Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering September 11th

This past July, I had the good fortune to visit New York City for the first time in my life. It was very exciting, and I had an amazing time! We traveled into Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry, and our first stop was in Battery Park where we saw the 9/11 memorial made from the sculpture that used to sit between the twin towers. There is an eternal flame on the site, and behind it you can see the Freedom Tower. 
It's a humbling and sobering site to see, and even in the rush of lower Manhattan, there was a peaceful calm to this area. I remember images of this statue from my childhood, and seeing it in this condition, ravaged by the violence of steel girders shooting through it, sent a chill up my spine. 

We next made our way to the 9/11 Memorial, but the line was amazingly long and we had limited time. We sat a few minutes and took in the construction, and then made our way to St. Paul's church. The church was a gathering site for rescue workers and volunteers in the aftermath of the attack. I would like to say that people are as respectful there as they are in Battery Park, but John and I got panhandled in the cemetery of St. Paul's. Inside was a different story, fortunately. The church is filled with not only history (it was George Washington's church) but also filled with the history of 9/11. There are banners from all over the world, mementos, photographs, and this striking sculpture:
The next day was Independence Day, and we spent it on board the United States Coast Guard Cutter Katherine Walker, the Keeper of New York Harbor. My brother Bryan serves on the KW, and she is the command center for the Macy's fireworks display on the Hudson River. This handsome fellow is my brother. He was pulling up the mooring ropes so we could get under way. 
The USCG Katherine Walker was also one of the rescue boats on 9/11. She has a plaque of commendation for her efforts. Sadly, I didn't get a picture of the plaque. Bryan, of course, wasn't serving on the cutter at the time as he was, as Stephen Colbert would say, medically 13 at the time. 

As we sailed into the harbor, the striking image of the Manhattan skyline met our eyes. As we stood there and watched it come into view, Bryan said something I will never forget:

"You see that? The skyline coming into view? This is exactly the view of this ship on September 11th as they were moving in to aid in the rescue. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be serving on this ship, slowly moving toward the area, and knowing there wasn't a damn thing you could do about it? To behold so much destruction, being scared but having to put it aside to do your job? I can't, and I hope I never have to. I admire the hell out of each and every one of them."
Until then, my memories of 9/11 had been all about me and what I was doing that day. But now, I can't think of that day without thinking of that moment and those words spoken by my youngest brother. Having seen it with my own eyes gives it all a very different perspective. 

There is, above all else, a pervading sense of hope throughout lower Manhattan. From the sculpture in Battery Park to St. Paul's, there is a quiet serenity about the place that most people wouldn't associate with New York City. Though it was a tragic event, it brought people together like little else ever has, and I hope that spirit is what people take away from that horrible day. 

Below is a video about the boat rescue on 9/11. It's one of the lesser told stories of the day, but it's one that I feel is very important.