's energy and determination, as did the Empire State Building, some eighty years ago, which soared to its then (early 1930's) unprecedented height as an assertion of confidence, rising as a symbol of hope out of the depths of the Great Depression. The British weekly journal The Economist offered the following report on what is taking place at Ground Zero today.
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Ground Zero Plus Ten
The Economist, September 3, 2011
On September 11th 2001 everyone who was at their desk at Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 101th - 105th floors of the World Trade Center's North Tower, died. Of the company's 960 New York-based employees, 658 were killed, including Gary Lutnick, brother of Howard, the firm's chief executive. In all, the attacks took 2,752 lives from the city. But the disaster called forth great-heartedness. A week later, when it was not yet clear the company would survive - it was losing $1 million a day and was in need of a $75 billion loan - Mr. Lutnick announced that Cantor would share 25% of the firm's profits with victims' families for five years and would provide them with health insurance for ten years. This amounted to $180 million. The families also received $45 million in bonuses.
Lower Manhattan, like Cantor Fitzgerald, suffered a devastating loss on that day. Some 14 million square feet of office space was damaged or destroyed and 65,000 jobs were relocated. Hundreds of businesses closed, some permanently. Yet ten years on, the area is doing well. According to the Downtown [Lower Manhattan] Alliance, its vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the country. The volume of apartment sales has increased by 151 % since 2003. The resident population has more than doubled, to 56,000, since 2001. Six new schools have opened their doors since 2009. Last year almost 10 million tourists visited. Many stayed at one of the 18 hotels in Lower Manhattan, three times the number in 2001. Though many companies fled in the first two years after the attacks, today there are more downtown than there were in 2001.
The biggest change is at the site itself. After years of construction delays and paralysis, One World Trade Centre, formerly known as "Freedom Tower", now tops 80 floors. It is beginning to dominate the downtown skyline as the twin towers once did. Still two years from completion, when it will reach 104 storeys, 1 million square feet of it is already leased to Condé Nast, a publishing company. The 9/11 museum, meanwhile, will not open till next September; but visitors to the site will soon be able to see two of the steel trident-shaped supports from the original budding, which survived and have now been enclosed in the museum's glass atrium. Seeing them for the first time since they were salvaged from the pulverized buildings is powerfully impressive. Visitors will also be able to see and touch the 70 foot underground wall that mercifully HELD BACK the Hudson River during the attacks.
The memorial, called "Reflecting Absence", will open on September 11th. I Main features are two pools on the footprints of the fallen towers with accompanying waterfalls. The names of the dead are inscribed in the bronze that surrounds the pools. They may appear jumbled, but people who worked together and died together are grouped together.
Special requests were accommodated, such as one made by the daughter of a man who died on Flight AA11, which crashed into the tower where her best friend was killed. The two are inscribed together. Joe Daniels, the memorial's overseer, called the grouping of the names the most challenging part of the project; many families wanted more information to be given about their lost ones. "How we remember the dead says a lot," says Edie Lutnick, Howard and Gary's sister. "We could have done better." Still, seeing the names of so many dead is moving indeed. The memorial also includes a survivor, a pear tree that was originally planted in the WTC plaza in the 1970's. It was found amid the rubble, was nursed back to health and was returned to the site last year.
Security at the memorial will be tight. All visitors will be screened. New York's police department has boosted its presence in the area, which is still in the terrorists' sights. Under the direction of Ray Kelly, the police commissioner, the New York Police Department has expanded its mission to include counter-terrorism. Some 1,000 officers work its terrorism division. New York detectives are deployed in 11 FOREIGN cities, and departmental linguists at home (including native speakers of Arabic, Pushtu, and Bengali) look and listen out for worrying chatter. The police department has installed an extensive camera system, license-plate readers and air monitors. A dozen plots against New York have been thwarted or have failed since the attacks, including one to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Last year a home-grown terrorist attempted, but failed, to set off a bomb in Times Square.
As the tenth anniversary approaches, documentaries and special reports are being broadcast almost nightly. Books covering the anniversary, including Ms. Lutnick's "An Unbroken Bond" are hitting the shops. Every museum and gallery seems to be holding some sort of commemorative event. But New Yorkers do not need a reminder. Every day they are told, "If you see something, say something." There are few buildings where a photo-ID is not required for access, notes Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute, a think-tank. And many of New York's first-responders are STILL suffering and many may be dying because they were exposed to toxins during the RESCUE efforts AFTER the attacks, despite being told by the Environmental Protection Agency that the air was safe.
Getting compensation for these brave people was harder that it should have been. Congress dragged its feet for years, but was eventually shamed into passing the Zadroga Act at the end of last year. On August 29th the fund expanded the "dust zone", which means that more people who fell ill because of living or working in the area can now.apply for coverage. Cancer claims, however, are excluded.
Today Cantor Fitzgerald is thriving. Its staff had grown to 1,400. And, like New York, it has changed. It, too, is a lot more cautious. Its new offices are in midtown, and all its floors can be reached by the fire department's ladders.
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