Wednesday 25 April 2018

Kevin Doyle visits the memorial museum at Ground Zero

Kevin Doyle at the 9/11 memorial, New York
Kevin Doyle at the 9/11 memorial, New York
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's 8.51am and Matt Lauer puts his finger to his ear. His face drops as he ends his interview with author Richard Hack and turns to the camera.

He starts: "We're going to go live now to the World Trade Centre where we have… no we do not…"

The NBC Today show cuts to an ad break while they check to see if the story coming from downtown New York is true.

The old clip shown near the start of a tour in the new 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero sucks you back into that moment 13 years when the world changed forever.

You can see visitors' minds slip back to where they were at that morning, or afternoon as it was in Ireland.

For me it was the day before my Junior Cert results. My father picked me up from school and told me that "they've blown up the White House". In a time before Twitter and a proper 24 hours news cycle, his version of events was wrong, but the impact was the same.

Young and old attempted to grasp the situation as it affected them. The end of easy flying was inevitable. The war on terror was a long side effect. What we can only really understand in hindsight is the personal pain that so many people endured.

Of course at the time the newspapers were full of stories about brave stockbrokers who desperately sought to save others, firemen who went into the towers knowing they'd never come out and the passengers on Flight 93 tackling the hijackers.

As you arrive at Ground Zero today, instead of craning your neck to stare up at the formerly iconic Twin Towers, you need to lean forward to look into two fountains that could for all intents and purposes represent the vast holes left in Manhattan that day.

Instead they are monuments, inscribed with the 2,983 names of the men, women, and children killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the often forgotten World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993.

I stopped to get a picture, only to wonder as the camera flashed: Why? It made no sense to take a photograph. This is not a place to say 'I was there'. It's a place to remember and learn.

Inside the museum, there are bits of rubble, videos of the news coverage, tapes of the desperate 911 calls and even the historic 'Survivor Stairs' that withstood the attack and was used by hundreds to escape one of the towers.

The scene is set - but it soon becomes inconsequential as you begin to read the stories.

Ones like those of the 'man in the red bandana'. Welles Coutler left a voicemail for his mother after the plane hit the South Tower letting her know that he was okay.

But as he made his escape he turned back to help others, including Judy Wein who had a broken arm, cracked ribs and a punctured lung. She told the story of her lifesaver in the red bandana to the New York Times months later - only for his mother to make the link. It's thought that the 24-year-old saved 12 lives but had it not been for his bandana his family would never have known of his bravery.

Another gripping story was that of firefighter Stephen Siller (34) who had just finished a late shift in Brooklyn and was on his way to play golf. After hearing of the first plane crash he turned back and drove to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel but it was already closed. So the father of five strapped on 60lbs of gear and ran from the tunnel to the towers where he lost his life saving others. Now every year a 'Tunnel to Towers Run' takes place in his memory.

Irish Independent

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