In just over a week, we’ll mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Manhattan’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon, as well as on United Airlines Flight 93, a plane that was crashed in a Pennsylvania field by its heroic passengers to protect its likely target, the White House. I wish people who aren’t old enough to remember all this or who chose to block it out could know what it was like and feel the raw emotion of that time. Other than the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan that took us into World War II 80 years ago, there’s been nothing remotely comparable to it in our history.
Almost 3,000 people were killed, most of them in the fall of the Twin Towers, and thousands more –- particularly first responders and clean-up crews –- have suffered lifelong disability resulting from conditions on the ground there.
When planes flew into both towers on that bright and beautiful fall morning, and the towers collapsed upon themselves, it was a demolition of indescribable magnitude. A huge portion of Manhattan, 14 million square feet of downtown –- was turned into rubble. And it was a massacre. Video that is seldom played today showed human beings jumping a thousand feet to their deaths rather than be burned alive. Virtually everyone in New York knew someone who had perished. Many thousands of people lost spouses, brothers, sisters, dear friends and colleagues. Children lost parents. Parents lost children.
Literally tons of debris filled the atmosphere. The air was thick with toxic substances that ravaged the lungs of those who managed to live through the day. For first responders, it was like a war zone.
Every year on September 11, except for a modified pre-recorded version last year because of COVID, a ceremony has been held at the memorial in which all the names of those lost were read aloud by family members to a wide audience that included the families, police, firefighters, other first responders and emergency workers. Then, throughout that night, the twin beams of the “Tribute In Light” blazed straight up into the sky, as a statement of power and resilience against our evil terrorist enemies.
So what about this year? Regarding the reading of the names, there’s been so much back-and-forth about it that it's hard to know what they’ve finally decided to do. On August 15, it was announced that the Tunnel 2 Towers Foundation would hold an “alternative” ceremony, just south of the memorial, for the names because the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, citing covid again, wouldn’t be having one this year. (It's not clear to us whether they've changed their mind and are doing it after all or if Tunnel 2 Towers is still the sponsor.) Masks will be required, and the podium will be sanitized after every speaker.
Apparently, only 9/11 family members are invited this year, as officials want to discourage large crowds. It's a shame to see this moving ceremony diminished in any way --- especially for covid, since this event takes place outdoors, everyone will be masked, and most will likely be vaccinated. If another concern is budget, that really shouldn’t be an issue, either. They might need extra security for the larger crowd, but I’ll bet a lot of New York’s Finest would proudly volunteer for that job.
Believe it or not, for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the museum had decided not to have the “Tribute In Light.” They said they didn’t have the funds for it. They said that last year, too, but Gov. Cuomo contributed enough state resources to make it happen. Fortunately, the “Tribute In Light” is back on this year, too.
You can see how confusing this got when you add in this report from RedState.com, which says a group called the Sergeants Benevolent Association has stepped up to provide the beams of light. We're not sure now if the museum (with or without state funds) is doing it or the SBA is, but at least SOMEBODY is. Those lights had better be blazing. They need to be seen from space, till dawn breaks on September 12.
Fortunately, New York Public Radio is doing quite a bit of special programming, which started September 1.
Here’s a list of the in-person events planned for that day.
For a time, it looked as though this year’s memorial would be scaled way down, and that would not have been acceptable. As Steve Cuozzo wrote in the NEW YORK POST on August 14 –- the day before it was announced the “Tribute In Light” would light up after all –- “Today, many younger and newly arrived New Yorkers have little idea what 9/11 meant. To treat the 20th anniversary as business as usual threatens to consign the memory to just another unpleasant hiccup of history such as the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles or the 1965 power blackout.” Perhaps his commentary is what convinced officials to light up the night sky after all.
Yes, the museum has a budget crunch, he said, but “the catastrophe’s 20th anniversary should not be allowed to become a shadow of its past commemorations.”
What a disgrace it would be to play down 9/11 on the 20th anniversary of that carnage. It also occurs to me that such a disgrace would compound the epic national disgrace going on right now: our botched exit from Afghanistan and the abandoning of U.S. citizens, Afghan friends and cutting-edge military equipment to the terrorists who have overrun the place and made it once again a haven for themselves. How ironic it would be for us now to diminish the 9/11 ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history. Look at us now, with our own President putting himself in the position of having to negotiate with the Taliban. Sadly, this time, as we memorialize our lost and honor our brave, the terrorists will be celebrating just as they did 20 years ago. Except now when they wave their guns in the air, they'll have much better guns. Thank you, Mr. President.
Michael Arad, the young architect (an Israeli citizen born in London who has since obtained dual citizenship here) whose design was chosen for the 9/11 memorial, was living in Manhattan at the time of the attack and said 9/11 had made him a New Yorker. He said he “would never forget how people poured into Union Square, Times Square, Washington Square, needing to be together, to stand side by side with strangers, bearing individual pain but sharing collective grief.”
“If the terrorists thought they’d sow fear and division,” he said, “they did not succeed.”
If you’ve never been to the memorial, stood at the edge of the waterfalls and looked at some of the names of all 2,983 who lost their lives that day, I urge you do make the trip and do it. (One of my writers said the moment during this experience that hit her the hardest was seeing a square simply carved with the words “Unborn Baby.”)
For when you have time, here’s a detailed article about Arad and the meaning behind the memorial he designed.