Eighteen years ago, I was holding my infant son watching in horror as the World Trade Center buildings fell.
He was only two weeks old and I wondered what kind of world I was bringing him into. As the day unfolded it was clear to me that his world would be much different then mine was growing up.
Although I was born during the Cold War era, I watched the news as the Berlin Wall fell and the former Soviet Union once again became Russia. My childhood had a sense of impending peace and I was afraid that my children would have a sense of impending doom.
Well, as the years went on, it seemed the only times we were reminded of that fateful September morning was once a year on the anniversary or if you decided to fly on a plane.
Even air travel started to get back to somewhat normal and pretty soon the 11th of September began to pass for much of the country as just another day.
Many of us do not live in the areas which were affected directly by the tragedy, so it is not foremost in our minds. About three years ago, however, in completely unrelated and unplanned trips, I was given the opportunity to visit all three memorials within a 12-month period, and I wanted to share that experience.
First was the Pentagon as we were coming back from a family vacation and traffic was very light since it was the middle of the night. I had a GoPro mounted on my dashboard driving through the capital and past the monuments when I got the idea.
Well, there are two entrances to the Pentagon and I chose the one (not knowing any better) on the opposite side of the memorial. Let’s just say that Pentagon police are swift-responding and I was told that photography was not allowed — and there sits my dash camera blinking. Luckily, I must not have appeared to be much of a threat and was allowed to proceed to the memorial with a police escort. (They also stayed the entire time we were there.) I am positive that this event is where my FBI file starts.
For those who get the chance, the memorial is designed with lighting and water that is definitely best viewed after dark. The direction of the “light benches” on the ground will let you know who was in the plane and who was in the building and they are arranged by age, with the exception of the youngest victim who was age 3 and she was surrounded by her family. The 184 benches are a striking reminder of the loss of life. Just be sure to do some homework ahead of time to know which entrance to go in.
Shortly after that, I had the opportunity to go to New York for the first time, and I went to the World Trade Center memorial. By this time, construction of the memorial was completed and the footprint of Tower 1 and 2 are now a somber display of recirculating water which seems to fall into an abyss. Surrounding each is a railing with the names of all the victims from each of the three incidents on Sept. 11 and also the six which died in the 1993 bombing of the towers. The names can be read as you walk around the pools. It is a humbling experience.
A few months later, I was traveling from Virginia and saw the sign for Shanksville that I had passed so many times in the prior years. This time, with the recent visits to the other two sites, I felt compelled to take the detour.
This was ultimately the most difficult museum to visit. Inside there was a wall with telephone handsets that you could pick up and listen to the voicemails that were left on loved ones' answering machines from the passengers of Flight 93. They were gut wrenching and, I admit it, I was bawling as I listened to their goodbyes. It is a three-hour drive from Meadville to the memorial, and I suggest the road trip for any family with an 18-year-old.
Let them listen to the voices of those who sacrificed themselves.
For many, a trip to the memorials themselves is out of the question. But there is a way to still pay your respects locally. A beam from the World Trade Center is part of the Erie 9/11 Memorial and is located at the Blasco Library and the Maritime Museum in the bayfront area.
The beam is outside and can be visited at any time. There is a display inside open to the public during library hours.
It was the philosopher George Santayana who stated, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
As my son celebrated his 18th birthday last week, I know he could not possibly remember, and it is my job to teach and to remember that “we shall never forget."
As you wander through your life, please make sure your history is not lost.