Lower Manhattan’s new Skyline dominated by Twin Towers and Statue of Liberty. May 1975.
For 28 years, the Twin Towers were a constant presence for New Yorkers and a point of reference for wide-eye tourists. Designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, construction began on August 5, 1966, and its first tenants moved in around 1970. By the time of their completion in 1973, One World Trade Center and Two World Trade Center were the world’s tallest buildings. They took 7 years to complete, roughly $1.5 billion to build with countless man hours poured in, and on September 11, 2001, in little over an hour, both buildings disappeared forever from the New York City skyline in front of the nation’s eyes.
I was a freshman in college and learned of the first plane going into the North Tower from the radio. My roommate returned from her morning class and yelled, “Turn on the TV!” Along with the country, we watched as one building burned, believing it to be a terrible accident. When the second plane hit, the horrifying realization that this was no accident hit us like a fist in the stomach. The burning buildings, the helpless cries of people watching on the ground and the gut wrenching images of people jumping from the towers to avoid the heat of the flames, must have made everyone watching feel searing anger and total helplessness. All we could do…was watch our countrymen die.
12 years have passed and in our remembrance of those taken from us this day, there’s also retrospection. We were not as helpless as it seemed that day. Firefighters and police officers ran toward certain death because that was their duty. Recovery crews waded into hell on Earth looking for survivors. Showing us all what courage can be, and that heroes don’t always wear red capes.
Mike Kehoe of Ladder 11 Firehouse. Photograph courtesy John Labriola
Photo credit: Yoni Brook/Corbis
For a moment, we saw strangers grabbing onto each other to keep moving forward as smoke and debris engulfed them. We saw them care not for issues of black, white and brown when everyone was covered in chaos. We saw a man, George, they called him, with a bullhorn calming exhausted, rage filled recovery workers. And we now know another phrase for the ultimate sacrifice, “Let’s Roll.”
Photo Credit: Diane Bondareff/ AP
Photo Credit: Michael Schwartz
Photo Credit: Gulnara Samoilova/ AP
Photo Credit: Doug Mills/AP
Photo Credit: Hannah McBean
Some wonder, in a very human way, where God was that day. I think he was there, spread out among the firefighters, the passengers of Flight 93, the guy who grabbed the hand of a terrified co-worker, the woman who told the stranger next to her to keep running, and the Pentagon employee who carried a burned colleague from a cleaved in half building. Evil happens and it visits us sometimes on a pretty, fall morning, but when it does come, we’re not as helpless as we think we are. Although we lost thousands of souls that day, they showed us examples for other pretty fall mornings when things can go terribly wrong. We remember them for that, and we honor them by rebuilding.
Photo: Skidmore, Owings & Merril, LLP
And we never forget them.
“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout…’Do your worst, for I will do mine!’ Then the fates will know you as we know you”
Photo Credit: Noam Galai