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5 Years

September 11, 2006

Editor's Note: As September 11, 2007 approaches, we take a look back at the 5-year anniversary, by bringing Paperbacknovel.com's coverage to the forefront.

By Dick Sheppard

9/11/2006, New York City. The commemoration, five years after. Like most if not all, I recall with vivid, nearly word-for-word clarity the notification of the first tower being hit, the second being hit, the Pentagon being hit, and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. I never left my work desk that morning, although throughout the company I worked at, people were watching events on televisions in various offices and client waiting rooms. Those on the second floor of our building, which has a limited view of the actual towers, watched them directly in their dying throes. The first time I looked at a TV was to confirm a co-worker's unbelievable assertion that one of the Towers was no longer standing.

My boss, the company's CEO was more frantic than I realized as I sat almost alone as everyone else assembled where they watched the events unfold. I chose to remain at my desk because I did not want to get too early an impression; my boss was frantic because his brother worked in 2 World Trade Center, the south Tower, hit on the south side as the North Tower was struck from the north. This Tower fell first, but my boss's brother, along with his secretary, escaped harm. The remainder of the day was filled with disbelief and anger, mostly anger. 

As I arrived this morning on the PATH train, as usual directly through the South Tower footprint, nearly everyone aboard was aware of arriving at the World Trade Center, some turning to look behind as the train snaked into the temporary station. It was about 6:45am, I was a little earlier than usual. Was it intentional that I avoided being on the train at 8:46am, the approximate time of the first tower being struck -- to avoid a copy-cat attack? Or was I just arriving early as planned to absorb some of the atmosphere of the commemoration events? It was fitting, reassuring, that the conductor announced "World Trade Center" as the train slowed and stopped.

Video Coverage

Sept 11, 2006 Pt 1

Sept 11, 2006, Pt 2

Sept 11, 2006 Tribute of Lights

Either way, it sure seemed like the rush of commuters up the stairs and escalators from the lowest level of the World Trade Center bathtub was larger than usual. Was there an unspoken recognition to not be on the PATH at 8:46am? Who can say?

I purchased a disposable camera and took some snaps at the soon-to-be-demolished east side of Broadway, between John Street and Fulton. This block contains the marvelous to-be-preserved Corbin Building right at the southeast corner of John Street and Broadway. One low storefront north, another building -- 198 Broadway -- almost equal in height to the eleven-story Corbin Building, will be taken down. The entire block north of the Corbin Building, which includes 198 Broadway and several 2-story storefronts, will be taken down to make way for the Fulton Street Transit Hub. One of the storefronts - - at 194 Broadway -- houses a clothing store from which a dust-covered display of jeans was preserved. It is now on exhibit at the New York Historical Society. These buildings, though not directly damaged on 9/11/01, can nonetheless be counted as that day's casualties. 

Yesterday, 9/10/06, President and Mrs. Bush laid two wreathes into temporary pools that are within the WTC Tower footprints. This morning, as the remembrance ceremony continues (the names of the lost are being recited; bells toll), hundreds are making their way down into the Tower footprints to add their own floral tributes. The media are massed across West Streets, on the first setback roofs of the World Financial Center buildings which tower directly above the World Trade Center site. NY 1 is covering the events taking place directly outside our office windows. Bells are tolling, yet for the of these commemorations, life goes on. Away across the site, commuters are streaming west on Vesey Street, on their way to everywhere. The President this morning is having breakfast with firefighters in a Lower East Side firehouse; a good decision to be away from the site so as not to distract.

Within the Tower footprints, mourners gather. They add flowers to the pools. There are more gathered in the North Tower footprint, the tower struck first. Maybe twice as many in that North Tower footprint. There are impressive numbers of dress-uniformed police, fire, and military commemorants, within and surrounding the entire World Trade Center site. And across West Street, within the foundation work where the Goldman Sachs tower will arise, a lone welder, his torch a dot of brilliant light, busily works away. That worker has been toiling there since before the official commemoration start of about 8:30am this morning. But apart from this off-site piker, construction activity both within the bathtub on the Freedom Tower footprint, and across Liberty Street at the Pataki-bloomberg (Deutsch Bank) building, has halted in deference. 

This morning is nearly as perfect a day as that morning. A clear and crisp day, with a mostly blue sky with just scant hints of clouds. Moderate temperatures neither warm nor cool; just right. In the low-angle sunshine, everything stands clear and gleaming. The Hudson River, busy with traffic, hosts a Coast Guard cutter directly west of the WTC site. All of Lower Manhattan's sky-reaching towers stand in relief against the blue, lit sky, as they did that morning, until shrouded with the dust and debris of the attacks.

Wandering the internet, I've posted a few things on some boards (see here), at the NY Times board I posted a message about a "world without the U.S." On the NJ.com boards, on both the Jets and Giants boards, I posted a remembrance of Pat Tillman, the only professional athlete to suffer the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America and our ideals. So far, hardly a peep in response on the sports boards, obviously the posters are more concerned with the Jets win in their season opener, and the Giants loss in theirs, a game hyped as it was by the opposition quarterbacks, Peyton and Eli Manning, the most hyped brotherly skirmish since Cain and Abel. One guy used the subject to make a mild critique of the war on terror, even mentioning that Tillman died at the hands of "friendly fire" an unavoidable occurrence in all wars which in no way removes the honor of his death. At least five years later, Americans have our priorities straight: millionaires and social misfits frivolously tossing inflated leather balls. What fun!

For three hours now, still recalling the names, bells tolling. I am going to take a short walk outside in a little while, with my webpard, LouV. We are going to circumnavigate the site as the commemoration winds down. The forenoon ends….

The afternoon begins… 

Some winding down! Just back from a walk downstairs, myself and LouV "circumnavigating" the WTC site. And what sights to see. Directly downstairs are the "Bells of Remembrance," three truck-mounted bells that resemble the Liberty Bell, they are being rung by passersby. And what passersby to behold. Police and other uniformed responders from across the nation. America's finest: service members from all branches, in all uniforms. And then there are the ordinary Americans, in full American bloom. Exercising their American-protected rights of free speech: people of all opinions with signs, and a large group of "9-11 conspiratorialists" who think the U.S. ourselves brought the towers down. 

During Vietnam, guys like this (faux-Buddha) poured gasoline on themselves and pffoooooft!! We were unconvinced this particular faux-Buddha would do this, so we kept on our way. 

So it was an interesting walk, as I interrupted some of these "soapbox" rants with a few well-times, "Kill all the terrorists!!" and "Go protest in Syria!" That sort of stuff, just for laughs, with the expected rejoinders of, "Bush lied….! Etc, etc." All in the great American tradition of ribald augmentation and debate. It's incredible to see the dopey-faced nitwits, however, trying to peddle their twisted conspiracies. But there were some "solid" folks too, a Romanian fellow holding up an enormous, "Down with Al Qaeda" banner, and a few signs along the lines of "For the Left, Peace = Surrender." I had to go and shake hands with these fellows. And have a picture with some Marines, our reassuring protectors.

The sign maker (holding sign on left) was from Romania. 

Five years. And I think how everybody, the thousands of people milling at the fence-line, trying to navigate the swarms of protestors and respectful onlookers, nearly everyone would be doing something different today. Not the people who would be walking by as part of their daily routine. But the tourists who would be buzzing in anticipation of ascending 2 World Trade Center to the observation deck; the travelers lodging in the Marriott Hotel; the shoppers in the huge retail concourse; the commuters flowing towards the long PATH escalators and into the myriad subway passages; the PATH police, idly watching it all, with nary a suspicion of terrorist evil-doers; the students in classes within Fiterman Hall, which still stands damaged just north of the WTC site. 

Watch video (link is at top right of this page) to see this scene in action.

LouV, who has a worthy, quirky sense of remembrance and sent me an email from 9:45am on 9/11/01, a rant-of-the-moment screed about nuking the terrorists. Odd, I could send that same email today.

I'm not sure if LouV will join me later, but I'm making a foray over to the Tribute in Light parking garage-top Tribute in Light arrays. I am making that my personal 9/11 remembrance, to get close to those illuminating beams, to "transcend the temporal in search of the ethereal." I hope; security concerns being what they are. And to think, "where would I be right now - not here, where? - if this city, nation, and world didn't endure 9/11/01."

Dick Sheppard takes time out to thank the Marines. 

I just caught Governor Pataki, not a Dickie favorite, in the lobby downstairs. I knew he was heading for my floor, 29, where the LMCCC has their offices. I tried to hop on that elevator but was prevented by one of his security goonies. I then hopped another elevator pronto and hoped to see him get off on my floor, I ran down the hall to get my camera, thinking he might pause in the lobby to do some greeting. But by the time I got back to the elevator lobby, he was already inside. As of now, 4pm, he's still in there, "between events" so some female office staffer said. I woulda loved to ride on the elevator with him but who knows, I don't need any law enforcement interventions, do I? So there was no chance to say, "Governor, do you reaaaallllly think you can be president? Oh, har har!" Or, "Governor, what's the story with that hole in the ground across the street, can't you let Larry be Larry and do what he does best?"

The shadows of 9/11/06 lengthen. The infrastructure set up to accommodate the official commemoration events within the WTC site is being dismantled. Mourners who have remained within the vast bathtub walls, down on the World Trade Center footprints, dwindle. The two reflecting pools, empty this morning but for the presidential wreaths laid yesterday, are overflowing with tributes. Someone has placed a WTC profile facsimile at the North Tower pool.

Now, after 6pm, the infrastructure is nearly gone. Workers emptied the pools of the floral tributes, and, daresay "unceremoniously" dismantled the pools, and let the waters flow into the Tower footprints. To think of the emotion that surrounded those pools throughout the day, it's as if the two Tower footprints themselves are shedding tears, and these tears are being absorbed into the Memorial footprint, consecrating this hallowed ground. 

We managed, LouV and me, to make our way to the garage top, and photograph the awesome Tribute in Light spotlight arrays. The sponsors of the arrays, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (same group who sponsored the "Broads in Plastic Tutus" mentioned elsewhere on this site), only permitted certain personages up onto the garage roof. However, sometimes to get where you need to be, you find alternative methods, which LouV and me had previously discovered in anticipation of making our own 5-year tribute by visiting the lights.

They are 50 x 50 feet, two square arrays of 44 spotlights each. These arrays occupy just 6% of the footprint the real Towers covered. This clear night, the xenon beams shone straight into endless space; a rooftop conversation included mention that these beams can be seen by orbiting astronauts, a truly "otherworldly" vision for this tribute. "Tribute…" is only funded through 2008, but you could see how these lights drew pedestrian crowds to the sidewalks all around, people with cameras ranging from the professional to the cellular, necks craned, framing pictures; you could see how these lights, at least until the replacement Freedom Tower and it's companions are built, that these lights will continue to shine, if only in the days immediately adjacent to and on 9/11.

LouV said his goodnight and headed south to his ferry boat, I headed north to the WTC site and the PATH train home. Hundreds still swarmed Lower Manhattan's main streets, mostly drawn to the lights, and all in the glow of street lamps. At the WTC PATH stations, hundreds more congregated, looking through the fence-line, ascending and descending the stairs into and out of the station. Gazing around the site, and occasionally glancing at the beams, soaring from the south above the doomed Pataki-bloomberg building. Floral tributes large and small stood at the station entrance, and along the fence-line. Couples held hands and embraced, and one couple sat in mediation along the wall of the Church Street Post Office, hands locked, eyes closed, cross-legged on the cement sidewalk. 

The mood was somber, but not maudlin, people going about their lives, but taking these moments, at the WTC site, to remember, in some cases, to mourn, but always to be there, at this site, on this day, 9/11/06.


Paperbacknovel.com "Tribute in Light" Reporters Lou V and Dick Sheppard