Our son, his friends and his classmates belong to the post 9-11 generation, a period of American history that we are still trying to assimilate. It goes well beyond the more upbeat “iGeneration” label for them, forever changing our nation’s psyche. God bless these kids.
As a next-door neighbor who had two children in the ’80s in Marin County before we were parents once joked to me: “When your first child eats dirt in the backyard you get all worked up; when it happens with your second child you just shrug your shoulders.”
Since 9/11 it’s been harder to shrug your shoulders: You are more likely to be protective and prepared, at least in the back of your mind.
In our case, my wife was two months pregnant when I, as an early riser, watched in horror as the first commercial jetliner crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on CNBC. I went into the bedroom to wake her up, muttering something like “you’ve got to get up and see this,” and we both watched the tragedy unfold all day long — just like much of the planet. A few days later, I flew to New York to be with colleagues who were part of our newsroom at CNET. They were scared. As the plane flew over lower Manhattan to JFK, it was eerie to see the skyline without the two World Trade Center buildings.
Three years ago, when our son was old enough to understand the horrific attack, at least in an abstract way, our family visited the 9/11 Memorial on a trip to New York City. We wanted to honor the victims, and we wanted our son to better understand a milestone event that we knew would define his generation, as Pearl Harbor did for my parents.
We all stared into the nearly acre-size dark pools of water that sit on the original footprint of the North and South Towers. We ran our fingers across some of the names of the nearly 3,000 men, women, children, as well as the unborn children, who perished in the attacks.
This summer, the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened. This week we returned to visit the Museum. “In the same way that the fields of Gettysburg, the beaches of Normandy and the waters of Pearl Harbor are places that teach each successive generation of Americans about who we are as a nation, the 9/11 Memorial, built at ground zero itself, will forever be a part of our collective fabric,” summed up Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the Museum.
“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”
The museum includes the personal stories of courage, loss and resilience, the intimate memories of 2,982 victims and the countless artifacts, images and recorded sounds. We had planned a shorter visit but stayed at the Museum for hours.
In one exhibit, as another blogger summed up,”Virgil’s words read ‘No day shall erase you from the memory of time.’ A sea of blue surrounds the quote: 2983 individual paper watercolors in different shades of blue pay tribute to the people killed on 9/11 and in the 1993 bombing. Artist Spencer Finch created this exhibition titled ‘Trying to remember the color of the sky on that September morning’ especially for this space in the museum.”
The artifacts tell the story in the way that words cannot.
We saw a squeegee handle that became a life saving tool. Six men used it to pry open an elevator door that was stuck, break through sheetrock into a bathroom and escape down the stairs.
We saw wallets, shoes, memos and keys (smashed) that were recovered from the World Trade Center. We saw a tattered American flag recovered from the World Trade Center. We saw the battered watch of Mark Beamer, the Oracle Corp. worker who helped to overpower hijackers on United Airlines Flight #93. We saw steel beams found in the rubble, including the one that was bent from the impact of the first jetliner.
In another exhibit, we also saw a brick from the “safe house” where Osama Bin Laden was killed. “For many, the brick represents the fall of bin Laden’s reign of terror; a storied piece of solitary rubble denoting renewal of life in a world in which he no longer remains at large,” as the 9/11 blog wrote.
We also learned about the lives of each victim, including recorded messages from their friends and family members. It was heart wrenching.
Only about 40 percent of the remains of the victims have been identified. It is not widely discussed, but the Museum also includes the unidentified remains in a specially built repository. Docents are on hand who were 9/11 survivors. One of them named Mark told us about an eldery woman who showed up to find her relative’s remains.
We have been to the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, where fuel continues to leak from the wreckage. It is a poignant memory.
Our two visits to the 9/11 Memorial and now the Museum have helped educate us about that fateful day, but it still seems unimaginable.