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Friday 29 August 2014

Victims' families weep as Obama opens 9/11 memorial

Philip Sherwell in New York, Raf Sanchez in Washington

Published 16/05/2014 | 02:30

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People watch a video feed of the opening ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero; US President Barack Obama arrives at the White House after the ceremony in New York. ALLAN TANNENBAUM/JIM BOURG
People watch a live video from the Ground Zero memorial site of the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York
People watch a live video from the Ground Zero memorial site of the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York
President Barack Obama waves to a crowd awaiting his arrival as he and first lady Michelle Obama walk across the South Lawn while returning from a trip to New York to attend the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum
President Barack Obama waves to a crowd awaiting his arrival as he and first lady Michelle Obama walk across the South Lawn while returning from a trip to New York to attend the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum

US President Barack Obama invoked the bravery and selflessness of an equities trader known simply as "the man in the red bandana" as he dedicated an imposing new memorial museum to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks built on the graveyard of Osama bin Laden's victims.

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On the day of the attacks, 24-year-old Welles Crowther ran back into the burning World Trade Center, his distinctive red bandana tied around his face as protection against choking smoke, and helped others to escape before he died in the south tower's collapse.

"They didn't know his name, they didn't know where he came from, but they knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandana," said Mr Obama.

Hugged

"From this day forward, all those who come here will have a chance to know the sacrifice of a young man who, like so many, gave his life so others might live."

In front of an audience of victims' relatives, survivors and rescuers, the president turned and hugged Mr Crowther's mother Alison on stage in a hall between the footprints of the twin towers that were destroyed by al-Qa'ida hijackers.

"We could not be more proud of our son," Mrs Crowther said. "He lives on in the memories of what he chose to do that Tuesday in September."

Next to her was Ling Young, who later identified by his bandana the young man who had emerged from the debris to lead her and an unknown number of fellow workers at the Twin Towers to safety.

"I am here today because of Welles," said Mrs Young, who was seriously injured in the attack.

Nearly 13 years after the terrorist attacks, Mr Obama pledged that the museum would ensure "that generations yet unborn will never forget".

He added: "Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans." The museum, built 70 feet underground on the bedrock of Ground Zero, is an unflinching reminder of the horrors of September 11. The artefacts range from monumental slabs of the towers that survived the inferno to a mangled fire engine that carried 11 firemen to the scene that morning. None survived. Just as striking was the poignancy of small personal everyday items, such as the British driving licence of Richard Dawson, who was killed while attending a conference; an unopened letter that fluttered down intact from a doomed aircraft; and one of Mr Crowther's red bandanas.

"This exhibit sugar-coats nothing and that's the way we wanted it," said Paula Ferry, a September 11 widow who served on the museum's advisory board.

"It's a knee-buckling experience. It's really very profound, very powerful and personally as a family member it's extremely difficult to see, but it's so important that this museum is here." At an emotionally charged ceremony, participants wiped away tears as Rhonda LaChanze, a Tony Award-winning Broadway performer whose husband Calvin Joseph Gooding died in attacks, sang an a cappella version of 'Amazing Grace'.

Mr Obama earlier toured the exhibition with Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and chairman of the museum, followed by his wife Michelle and Bill and Hillary Clinton. The 110,000 sq ft site is also effectively a tomb for many of the victims – 7,000 fragments of human remains recovered from Ground Zero but never identified were transferred to a repository at the museum last weekend, a move controversial among some family members. The repository sits behind a massive blue mosaic – the colour of the sky that morning and with 2,983 panels, one for each victim – with a wall engraved by a Virgil quote. "No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time", it reads. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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