Monday, September 19, 2011

From Ground Zero to 9/11 Memorial

This weekend I returned with my family to lower Manhattan, New York City, to the location that Americans have come to know as “Ground Zero”.  We went to honor the memory of my brother-in-law Eric M. Sand, who was working for Cantor-Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and to see his name on the new memorial at the site.

The last time I visited that hallowed ground, it was a 7 story deep hole in the ground, a subterranean graveyard on a scale that no picture or description can adequately convey. In the last 10 years the location has been transformed into something quite different.

While it will always be the place where 2,753 people lost their lives (2,606 in the WTC, 87 on American 11 and 60 on United 175 – excluding the Jihadist hijackers), the 9/11 Memorial and Memorial Museum have changed the location into a place that honors all the victims (including those at the Pentagon, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93 and even those that lost their lives in the first WTC bombing in 1993) of the September 11th terrorist attacks and gives their families, friends and coworkers a place to mourn, reflect and remember them.

Where there was once desolation there now sits a beautiful and inspiring site full of meaning. The focal points of the 9/11 Memorial are the North and South reflecting pools, which are fed by waterfalls that are meant to resemble falling tears. The pools (which feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America) sit in the footprints of where the World Trade Center Towers once stood.

The bronze panels edging the two memorial pools have the names of every victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as, the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The North Pool includes the names of those that perished in Tower One, Flight 11 and the 1993 bombing. The South Pool includes the names of those that perished in Tower Two, the first responders, Flight 175, the Pentagon, Flight 77 and Flight 93.

The names of the victims are arranged “by affiliation, so that the employees of a company or the crew of flight are together.” The organizers of the 9/11 Memorial took the time and care to accommodate requests from family members to have names of people that knew each other or were affiliated in some other way to have their names adjacent to each other on the memorial. 

In addition to the pools there are the swamp white oak trees that have been painstakingly chosen from locations within a 500-mile radius of the World Trade Center, with additional trees being selected from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The final element of the Memorial site is the Memorial Museum, whose mission “is to bear solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993.”

The Memorial Museum is not yet complete, though its entry pavilion’s glass atrium is now standing. Once complete (probably by September 11, 2012) visitors will pass by the “Two Tridents” – remnants of the World Trade Center’s exterior steel skeleton that remained standing after the collapse – and down a ramp to bedrock.

I look forward to the completion of the museum, which promises to have exhibits that tell the true story of that horrific day without any “politically correct” sugarcoating.

While it is not a part of the 9/11 Memorial itself it is impossible to visit the memorial site without seeing the Freedom Tower, aka Tower One, rising to replace the Twin Towers.

The Freedom Tower is still under construction, but has now risen over 1000 feet to begin dominating the lower Manhattan skyline. Once complete the new tower will soar above the city at a patriotic 1,776 feet to reclaim the title of America’s tallest building.

Since the last time I was there, the transformation from “Ground Zero” -- a site of death, destruction and desolation -- to the 9/11 Memorial is an amazing tribute to the victims of the worst terrorist attack in American history and to American resiliency. It is also a credit to the planners, architects, managers and construction workers that have worked tirelessly to meet tight deadlines and achieve outstanding quality standards.

The location now respects the tragedy of the past while looking with optimism to the future. I for one will no longer refer to the site as Ground Zero. It is now truly the 9/11 Memorial.