Leeds: Moving Forward – But Remembering
As I write this column, Americans are getting ready to honor all of those heroes who died on September 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 souls were lost that day due to blind hatred and total disregard of human life. These memorial services will be even more personal this year for me after meeting George on a recent visit to New York and Ground Zero.
This was my third visit to the site since 9/11 and I was amazed this time by the amount of construction that is taking place. The new “Freedom Tower” is nearly 80 stories tall on its way to its final height of 1776 feet. It is an impressive looking building and is a clear reminder to those who seek to hurt Americans that we will not surrender to their acts of terror. The memorial visitor center will soon open as well and it promises to be a powerful way to remind visitors of the acts of courage that took place that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and in the skies over Pennsylvania.
Inside a small office near the construction site is a temporary visitor center. The center includes a number of recovered items from the collapsed World Trade Center towers and a number of short videos that introduce you to various individuals who played a role in the construction of the towers and others who lost loved ones on that tragic day. You could also sign up to take a guided tour led by “individuals with a direct connection” to the events of 9/11. All proceeds from the sale of tickets for the tour go to support the families of those who died at Ground Zero. This is how I met George.
The walking tour around the construction site provides a good overview of what use to exist on the site and the current and future development plans. Visitors are led into some of the remaining World Trade Center buildings that were damaged but have been restored and reopened. You can catch glimpses of the work going on inside the security fences at Ground Zero.
As we were approaching the end of the tour, George began to share the story of his “direct connection” to 9/11 – his brother Tom. Even though George has shared this story dozens if not hundreds of times, the grief in his voice was still very evident as he began to speak. Tom was a high school athlete who followed his dream and became a decorated Marine. After serving his country in the military, he became a police officer in New Jersey and ultimately became a member of an elite group of New York City police officers. His wife and two daughters knew that Dad was doing what he loved to do on that fateful day.
As a high ranking officer within his unit, it was suggested to Tom that he not enter the burning towers. He refused by saying that “I go where my men go.” He was one of the brave men and women heading up the stairs who died when the first tower collapsed. No trace of his body has been found.
Although America has moved on (life always does), I only hope that we never forget to take time to remember the heroes of 9/11.