By Justin McKinney, Staff Writer
While 9/11 is arguably our nation’s greatest tragedy, most college students today probably have trouble conjuring up memories of that unforgettable day.
Being that the largest chunk of students here at UMass Dartmouth were born between the years of 1994 and 1998, the median age of a student is about five to six years old. That being said, some students where even as young as three.
While we have all grown up in the shadow of 9/11, few have any real memories of the day.
However, on November 12, 2016 I accompanied Dr. Brian Gyln Williams and 55 other students to Ground Zero for a chance to relive one of the darkest days in U.S. history and truly understand the raw emotion that so many felt on that fateful day.
As we shuffled off of the bus and into the courtyard of the World Trade Center Plaza we were presented with our itinerary for the day by Dr. Williams.
I do believe that most were not prepared for what we were about to see. As the group swam through crowds of people, tourists and average New Yorkers, we were suddenly faced with the powerful memorial that stood before us.
Where two of the world’s greatest feats for architecture once stood, were now the two largest man-made water falls.
Moving closer, we began to notice the thousands of names of victims of the attacks inscribed on the seventy-six bronze tablets that surrounded each pool.
One young woman even found the name of a victim who had grown up in the same city as her and placed a rose in the victim’s name to honor the life cut so tragically short.
As she stood, it was impossible not to notice the small American flag fluttering to her left, which was left in another victim’s name by their surviving family members.
While many tourists around us snapped photos of smiling selfies, many in our group stared in awe.
Eventually we moved away from the pools and made our way towards the America’s Response monument; a statue depicting a horse-mounted American solider.
The statue commemorates all American and Afghani, who fought bravely against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces in Operation Enduring Freedom, which was America’s invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
After about fifteen minutes taking in the great spectacle that was the statue America’s Response, we walked across the World Trade Center Plaza and over to the New York Firehouse that houses Engine 10 and Ladder 10, which was the closest firehouse to the Twin Towers, where we heard from a NYFD first responder, named Bill Ingram, who went into the Twin Towers to rescue people on 9/11.
It was heart-wrenching to hear him talk about the amount of friends he lost in the tragedy and while it certainly was difficult for the entire nation, it seemed as though the New York City Fire Department hit harder than I think words can truly capture.
Ingram stood on a busy street corner outside of the firehouse telling us how entire firehouses in New York were killed on 9/11. Twenty man houses saw fifteen of their men walk into a burning tower and never set foot out.
His words seemed to come alive right before our eyes. Shortly after he spoke ,we entered the 9/11 museum that sits in what was once the basement of the World Trade Center complex from 1973 until the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001. As we entered, we were quickly met with the sight of the last pillar of the Twin Towers that came down in May of 2002. Spray painted phrases memorializing lost comrades, eulogy cards from funerals, missing posters, NYPD and NYFD stickers were just some of the items placed on the pillar.
The further we trekked in the museum, the more difficult it became to hold back tears. We saw engines from planes that were downed by hijackers, entire fire trucks ripped to shreds by the debris from the falling tower, and maybe most powerfully, the pictures of all the people who did not make it out of the towers. As we left the museum it was apparent that all those leaving with us, in our group or not had been sent into a spell of inner-reflection, courtesy of the exhibits inside.
The final leg of the trip included a trip to the top of the tallest building in the U.S., One World Trade Center, The Freedom Tower, where we would have the privilege of meeting Green Beret Major and Rhode Island native Joe Healy. Healy has done several tours of duty in the Middle East and was involved with a number of missions in Afghanistan.
To hear the heroic stories of the war that was fought in retaliation to the 9/11 attacks from a veteran who bravely served our nation, at the very top of the Freedom Tower, was simply unforgettable.
Dr. Williams reflected on the trip, “To see students enter the massive underground 9/11 Museum and touch the actual crushed fire truck damaged by the falling World Trade Center, and meet a Green Beret special forces operator near the statue overlooking the reflection pools was nothing less than awe-inspiring.”
I would have to agree with Dr. Williams, it certainly was awe-inspiring to see 55 students who ranged from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Atheist as well as both ends of the political spectrum put away the politics and labels that we are given by society for a day.
For on that day when the group of 55 embarked on their journey to better understand 9/11, they did what many may think is possible after this election and threw those politics aside to unite as Americans.
To plan your trip to the 9/11 Memorial site, in New York, visit http://www.911memorial.org/