By Chris Mc Loone
Every year on September 11, much like my grandparents did before me every December 7, I look back on September 11, 2001 and think about everything that happened that day. Some of the thoughts are personal, like not being able to contact my wife to tell her I was on my way home from North Jersey because cellular service was jammed. Some of them go back to others I encountered that day. I had only been FireEngineering.com’s Web Editor for a few months before 9/11, and I didn’t fully understand its relationship with the FDNY until I saw the reaction of my coworkers after the first tower collapsed that day. It was that “knowing” kind of reaction, where they just knew they had lost many friends in a matter of seconds.
This year, I’m struck by a couple of things that revolve around never forgetting.
First, a fellow firefighter’s brother is in high school and was working to complete a project, due today, on September 11. His assignment was to discuss the events of 9/11 with three people, and he asked if I had been at Ground Zero at all and if so could he ask me a few questions.
I was a little embarrassed to say that no, I was not there. But, I told him I knew someone who was and would ask if it was OK to send some questions to him with the caveat that this is not something firefighters there that day talk about easily. I asked, and the FDNY member said sure. I was glad, and hopefully my friend’s brother got an A.
I was glad for a couple of reasons. First, that this high schooler would be able to finish his project and would offer a first-hand account of what it was like to be there amidst such devastation, the likes of which FDNY had never encountered. But, I was also glad because of how important it is for us—firefighters who were there, family members who were there, tourists who were there—to never forget. It seems almost cliched now to say, “Never Forget.” Additionally, although many of us think of New York when we think about that day, we must also remember the Pentagon, the first responders who fought that fire and collapse, and those we lost there. And certainly, the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93 over Pennsylvania cannot be overstated.
A huge part of not forgetting, however, is passing along to the next generations what happened that day, how we felt as a nation, how important leadership was during the ensuing days, and how hatred can lead to unspeakable tragedies.
My grandfatehr entered the Navy during World War II. His brother entered the Navy by lying about his age. I am aware of how young men at that time were compelled to enter the armed forces to defend their country after the events at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But, I never asked my grandfather about it, or my great uncle. Let’s not make that mistake with our kids and their children. We will always remember, but we need to do our part to instill what we all felt that day in the next generations.
Never forgetting involves those who still suffer today as well. 9/11 survivors suffer in a vareity of ways—survivors’ guilt, the anguish of having lost loved ones, the pain of losing friends and coworkers, and through illness.
A recent report states that approximately 1,140 of those who responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11 and following days have cancer. And, that number is considered low. Officials expect that there are many other cases that have not been officially reported to have a connection to operations at the World Trade Center.
It is critical that we not forget these responders and workers who operated at the site for so long. Never forgetting does not only mean honoring the 343 who lost their lives that day, but also their families and their fellow firefighters now suffering and, frankly, dying. Lets not forget sons and daughters who never met their fathers or mothers or are watching their parents suffer through illness today.
I will never forget that day, where I was, or working to get as much information out as possible as FireEngineering.com’s Web Editor about what was happening in New York, NY that day and for days thereafter. But, I am also resolved to talk to my kids tonight that day. We are the ones who will ensure that generations to come never forget that day and the anguish we felt as a country and service.