9/11: Never forget
By Chris Sokoloski
Growing up in Connecticut, there were many times I took school field trips into New York City to go see Broadway plays or visit museums.
As I grew older, those trips expanded to include concerts, Yankees and Mets games, and an annual trip to the U.S. Open.
Even after moving to southeastern Pennsylvania as an adult, getting to New York City required only a short drive to New Jersey and then a train ride.
But I had never visited the World Trade Center.
I must have seen the Twin Towers rising above Manhattan on many occasions, but I guess they were just a part of the scenery.
My first visit to the World Trade Center site was this past Labor Day weekend. While visiting my family in Connecticut, I took the train into the city for a Yankees game and to see the National September 11 Memorial.
After taking the subway from the new Yankee Stadium to Lower Manhattan, I climbed the stairs to street level and could see the Freedom Tower rising above me. I was immediately struck by how amazing it must have been to come up those stairs and see the Twin Towers standing there.
The Memorial site is fenced in, but there were hundreds of people milling around outside, some just standing on the sidewalk gazing upward.
After traversing a labyrinth around the outside of the fence, and passing through six security checkpoints – including a screening process similar to an airport’s – I was in the plaza.
The eight-acre site has a park-like feel, with trees, walkways, grassy areas, and stone seats for people to sit and rest or reflect.
Eventually the site will have more th-an 400 swamp white oak trees, which will provide a green ceiling.
Near the center of the plaza is a Callery pear tree known as the “Survivor Tree.” The tree survived after the towers fell and was replanted, and then was uprooted by a bad storm in 2010. After surviving again, the tree was moved to the memorial plaza as a symbol of survival and resilience.
It is hard to grasp how big the Twin Towers were until you’re standing by one of the two memorial pools, which sit in the footprints of the North and South Towers. Each 30-foot deep reflecting pool takes up about one acre. The pools are so massive it is difficult to see the people who are standing on the other side.
The waterfalls in the reflecting pools are the largest in the United States. The water flows down the sides and into a void in the center of the bottom.
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Surrounding each pool are bronze parapets engraved with the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the three attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993. Victims are grouped together based on which tower they were in or plane they were on. First responders and Pentagon victims are also together.
Rising above the north pool is the new 1 World Trade Center, more commonly known as the Freedom Tower. The tower will eventually rise to 1,776 feet and be the tallest building in the United States.
Between the memorial pools is a museum, which is under construction. When completed, the museum will hold pieces of the towers, artifacts, exhibits, and the remains of the more than 1,100 victims that science has not been able to identify. Most of the exhibits will be below the memorial plaza.
It would be impossible to say something about every one of the victims of the terrorist attacks in this space, but I will end with a few words about one of the more than 400 first responders who died that day.
Stephen Siller was a New York City firefighter and the father of five children, the youngest of whom was born in January 2011. He had worked the overnight shift and was heading home when American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Siller returned to his firehouse, retrieved his gear, and headed to the World Trade Center. When he couldn’t drive into the area, he left his truck in a nearby tunnel and ran the rest of the way.
In his memory, Siller’s family established the “Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation,” which raises money for scholarships for children of veterans, to build “smart homes” for severely injured veterans, for burn centers, and for programs for orphaned and neglected children.
Siller is one of the more than 3,000 reasons why we should never forget what happened in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., and why we need to make sure our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren never forget.
Chris Sokoloski is a staff writer for the Georgetown Times.
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