Personal Ground Zero experience paints new perspective

    Standing at Ground Zero in New York City on Sunday, Sept. 10 made this year’s 9/11 commemorative tributes even more vivid in my heart and mind. It’s been 16 years since that dreadful day Sept. 11, 2001 when personal memories remain forever imbedded.
    Following tradition, a fire truck draped with bunker gear on display in front of the local fire station raised tribute to the fallen firefighters. Having just seen the actual crushed fire trucks, burnt bunker gear and footage of the devastating action from that day was even more significant.
    While frightened survivors were frantically making every attempt to get out of the crumbling and burning World Trade Center towers, they met firefighters going up the stairs, risking their own lives in the line of duty.
    The local display reinforces that it’s not only the heroism of firefighters serving the 9/11 attack. Firefighters, law enforcement and other professional and volunteer first responders locally as well as across the country continually put their own lives at risk for others.
    Emotions stirred as we stood at the reflective pools where the Twin Towers once stood, each nearly an acre in size. Waterfalls flow in depth more peacefully than when the Twin Towers plummeted into the ground in the same spot, leaving no remains of victims.
    Nearly 3,000 names of everyone who died are inscribed into bronze panels edging the memorial pools. Lights from the pool illuminate through each name at night. Those killed at the Pentagon and where the plane went down in Pennsylvania that day are also included as well as the six killed in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
    The reflective pools and an amazing museum in an eight-acre area provide important history of a dreadful day that should never be forgotten. Enormous photos and life-like footage paint a picture of the destruction, people running through a thick fog of soot, firefighters carrying children and adults who are weak but alive, people with extreme fear, confusion and emotion, not knowing if co-workers, friends and family are still alive.
    Moving huge remnants from the site to create a visual perspective was a huge task. One specific cement staircase spoke to me.
    A survivor explained how she was evacuating the north tower when the south tower collapsed. She got out of the building and found just one stairway where she could escape the falling debris. That 58-ton stairway was just one of the visuals in the museum, named The Survivors’ Stairs.
    Statistics, the process of selecting the designer of the reflective pools from more than 5,000 applicants, starting a private foundation to raise millions of dollars, determining what part of the wreckage to save, how to move and restore it, the multitude of hours upon hours of both physical and mental labor and the continued personnel and maintenance it takes to run and sustain a museum are all astounding.
    But above all that, what sunk in the most were the personal stories of life and death.
    One woman shared how the night before, she went to check on her toddler child. The child rested on her daddy’s chest on the floor where both had fallen asleep. The mother, who was eight-months pregnant, chose to just leave them there for the night.
    What seemed like a typical morning the next day found her saying goodbye to her husband for the last time when he left for work. She felt touched that her young child was in her loving father’s arms all night, an experience her newborn would never have.  
    Despite the heartfelt pain, devastation and the loss of life, America’s resilience didn’t die that day.
    God bless America!

LORI PANKONIN is co-publisher of Johnson Publications newspapers in Imperial, Wauneta and Grant, and part-owner of the Holyoke Enterprise in Holyoke, Colo. E-mail:


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