Saturday, September 11, 2010

Always Remember. Never Forget.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? I remember the devastation in New York City hitting very close to home, being only thirteen miles away from the World Trade Center. I was a freshman in high school attending my first full day of school. Emotions of excitement quickly turned to disbelief and uncertainty. At 9:15AM, my principal got on the loud speaker and said, "Attention all students. There is a reason why you are still in homeroom. There has been a terrorist attack in Manhattan. The World Trade Center has been hit by two airplanes. I have decided to end school for the day. Teachers will get you home safely." I tried to call my parents, but there was no cell phone service. No one could get in touch with loved ones. I remember seeing students crying and screaming in the parking lot, not knowing what had become of family members who were in those towers. My father was stuck in New Jersey for days because no one was allowed to travel over any bridge. Bridges were closed down, communication was disconnected, and chaos flooded the streets of Staten Island. I was the first of my family to arrive home around 10:45AM. I immediately turned on the television, and saw a scene I will never forget: a reshowing of the towers collapsing to the ground. Still in disbelief and shock, my heart stopped. I had only visited the World Trade Center once, when I was eleven years old. I remember being on the very top of the North tower with my family. The view of the city mesmerized me. I was so proud to be a New Yorker and was lucky enough to experience that moment. And now, three years later, it was gone. The only visual we had now was a thick, black cloud that made its way through the five boroughs. This black cloud lasted for several weeks. Above is a picture taken six days after the terrorist attack. It shows a Staten Island ferry pulling out of the slip at the St. George terminal. It was the first to return to services.

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It's still amazing to me that it has been nine years since that horrific day in American history. Unfortunately, this year's commemoration brings more controversy than ever before. The media has spent most of its time focusing on issues surrounding the protests in favor and against a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor who plans to burn the Quran. This is not the time to focus our energy on negativity. This day is about remembrance, to pay our respects to the 2,752 victims who lost their lives. Watching the ceremony at Ground Zero this morning brought back all those emotions I had that day. However, the ceremony brings about new hope to all of us. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is under way, set to be finished next year. We have become a stronger nation, especially when faced with adversity.

Even though I did not loose any family members that day, I lost 274 fellow Staten Islanders. To honor their memory and legacy, I attended Staten Island's annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony in St. George. One Staten Islander who made an impact on my life was Lt. Charles 'Chuck' Margiotta. He was the soccer and basketball coach at my elementary school, firefighter on Staten Island, his daughter and I were altar servers and members of the same Girl Scout troop. He was off duty on September 11th. When he got word of what was going on, he joined the nearest fire station from Staten Island (Rescue 5) and headed into Manhattan. Rescue 5 was the first fire department to report to the World Trade Center. All of those men sacrificed their lives to save many others. Chuck continues to be an inspiration to me. There was not one dry eye in St. George tonight. Tears filled my eyes as I heard Chuck's name read by his daughter, Norma Jean. As the last few names were read, I noticed the two light beams representing the Twin Towers across the harbor. It was the most beautiful scene of the city skyline. It was a vision of hope for all of us who constantly replay that horrific day in our minds. If you are from New York City, you can most likely say you knew at least one person who lost their life on September 11, 2001. This will forever be a sacred day of remembrance. What we can do now is keep the memory of those 2,752 heroes alive. Because it's the remembrance that keeps the spirit alive. ALWAYS REMEMBER. NEVER FORGET.
On this tragic anniversary, we remember our fallen heroes, loved ones, friends, and neighbors. We remember the selfless sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform. We remember those who left that fateful morning and never came home. We remember those they left behind. We remember the consuming grief and rage. We remember the response of overwhelming compassion and generosity. We remember our great city, forever a beacon of hope shining on the world. We remember all those who made New York a model of strength and unity. We remember our proud towers, standing tall reaching toward heaven. We see the empty spaces and feel an ache in our hearts.