Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Out & About • Patrick Lacombe|Ground Zero, Part 2

Most of the crowd was on or near the viewing platform, but I saw an accessible area near the corner where I scraped up the dust. There was one lone guard at the entrance. As I approached, a battalion fire chief opened the gate to exit. I stopped him, told him where I was from and asked if there was any way I could get closer to the pit to take photos. He told me to follow him and we went through the gate. We walked down the path about 60 feet into the 80-foot deep hole where the towers once stood.


Workers and machines were still cleaning out remaining debris, so I had to stop at a small fence to view the area. The only thing left standing was an iron beam that survived the collapse and the crossbeam was cut off several feet in each direction. It was in the shape of a cross and had flowers all around the base. Later I found out that an atheist group demanded to have it removed because it offended them. Thankfully, the cross was still there the last time I visited NYC.
    I left NYC the following afternoon vowing to return four months later for the first anniversary ceremonies. I kept my promise to myself, and went back to the city on the 10th  of September 2002. That afternoon I went back to the site and massive crowds were milling around trying to get a look down into the pit. By this time, a 12-foot tall fence had been erected around the perimeter. President Bush and the families of the victims were scheduled to appear in the pit the next day for the ceremonies, so the public had to be kept as far away as possible. Security forces were everywhere just as they were on my previous visit.
I walked to the east side of the pit and there was a ceremony being held honoring the deceased. They were reading each name and the bios of all the victims. As I inched my way forward, a man came up to me and asked if I would like to read. I told him yes, and I waited my turn to step up. I took the book and read the name and bio of Jason Jacobs. Jason’s survivors include his wife Jennifer and 2-year old daughter Zoe.
Later that year, I received an email from Jennifer thanking me for remembering her husband. She had read about the unofficial ceremony online and responded to a comment I had left. I still e-mail her on the 11th and tell her “I will never forget.”
The next morning, I awoke early and headed to Ground Zero for the ceremonies. As I walked up the steps from the subway, I saw I was not the only one to arrive ahead of time to get a place near the event. The sidewalks were packed with people from the world over. Huge wreaths were displayed near the perimeter from countries throughout the globe. Flowers were placed in every nook and corner. T-shirts with signatures and banners were posted on all the fences. It was amazing! I have never seen that many people in one area. Everybody was well behaved and there for the same reason, to honor the dead.
The crowd became silent as the reading of the names by family members started. Interrupted only by moments of silence or ringing of a fire bell at the exact times each plane hit and the towers fell. The weather was beautiful that day, just as it was exactly one year prior except for one thing. A strong wind started blowing right before the ceremony started. It was a sustained wind that reached gusts of up to 45 MPH. Papers were blowing around and then would shoot skyward as the winds hit the skyscraper walls and created an updraft. Later that day, one news station mentioned that it was almost like all the souls were finally making their way to Heaven. There were other oddities that day in Manhattan including the lotto drawing that night. That’s right, the “pick three” numbers were 9, 1, 1.
That night I stayed to see the spotlights turned on mimicking the twin towers. I marveled at how many people were there to pay tribute to all the innocent lives that were lost and to our great nation. The hotel where I stayed had over a thousand English police officers and firefighters. They had come to pay respects to their American counterparts that died in the face of danger. It was touching to see that people from other nations still had respect for our country.
The next year, I returned to the city for the second anniversary. There was construction at the site finally. I was proud to see the American spirit was still alive and new buildings were being built. The sad part was that I was able to walk up to the fence with no problem. No large crowds or police barricades like my previous visits. A few wreaths and banners were hanging on the fence, but nothing like the year before. The ceremony still went on with the family members reading the names and the bells ringing. Later as I started back to my hotel, I turned one last time to see the spotlights shining into the heavens. My eye caught sight of a large banner hanging on the side of the Deutsche bank building under a gigantic American flag. It read, WE WILL NEVER FORGET!
God bless y’all and have a great week.