History Podcasts

9/11, Fifteen Years Later: Reflections on Leading New York City

9/11, Fifteen Years Later: Reflections on Leading New York City

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

9/11, Fifteen Years Later: Reflections on Leading New York City - HISTORY

The twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center were iconic. They stood tall as a testament to the strength and abilities of the humans who built them, and to both the city and country that they called home.

The north and south towers officially opened in 1970 and 1971, respectively. The nearly-identical buildings were the tallest in the world until being surpassed by Chicago's Sears Tower in 1973. The north tower stood just six feet taller than its counterpart.

Look back at the twin towers and the World Trade center through the years:

The towers were destroyed in the September 11 attacks, killing over 2,000 people that were within their walls or in the area at the time. In addition to the tragic and unfathomable loss of life, the collapse of the towers caused health issues, worldwide financial problems and severe damage to the surrounding World Trade Center buildings.

The process of cleaning up the rubble of the collapsed towers was a tedious one, and cleanup efforts were deemed complete on May 30, 2002 -- nearly nine months after the attacks. From there, decisions had to be made on what kind of structures would fill the vacant space left by the twin towers as Lower Manhattan was rebuilt.

See how the World Trade Center changed each year on September 11:

A 1,776-foot-tall skyscraper, initially called the 'Freedom Tower,' was pitched as the new One World Trade Center (a title formerly held by the north tower). A ground-breaking ceremony was held for the building on April 27, 2006.

Eight years later, on November 3, 2014, the new One World Trade Center was completed, a shining beacon of the hope and resilience of the American people in the wake of tragedy. The skyscraper, which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, overlooks the reflecting pools and museum of the 9/11 memorial, as well as the rest of the new World Trade Center area.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda fights on

All appeared lost for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in December 2001. In the years leading up to the 9/11 hijackings, bin Laden believed that the US was a “paper tiger” and would retreat from the Muslim majority world if al Qaeda struck hard enough. The al Qaeda founder had good reasons to think this. American forces withdrew from Lebanon after a series of attacks in the early 1980s and from Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993. The US also did not respond forcefully to al Qaeda’s August 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.

But bin Laden’s strategy looked like a gross miscalculation in late 2001. An American-led invasion quickly overthrew the Taliban’s regime just weeks after 19 of bin Laden’s men hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior figures were killed in American airstrikes. With al Qaeda’s foes closing in, bin Laden ordered his men to retreat to the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Here, bin Laden must have thought, al Qaeda would make its last stand. The end was nigh.

Bin Laden slithered away, eventually making his way to Abbottabad, Pakistan. When Navy SEALs came calling more than nine years later, in early May 2011, the world looked very different.

Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound reveal that he and his lieutenants were managing a cohesive global network, with subordinates everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. Some US intelligence officials assumed that bin Laden was no longer really active. But Bin Laden’s files demonstrated that this view was wrong.

Writing in The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell explains how the Abbottabad cache upended the US intelligence community’s assumptions regarding al Qaeda. “The one thing that surprised me was that the analysts made clear that our pre-raid understanding of Bin Laden’s role in the organization had been wrong,” Morell writes. “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qaeda, while Bin Laden was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Laden himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.”*

Consider some examples from the small set of documents released already.

During the last year and a half of his life, Osama bin Laden: oversaw al Qaeda’s “external work,” that is, its operations targeting the West directed negotiations with the Pakistani state over a proposed ceasefire between the jihadists and parts of the government ordered his men to evacuate northern Pakistan for safe havens in Afghanistan instructed Shabaab to keep its role as an al Qaeda branch secret and offered advice concerning how its nascent emirate in East Africa should be run received status reports on his fighters’ operations in at least eight different Afghan provinces discussed al Qaeda’s war strategy in Yemen with the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other subordinates received updates from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, including details on a proposed truce with the government of Mauritania authorized the relocation of veteran jihadists to Libya, where they could take advantage of the uprising against Muammar al Qaddafi’s regime corresponded with the Taliban’s leadership and generally made decisions that impacted al Qaeda’s operations everywhere around the globe.

Again, this is just a handful of the examples culled from the publicly-available files recovered in bin Laden’s compound. The overwhelming majority of these documents remain classified and, therefore, unavailable to the American public.

Al Qaeda has grown under Zawahiri’s tenure

The story of how bin Laden’s role was missed should raise a large red flag. Al Qaeda is still not well-understood and has been consistently misjudged. Not long after bin Laden was killed, a meme spread about his successor: Ayman al Zawahiri. Many ran with the idea that Zawahiri is an ineffectual and unpopular leader who lacked bin Laden’s charisma and was, therefore, incapable of guiding al Qaeda’s global network. This, too, was wrong.

There is no question that the Islamic State, which disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders and was disowned by al Qaeda’s “general command” in 2014, has cut into al Qaeda’s share of the jihadist market and undermined the group’s leadership position. But close observers will notice something interesting about al Qaeda’s response to the Islamic State’s challenge. Under Zawahiri’s stewardship, al Qaeda grew its largest paramilitary force ever.

Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, warned about the rise of Al Nusrah Front during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 28. “With direct ties to Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Nusra[h] is now al [Qaeda’s] largest formal affiliate in history,” McGurk said. US officials previously contacted by The Long War Journal said Nusrah could easily have 10,000 or more fighters in its ranks.

It is worth repeating that Nusrah grew in size and stature, while being openly loyal to Zawahiri, after the Islamic State became its own jihadist menace. Far from being irrelevant, Zawahiri ensured al Qaeda’s survival in the Levant and oversaw its growth.

On July 28, Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani announced that his organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or the “Conquest of the Levant Front”) and would have no “no affiliation to any external [foreign] entity.” This was widely interpreted as Al Nusrah’s “break” from al Qaeda. But Julani never actually said that and al Qaeda itself isn’t an “external entity” with respect to Syria as the group moved much of its leadership to the country long ago. Al Nusrah’s rebranding was explicitly approved by Abu Khayr al Masri, one of Zawahiri’s top deputies, in an audio message released just hours prior to Julani’s announcement. Masri was likely inside Syria at the time.

Julani, who was dressed like Osama bin Laden during his appearance (as pictured above), heaped praise on bin Laden, Zawahiri and Masri. “Their blessed leadership has, and shall continue to be, an exemplar of putting the needs of the community and their higher interests before the interest of any individual group,” Julani said of Zawahiri and Masri.

Most importantly, Al Nusrah’s relaunch as JFS is entirely consistent with al Qaeda’s longstanding strategy in Syria and elsewhere. Al Qaeda never wanted to formally announce its role in the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s regime, correctly calculating that clandestine influence is preferable to an overt presence for many reasons. This helps explain why Nusrah was never officially renamed as “Al Qaeda in the Levant” in the first place. However, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there is such widespread ignorance of al Qaeda’s goals and strategy that Nusrah’s name change is enough to fool many.

Al Qaeda has grown in South Asia as well. In Sept. 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which brought together elements of several existing jihadist organizations. AQIS quickly got to work, attempting to execute an audacious plan that would have used Pakistani arms against American and Indian ships. The plot failed, but revealed that al Qaeda had infiltrated Pakistan’s military.

Pakistani officials recently told the Washington Post that they suspect AQIS has a few thousand members in the city of Karachi alone. And al Qaeda remains closely allied with the Taliban while maintaining a significant presence inside Afghanistan. In October 2015, for instance, Afghan and American forces conducted a massive operation against two large al Qaeda training camps in the southern part of the country. One of the camps was approximately 30 square miles in size. Gen. John F. Campbell, who oversaw the war effort in Afghanistan, explained that the camp was run by AQIS and is “probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

With Zawahiri as its emir, al Qaeda raised its “largest formal affiliate in history” in Syria and operated its “largest training” camp ever in Afghanistan. These two facts alone undermine the widely-held assumption that al Qaeda is on death’s door.

Elsewhere, al Qaeda’s other regional branches remain openly loyal to Zawahiri.

From April 2015 to April 2016, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controlled a large swath of territory along Yemen’s southern coast, including the key port city of Mukalla. An Arab-led coalition helped reclaim some of this turf earlier this year, but AQAP’s forces simply melted away, living to fight another day. AQAP continues to wage a prolific insurgency in the country, as does Shabaab across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia. Shabaab’s leaders announced their fealty to Zawahiri in February 2012 and remain faithful to him. They have taken a number of steps to stymie the growth of the Islamic State in Somalia and neighboring countries. Shabaab also exports terrorism throughout East Africa, executing a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to operate in West and North Africa, often working in conjunction with front groups. Like al Qaeda’s branches elsewhere, AQIM prefers to mask the extent of its influence, working through organizations such as Ansar al Sharia and Ansar Dine to achieve its goals. Late last year, Al Murabitoon rejoined AQIM’s ranks. Al Murabitoon is led by Mohktar Belmokhtar, who has been reportedly killed on several occasions. Al Qaeda claims that Belmokhtar is still alive and has praised him for rejoining AQIM after his contentious relations with AQIM’s hierarchy in the past. While Belmokhtar’s status cannot be confirmed, several statements have been released in his name in recent months. And Al Murabitoon’s merger with AQIM has led to an increase in high-profile attacks in West Africa.

In sum, AQAP, AQIM, AQIS and Shabaab are formal branches of al Qaeda and have made their allegiance to Zawahiri clear. Jabhat Fath al Sham, formerly known as Al Nusrah, is an obvious al Qaeda project in Syria. Other organizations continue to serve al Qaeda’s agenda as well.

Al Qaeda’s veterans and a “new generation” of jihadist leadership

As the brief summary above shows, Al Qaeda’s geographic footprint has expanded greatly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some US officials argue that al Qaeda has been “decimated” because of the drone campaign and counterterrorism raids. They narrowly focus on the leadership layer of al Qaeda, while ignoring the bigger picture. But even their analysis of al Qaeda’s managers is misleading.

Al Qaeda has lost dozens of key men, but there is no telling how many veterans remain active to this day. Experienced operatives continue to serve in key positions, often returning to the fight after being detained or only revealing their hidden hand when it becomes necessary. Moreover, al Qaeda knew it was going to lose personnel and took steps to groom a new generation of jihadists capable of filling in.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

Last year, several veterans were reportedly released from Iran, where they were held under murky circumstances. One of them was Abu Khayr al Masri, who paved the way for Al Nusrah’s rebranding in July. Another is Saif al Adel, who has long been wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. At least two others freed by Iran, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Khalid al Aruri, returned to al Qaeda as well.

Masri, Al Adel, and Aruri may all be based inside Syria, or move back and forth to the country from Turkey, where other senior members are based. Mohammed Islambouli is an important leader within al Qaeda. After leaving Iran several years ago, Islambouli returned to Egypt and eventually made his way to Turkey, where he lives today.

Sitting to Julani’s right during his much ballyhooed announcement was one of Islambouli’s longtime compatriots, Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The diminutive Mabrouk is another Zawahiri subordinate. He was freed from an Egyptian prison in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Al Qaeda moved some of its senior leadership to Syria and several others from this cadre are easy to identify. But al Qaeda has also relied on personnel in Yemen to guide its global network. One of Zawahiri’s lieutenants, Hossam Abdul Raouf, confirmed this in an audio message last October. Raouf explained that the “weight” of al Qaeda has been shifted to Syria and Yemen, because that is where its efforts are most needed.

The American drone campaign took out several key AQAP leaders in 2015, but they were quickly replaced. Qasim al Raymi, who was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s, succeeded Nasir al Wuhayshi as AQAP’s emir last summer. Raymi quickly renewed his allegiance to Zawahiri, whom Raymi described as the “the eminent sheikh” and “the beloved father.” Another al Qaeda lifer, Ibrahim Abu Salih, emerged from the shadows last year. Salih was not a public figure beforehand, but he has been working towards al Qaeda’s goals in Yemen since the early 1990s. Ibrahim al Qosi (an ex-Guantanamo detainee) and Khalid al Batarfi have stepped forward to lead AQAP and are probably also part of al Qaeda’s management team.

This old school talent has helped buttress al Qaeda’s leadership cadre. They’ve been joined by men who signed up for al Qaeda’s cause after the 9/11 attacks as well. In July, the US Treasury Department designated three jihadists who are based in Iran. One of them, known as Abu Hamza al Khalidi, was listed in bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of al Qaeda leaders. Today, he plays a crucial role as the head of al Qaeda’s military commission, meaning he is the equivalent of al Qaeda’s defense minister. Treasury has repeatedly identified other al Qaeda members based in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some members of the “new generation” are more famous than others. Such is the case with Osama’s son, Hamzah bin Laden, who is now regularly featured in propaganda.

This brief survey of al Qaeda is not intended to be exhaustive, yet it is still sufficient to demonstrate that the organization’s bench is far from empty. Moreover, many of the men who lead al Qaeda today are probably unknown to the public.

The threat to the West

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” His statement underscored how the threats have become more geographically dispersed over time. With great success, the US worked for years to limit al Qaeda’s ability to strike the West from northern Pakistan. But today, al Qaeda’s “external operations” work is carried out across several countries.

During the past fifteen years, Al Qaeda has failed to execute another mass casualty attack in the US on the scale of the 9/11 hijackings. Its most recent attack in Europe came in January 2015, when a pair of brothers backed by AQAP conducted a military-style assault on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. AQAP made it clear that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Thanks to vigilance and luck, al Qaeda hasn’t been able to replicate a 9/11-style assault inside the US. Part of the reason is that America’s defenses, as well as those of its partner nations, have improved. Operations such as the 9/11 hijackings are also difficult to carry out in the first place. Even the 9/11 plan experienced interruptions despite a relatively lax security environment. (Most famously, for example, the would-be 20th hijacker was denied entry into the US at an Orlando airport in the summer of 2001.)

But there is another aspect to evaluating the al Qaeda threat that is seldom appreciated. It is widely assumed that al Qaeda is only interested in attacking the West. This is flat false. Most of the organization’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in Muslim majority countries.

The story in Syria has been telling. Although al Qaeda may have more resources in Syria than anywhere else, Zawahiri did not order his men to carry out a strike in the West. Al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” laid the groundwork for such operations, but Zawahiri did not give this cadre the green light to actually carry them out. Zawahiri’s stand down order is well known. In an interview that aired in May 2015, for instance, Julani explained that the “directives that come to us from Dr. Ayman [al Zawahiri], may Allah protect him, are that Al Nusrah Front’s mission in Syria is to topple [Bashar al Assad’s] regime” and defeat its allies. “We have received guidance to not use Syria as a base for attacks against the West or Europe so that the real battle is not confused,” Julani said. However, he conceded that “maybe” the mother al Qaeda organization is plotting against the West, just “not from Syria.” Julani emphasized that this “directive” came from Zawahiri himself.

To date, al Qaeda has not lashed out at the West from inside Syria, even though it is certainly capable of doing so. Al Qaeda’s calculation has been that such an attack would be too costly for its strategic interests. It might get in the way of al Qaeda’s top priority in Syria, which is toppling the Assad regime. This calculation could easily change overnight and al Qaeda could use Syria as a launching pad against the West soon. But they haven’t thus far. It helps explain why there hasn’t been another 9/11-style plot by al Qaeda against the US in recent years. It also partially explains why al Qaeda hasn’t launched another large-scale operation in Europe for some time. Al Qaeda has more resources at its disposal today than ever, so the group doesn’t lack the capability. If Zawahiri and his advisors decided to make anti-Western attack planning more of a priority, then the probability of another 9/11-style event would go up. Even in that scenario, al Qaeda would have to successfully evade the West’s defenses. But the point is that al Qaeda hasn’t been attempting to hit the West nearly as much as some in the West assume.

In the meantime, it is easy to see how the al Qaeda threat has become more diverse, just as Clapper testified. AQAP has launched several thwarted plots aimed at the US, including the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing. In 2009, al Qaeda also plotted to strike trains in the New York City area. In 2010, a Mumbai-style assault in Europe was unraveled by security services. It is not hard to imagine al Qaeda trying something along those lines once again. Other organizations tied to al Qaeda, such as the Pakistani Taliban, have plotted against the US as well.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda lives. Fortunately, Zawahiri’s men have not replicated the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. But the al Qaeda threat looms. It would be a mistake to assume that al Qaeda won’t try a large-scale operation again.

*The spellings of al Qaeda and bin Laden are changed in this quote from Morell to make them consistent with the rest of the text.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.


No shrinking violet, Zawahiri has taken two big swings: Karachi Dockyard and Pathankot. Both could have resulted in major fireworks.
He could have gone bio decades ago, ditto for chem. Nuke is expensive and harder.
Ugly old thing has a plan, and it’s based on the Koran… I wonder what it is?

Well considered and written. But. In the new paradigm, the point is not “to win.” The point is to disrupt manage the cancer.

And that we are doing as well as possible.

If Al Queda is growing as a threat to Muslim nations, are the nations targeted as too secular, or on the wrong side of the Sunni/Shite divide, or because of their alliances with the West? And is the strategy to destabilize the countries, allowing Al Queda surrogates to control the Government’s?

Great article, I really enjoyed reading it. I was thinking about this the other day, namely just how little we actually know or understand about AQ.
I’m not entirely sure where this comes from, I mean look, you’ve obviously got a really good handle on the situation at hand, as well as the obvious and glaring fact that AQ is in no way decimated. These guys are posting videos, talking about “directives,” from Zawahiri, putting a ton of information out there on a regular basis, and for so many reasons, the US gov and frankly the US and western intelligence communities somehow seem to be in the dark, confused somehow. They certainly don’t appear to have a very thorough, nuanced understanding of AQ, and there’s definitely nothing resembling “grand strategy,”that I’ve seen in the last 15 years.

I personally think that one of the biggest reasons that this may be the case, is because look, look at these guys and the image they put out there, a jihadist in combat fatigues could not be more of a polar opposite in every way to a western political power broker in a suit, and in the minds of these political power brokers, everybody wants something, and they just have to find that thing and make a deal and that’s the way things are done, and I feel like they’re just completely glossing over the fanatic aspect, the zeal and religious fervor of the involved parties. These guys don’t want to make deals. They don’t want to negotiate with us. They don’t want peace.

In 15 years of relentless, soul wrenching, bone grinding war, has the Taliban or AQ’s position, or demands changed?

In 15 years of war, has AQ or the Taliban been defeated utterly, their capability and will to fight destroyed?

In 15 years of war, has AQ diminished or grown in size, capability, resolve and threat?

We’ll never be able to truly defeat our enemies in this long war until we understand them on a deeper level, until we know them so well that we are able to anticipate not only their objectives, but the routes they’ll take to get to those objectives.

Pakistan never came clean on who was involved in the Karachi Dockyard attack, particularly the second cell which tried a mutiny on board the frigate. That was the single greatest attempt since the Planes Operation. Had it succeeded, a Pakistani warship would have let fly missiles at an American supply ship and possibly even an aircraft carrier. Two Pakistani ships were attacked that night, one underway and on at a dock. Zawahiri was directly involved, old goat boy Gadahn (enjoy those frisky virgins) was in on the plan, and a bunch of serving naval officers. Old uglyface is down, but not out. Richard Clarke says he is probably moving a lot. I say ask the ISI, they’ll know.

Harrowing images show true horror of 9/11

Aussie Simon Kennedy speaks about the moment he learned his mum was killed on a hijacked plane in 9/11 terror attacks.

The Twin Towers after both had been hit by hijacked planes on September 11, 2001. Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Source:Supplied

WARNING: Distressing content

On this day 19 years ago, unimaginable horror struck America when four commercial flights were hijacked by terrorists and crashed into sites including New York City’s Twin Towers.

The morning of Tuesday, September 11 was fine and sunny, with New Yorkers navigating the manic rush-hour commute to work or school under a cloudless blue sky.

But at 8.46am the unthinkable happened: American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles, was hijacked by members of al-Qaeda at Boston airport and flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.

People stared up in confusion and disbelief at the smoking building, wondering if perhaps it was an accident, until 17 minutes later a second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower at 9.03am.

By 10.30am the Twin Towers had collapsed, sending people running for their lives covered in dust and debris. Meanwhile, 370 kilometres away, American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon building in Virginia at 9.37am, and United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10.03am.

In less than two hours, 2996 people had been killed and more than 6000 injured, including hundreds of firefighters and police officers who rushed to the scenes.

This file photo taken on September 11, 2001 shows a hijacked commercial plane approaching the World Trade Centre shortly before crashing into the landmark skyscraper in New York. Picture: Seth McAllister/AFP Source:AFP

Photographs captured the horrific tragedy as it unfolded across America’s northeast, including heartbreaking images of people plunging to their deaths from the Twin Towers.

One of these is the infamous �lling Man” taken by Richard Drew. To this day the man’s identity is still unknown, but his clothing indicates he was an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant on the top floors (106th and 107th) of the North Tower.

While difficult to look at, pictures of one of the darkest days in modern history ensure the innocent lives lost at the hands of terrorists will never be forgotten.

A fiery blast rocks the south tower of the World Trade Centre as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building. Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

People below look up as the World Trade Centre goes up in flames on September 11, 2001 in New York City. Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

People hang from the windows of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre after a hijacked airliner hit the building on September 11, 2001 in New York City. Picture: Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

A person falls to his death from the World Trade Centre after two planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 in New York City. Picture: Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

People watch from Sixth Ave in Soho as the towers collapse. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A man covered with dust stands outside the World Trade Centre after one of its towers collapsed on September 11, 2001 in New York City. Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

This photo became known as ‘The Falling Man’ – the unknown man falls from the North Tower of the World Trade Centre at 9.41:15am on the morning of the terrorist attacks. Picture: Richard Drew/AP Source:AP

The World Trade Centre collapses on September 11, 2001. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A firefighter covered with ash is helped by a civilian after the World Trade Centre collapses in a terrorist attack. Picture: Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images Source:Getty Images

A young woman cries in lower Manhattan following the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Picture: Don Halasy/Alamy Source:Alamy

Secret Service agent Thomas Armas carries an injured woman to an ambulance after Tower One of the World Trade Centre collapsed. Picture: Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images Source:Getty Images

Former chief of staff Andy Card whispers into the ear of then president George W. Bush to give him word of the plane crashes into the World Trade Centre during a visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. Picture: Doug Mills/AP Source:AAP

Marcy Borders is covered in dust as she takes refuge in an office building after one of the World Trade Centre towers collapsed in New York City. Ms Borders was caught outside on the street as the cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the area. Picture: Stan Honda/AFP Source:AFP

Pedestrians run from the scene as one of the World Trade Centre towers collapses in this September 11, 2001 file photo. Picture: Doug Kanter/AFP Source:AFP

Police officer Michael Brennan helps a woman named Beverly to safety. She was covered in dust after the first tower went down. Picture: Joey Newfield/NY Post Source:News Limited

This and other aerial photos from the 9/11 attacks were obtained by ABC News, which in 2009 filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Picture: ABC News/NYPD/Detective Greg Semendinger via AFP Source:Supplied

Joseph Kelly, Srinath Jinadasa and George Sleigh covered in dust and debris as they walk away from the World Trade Centre. Picture: Splash News Source:News Corp Australia

FBI agents, firefighters, rescue workers and engineers work at the Pentagon crash site on September 14, 2001 days after the 9/11 terror attack. Picture: Department of Defence/Tech Sgt Cedric H. Rudisill Source:News Corp Australia

Emergency vehicles at the devastated Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in Washington, D.C. Picture: Stephen Jaffe/AFP Source:News Limited

East side of the World Financial Centre on the Hudson River on September 17, 2001. Picture: Eric J. Tilford/US navy/Alamy Source:Alamy

A health club in the World Financial Centre after the 9/11 attacks. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A New York firefighter is overcome with emotion following the 9/11 attacks. Picture: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images Source:Getty Images

An aerial view of the destruction by terrorists of the World Trade Centre on September 15, 2001 in New York City. The view is to the west, with an American flag draped on one of the World Financial Centre towers. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

Picture found in the dust at the World Trade Centre ground zero. Picture: Nathan Edwards/News Corp Source:News Limited

An ash-covered man helps a woman following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City on September 11, 2001. Picture: Don Halasy/Alamy Source:Alamy

The sequence shows the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York City on September 11, 2001. Picture: AFP Source:Alamy

A police officer reaches into a debris and ash-covered police car in lower Manhattan. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A rescuer on a break surrounded by the eerie reminder of what once was a bustling area of world commerce. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

Personal effects were hastily abandoned when buildings were evacuated in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

What was once a glittering symbol of the financial centre of the world stood blanketed in ash and soot. Picture: Jim Watson/Alamy Source:Alamy

NYC firemen check a car on Barclay St after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A New York City fireman calls for 10 more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Centre. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

Ground Zero. Picture: Nathan Edwards/News Corp Source:News Limited

A dust covered ambulance in the remains of the World Trade Centre. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

The rubble of the World Trade Centre. Picture: Alex Fuchs/AFP Source:Supplied

The Resilient City: New York After 9/11

What began as an apparent accident ended in unbelievable horror. Throughout the next year, the city changed but its resilience never did.

John Avlon

Pool photo by Justin Lane

Three hundred and forty-one New York City firefighters. Twenty-three New York City police officers. Thirty-seven Port Authority police officers. Three court officers. Two EMS workers. Thousands of innocent civilians. Numbers alone, of course, cannot do them justice.

A whole portrait of America was taken from us in an instant: individuals of every race, religion, and ethnicity fathers and mothers, children and newlyweds, brothers, sisters, and best friends. Amid our grief we now see that New York had been distracted by flash and wit and cash for too long. The heroic actions of those we lost reawakened us to the essential importance of personal courage. Overnight, and somewhat to our surprise, New York has been embraced as the nation’s symbol of resilience, the indomitable heart of America.

On my desk is a list of every firefighter, police officer, and uniformed service member who died in the line of duty on that day. Their names fill 47 pages. As Mayor Giuliani’s speechwriter, it has been my responsibility to write or edit each of their eulogies. The New York City Fire Department had lost 778 men from its founding in 1865 until Sept. 10, 2001. In the course of one morning, it lost nearly half that historic total. Nothing had prepared the city or the department for this volume of loss. And so it fell to four of us in our small office to do the best we could to do them justice, to say thank you, to provide some measure of comfort to their families on behalf of their city.

It should not be forgotten that September 11th began as a beautiful blue-sky day. Primary elections were being held throughout the city, and as people were lining up to vote at polling places or dropping their children off at school, suddenly they stopped and turned their heads toward a rumble in the sky. It was 8:46 a.m. The pilot of the first hijacked airplane, Mohammed Atta, was flying American Airlines Flight 11 low and loud down the length of Manhattan with the lives of 92 passengers in his hands, above stores, churches, and finally past the Washington Square Arch as he aimed for the heart of the Twin Towers.

The first plane flew by my window. I was sleeping late after a long weekend of work, when my girlfriend heard the roar of its engines approaching. She shook me and we both saw its silver underbelly pass by the window of my fifth-floor walkup in Greenwich Village. We assumed it was going to crash, but the plane seemed strangely in control to be flying so low. We waited for impact, heard a faint sound, and then saw the beginning of the black smoke curl above the trees, beyond the church steeple of Our Lady of Pompeii. Then the first sirens of that long day sounded in the distance. I recalled that a plane had once crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. Despite the cloudless sky, I tried to convince myself that this also could have been an accident.

At 9:03, the second plane banked sickly toward the south tower as the world watched on television. An orange blossom of flame exploded on our screens as a new reality dawned. As I left the apartment for City Hall, fire companies from around the city were already racing to join those who had already arrived at what would become ground zero.

On the streets people stood frozen in mid-commute, gathered at street corners, talking to strangers or on their cellphones, gazing at the blazing scars cut into the sides of the Twin Towers. I passed a kindergarten playground opposite a firehouse where children were still playing as their teachers looked over their shoulders at the buildings burning in the distance. The steel seemed to have melted around the impact zone and it reflected the sunlight, giving the edges a quicksilver sheen, like an overwrought special effect. Despite the horror of the scene, there was an assumption that the worst had already occurred few people thought that the towers would actually come down. After all, they had been bombed before in 1993, and though six people had died and thousands were injured, the Twin Towers still stood.

Subways were shut down and taxis proved impossible to find, so I made my way down Broadway against a sea of people evacuating uptown. Black smoke now filled the sky, evident from anywhere on the island. I expected to see mass panic, but instead the exodus was relatively calm and orderly. It was the response of a civil society to a massive attack.

Friends and colleagues were standing on the steps of City Hall, staring up at the towers burning less than three blocks away. Inside the hall there was concern and controlled panic—grim glances passed between co-workers worried that sites like Times Square and the United Nations would be targeted next. Reporters were calling the press office for comment. I looked at a newspaper someone had thrown across the desk and committed the date to memory. It contents were instantly irrelevant, news from another century. Three blocks away, people were throwing themselves from upper floors of the World Trade Center. One observer recalled them hitting the ground “like melons,” as the music piped into the plaza played “How Deep Is Your Love?”

Firefighters in full bunker gear were rushing up the stairs of the trade center as workers tried to get down to safety. This was the image that survivors would repeat over and over, “as we were going down, they were going up.”

In City Hall, we received word that the mayor was getting ready to do a press conference on a street one block from the burning buildings. The purpose was not only to get information out to the general public but also to get information up to those who were still trapped above the flames in the Twin Towers. They were calling out to family and friends, asking if there was anything that could be done, and in some cases, saying goodbye.

At 10:05, the south tower shuddered and collapsed 23 minutes later the north tower fell as well. It was an avalanche in Lower Manhattan, reaching 2.4 on the Richter scale. The rumble of the buildings coming down was like a thousand jets taking off at once. Below the roar you could almost hear the collective sigh of human life, the disbelief, horror, and resignation as the steel finally buckled and 110 stories imploded, floor upon floor.

A gray cloud of debris rolled violently toward us across City Hall Park, an unforgiving wall of pulverized concrete against the still briefly blue sky. Then it hit City Hall, and everything became dark as night and quiet, except for the patter of debris hitting the roof of the old stone building. For a moment, we thought that we might all die, if not from the building collapse itself then from some biological agent swirling around in the air. Base alloys of emotion bubbled up to the surface. Tough women with children at home curled up in the rotunda at the foot of the grand staircase. Some men grew silent, scared. Others shouted conflicting orders. After several minutes, the dust cleared enough to let some light through, and we could see that Lower Manhattan had been transformed into a gray wasteland of ash and smoke pierced by sirens.

It seemed that every New Yorker knew someone in the towers. In City Hall, we worked alongside the uniformed services every day: They were friends and, in some cases, family. Capt. Terence S. Hatton was the leader of Rescue One, the city’s elite rescue unit. He and the mayor’s executive assistant Beth had been married four years before in a ceremony at Gracie Mansion. His photograph on her desk—face covered in soot after fighting a fire—was a constant reminder of who we really worked for and what real courage looked like. Terry Hatton could have been anything he wanted to be. He was six-foot-four, with the inner dignity of a young Gary Cooper. He could have been a movie star. But if he had been a movie star, his job would have been playing people like Terry Hatton—impossibly courageous and down to earth, possessing both integrity and intelligence. Like his father before him, Terry Hatton loved being a New York City firefighter. He had been decorated for bravery 19 times in his 21-year career. In August 2001, Terry had rescued eight people perilously stuck in an elevator shaft near the 80th floor of the World Trade Center. Rescue units were among the first responders, and on the 11th of September they were presumably the highest up the towers, racing to put out the fires and save the people who were stranded. Rescue One lost 10 of its men that day.

We lost so many of the best of New York’s Bravest, including 60 off-duty firefighters who rushed to the towers when they heard of the attack. The legendary Capt. Paddy Brown was by some accounts the most decorated firefighter in the nation. He’d served two tours as a Marine in Vietnam, come back home to Queens and devoted his life to fighting fires and saving lives lately, he’d taken up yoga and teaching blind people martial arts. We lost Father Mychal Judge, the beloved department chaplain who shepherded families through the tragedies ranging from fires to the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island. We lost Chief of Special Operations Ray Downey, a 40-year veteran who led the recovery mission after the first bombing of the World Trade Center, and then FEMA’s rescue effort after the attack at Oklahoma City. In return for his heroics and battlefield expertise, Downey had been appointed to serve on the president’s antiterrorism task force. His sons, also in the FDNY, would spend the better part of the next month digging through ground zero, looking for their father.

In the hours and days immediately following the attack, New York City was transformed into something like Battle of Britain-era London, with the whole sections of the city evacuated and a military presence on street corners. The acrid smell of smoke and ash hung in the air, and people walked around shell-shocked—a mixture of adrenaline and despair—as they waited for what many assumed was the inevitable next attack.

Four hours after he had almost been killed in the collapse of the south tower, Mayor Giuliani appeared in front of reporters at the Police Academy on East 20th Street. He was asked how many people had been killed. “More than any of us can bear,” he said promptly. He spoke without notes and inspired confidence in a hurt world because of his directness, honesty, and compassion. That evening he returned to ground zero to supervise the recovery effort and strode around the wreckage of the city he loved like a latter-day Churchill. In his morning and evening executive staff meetings away from the cameras, the mayor transformed himself into a wartime leader, decisively organizing massive amounts of information and directing the recovery effort. The mayor was now spontaneously applauded when he walked down the street. His tireless courage inspired us to rise above the devastation. Working around the clock, we met whatever challenges we faced—after all, the extraordinary is ordinary to the people experiencing it. The city’s emergency command center had been destroyed in the attack, but 72 hours later, a new command center was fully operational within a pier near 52nd Street by the Hudson River. Outside the mayor’s office in the new command center we pinned a Revolutionary War-era flag to the wall bearing the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The morning after the attack, I returned to City Hall. FDR Drive was closed to all traffic except emergency vehicles, and we drove down it with lights and sirens flashing. The beauty of the blue-sky day ignored what had occurred 24 hours before. The absence of the Twin Towers in the skyline was jarring, as was the sight of tanks and humvees posted along Park Row. Crushed police cars were lined up along the side of the road. On storefront windows, messages had been written into the dust on the glass: “Rest in peace to all the people who died today 9/11/01.” City Hall was dark and empty except for a few guards. In the mayor’s office, the portrait of Fiorello La Guardia stared intensely into the tomblike silence. Outside, somebody had taken care to lower the flags to half-staff.

I wandered down to St. Paul’s Chapel off the southern tip of City Hall Park, passing rescue workers trudging back from the smoking skeletal wreckage of ground zero, discouraged to their bones that so few survivors had been found. When St. Paul’s had been built in 1766, the land around it was considered countryside. George Washington had walked there to pray after he was inaugurated as the first president of the United States. Since 1973, St. Paul’s had stood across the street from the World Trade Center. Now in the chapel’s graveyard, trees were torn out at their roots, 200-year-old tombstones were cracked or knocked over entirely, ripped sections of Venetian blinds rattled amid branches, and a six-inch-thick blanket of papers, debris, and ash coated the ground. Upon closer inspection these were pieces of bills, bank statements, old photographs, and company ledgers from people who had worked in the World Trade Center. What once seemed important was brutally exposed as irrelevant. Outside the gates of the graveyard, on the edge of ground zero, an advertisement for Investor’s Business Daily above a subway entrance was still intact: It read “Choose success.” One minor miracle was apparent amid the devastation—St. Paul’s Chapel had escaped the towers’ collapse without a single broken window.

As city government mobilized to overcome the effects of the attack, the speechwriting department began to plan for the inevitable memorial services. Remote historic figures such as Churchill and Roosevelt gained new relevance with their themes of courage, defiance, and freedom from fear. A biblical quote, John 15:13—“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”—resonated because hundreds had laid down their lives for thousands of strangers. But for us, the greatest inspiration by far came from the deep grief of ordinary New Yorkers: makeshift memorials of notes and melting candles in parks outside firehouses the American flags that hung from almost every apartment building the steadfast souls who stood along the West Side Highway every hour of the day and night for more than a month, holding handwritten signs and cheering the rescue workers on their way to and from ground zero. This was the spirit of a resilient city—outraged, engaged, and unified. Slowly the eulogies began to take shape, common themes woven through the contours of their extraordinary individual lives.

On Sept. 15th, the first funeral was held. It was for Father Mychal Judge, the beloved Fire Department chaplain who had been killed by debris as he administered last rites to a fallen firefighter. Three months later to the day, we laid to rest Chief Ray Downey. In between, there were more than 400 other heroes of the uniformed services and thousands of civilians from 83 nations. Their stories were told again and again in an attempt to assimilate the tragedy, to comprehend the incomprehensible.

There was the middle-aged woman from Kazakhstan who had reported early for her first day of work in America, and the young bond trader who was killed on her one-month wedding anniversary. Firefighter John Chipura had survived the 1983 terrorist attacks on the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 of his colleagues and then served seven years as a member of the NYPD before joining the Fire Department. John O’Neil spent a career serving as a counterterrorism expert for the FBI and leading the search for Osama bin Laden after the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole, before taking a job as director of security for the World Trade Center in August 2001. Henry Thompson was a court officer who commandeered a van and raced to the towers with two of his co-workers. Chief of the Department Pete Ganci had ordered his men to move the FDNY command post away from the trade center and then walked toward the burning buildings minutes before their collapse. Glenn Winuk was a respected lawyer who also served as the commissioner of the volunteer fire department in his hometown of Jericho, New York after the attack he helped evacuate coworkers from his law firm and then headed toward the towers to help the rescue effort. Capt. Timothy Stackpole was a father of five who had recently returned to the job after recuperating from burns of 90 percent of his body that he sustained in a fire that killed two of his friends. Police Officer Moira Smith had been among the first to report that a plane had smashed into the towers, and hours later this mother of a 2-year-old and wife of a police officer became the first female NYPD officer killed in the line of duty. The legendary 71-year-old First Deputy Fire Commissioner Bill Feehan, who had held every position in the department, became the oldest New York City firefighter in history to die in the line of duty. Firefighting and police work tend to be family traditions in the city of New York, and the attack affected some families and communities disproportionately: the brothers Joseph and John Vigiano brothers Thomas and Peter Langone brothers Timothy and Thomas Haskell cousins Manuel and Dennis Mojica and the father and son Joseph Angelini, Sr. and Joseph Angelini, Jr.—all died together on September 11th. This was more than just the fraternal bond between firefighters and police officers this was family.

Their services have been held in small chapels, ornate synagogues, simple firehouses, and grand cathedrals. More than a dozen were held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. It is there that you get the fullest sense of majesty and tragedy of this city transformed.

Thousands of firefighters in their dress blue uniforms line the street. Hundreds of friends, admirers, and fellow citizens crowd the steps of the cathedral. Two fire trucks parked side by side, with their ladders raised and extended as a large American flag hung between them waves in the breeze. Everyone falls silent as the black limousines carrying the family arrive. Then the faint sound of bagpipes and drum rolls grows louder as the Emerald Society pipe band marches closer, announcing the approach of an engine truck rolling mournfully slow with a flag-covered coffin and flowers placed on top. When the truck reaches the door of the cathedral it slows to a halt, and simultaneously a thousand firefighters snap into a salute that is held until the coffin and family are led inside. During the service, prayers are read family and friends offer eulogies, followed by the mayor and surrogates such as Fire Commissioner Tommy Von Essen and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. After the final blessing is given, the coffin is carried out by brothers from his fire company and lifted onto the waiting truck, on the back of which is written “We will never forget.” The salute is held again as the engine disappears down Fifth Avenue, preceded by the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” “America the Beautiful,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Going Home.”

One unseasonably warm night in early December, I went walking down from my office toward ground zero. I walked without a coat, wanting to take a break and refocus my mind. We had written nearly 400 eulogies for the mayor and his surrogates to deliver over the past three months, as many as 45 in a single weekend, with the mayor attending up to nine wakes and memorials in the course of each of his marathon 18-hour days. The relentless pace required us to impose a certain degree of emotional distance to get the job done. But now the feelings of heartache increased as the workload diminished.

Rescue workers had been laboring at ground zero every hour since the disaster. At night the site was lit by spotlights, like a movie set. Fires had burned there for 80 days, rekindling when a lower level of the underground fire was exposed to the oxygen in the air. Now tourists and well-wishers on pilgrimage sought out the site, standing at great distances, taking pictures of the hulking wreckage and skeletal spires looming over the fences. There were flowers left against every gate and poetry scribbled on paper taped to the lampposts. The missing-person posters that had appeared around the city in the days after the attacks had given way to heart-wrenching goodbyes, handwritten cards with photographs promising them that we would never forget. Family members still gathered at the platform set up on the edge of the site and gazed at their loved ones’ last resting place with haunted eyes. The largest mass grave in America existed uneasily as both hallowed ground and deconstruction site. The scope of the destruction, the size of the wound cut into the heart of our city, remained humbling and retrained its ability to inspire calm outrage, cold purposefulness.

On my way back from ground zero, I stopped by St. Paul’s Chapel. It now served as a shrine of sorts, its metal gates covered with posters and canvas tarps upon which people wrote notes urging faith, expressing sadness, and calling for courage. Inside, the chapel had been transformed into a sanctuary for rescue workers with beds, food, clothing, and massage tables, and occasionally a string quartet to help soothe their souls. The pew where George Washington had prayed now served as a nurse’s station, full of bandages and medications. The sheer functionality of this sacred space was heartening—democracy and theology effortlessly intertwined. Most startling and beautiful was this: Along all the walls of the church, posted on pillars and taped in pews, were letters and cards written by children from across the United States, covered with brightly colored drawings of eagles, firemen, the towers gratitude: “Thank you… you were my heroes… I am sorry the people died…. Thank you for saving the people… I love the city… God Bless America.”

These notes sustained the spirits of the men who each day would sift through the debris, finding body parts that, as often as not, would disintegrate at the touch. Their actions and those cards were powerful examples of why our city and nation would triumph over terror: In ways both large and small, we had met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.

After leaving St. Paul’s Chapel that silent New York night I walked down Broadway, past Wall Street and Trinity Church, past Bowling Green and into Battery Park. I stared out into the dark waters of New York Harbor for a time and then looked up and was almost surprised by the sight of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island still standing serenely in our harbor.

And then, for a moment, I saw the city through history’s eyes. I remembered that this was the same body of water into which Henry Hudson had sailed the Half Moon in 1609. He could not have imagined the wilderness he saw becoming home to 8 million people from all over the world. He could not have imagined that buildings taller than mountains would one day crowd the island. In less than 400 years our city has grown more than other cities have in a millennium, fueled by the energy, resilience, and innovations of each successive generation.

Our great symbol of world trade is now gone—what was intended by its architect to be a symbol of world peace was destroyed in a vicious, unprovoked act of war. But what was really attacked on September 11th was the idea of New York City and America itself—a beacon of freedom, diversity, and equal opportunity. That spirit is intact and undaunted. In fact, our devotion to those ideals has only been strengthened by the selfless heroism we have seen.

We now recognize that we are all part of a larger narrative, and while our city may never be the same, we will be better and stronger as a result of all we have experienced. Much has been taken from us, but much remains and even in the dark, a great deal of light still shines upon the city of New York.

Editor’s Note: This essay by Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief John Avlon was written in December 2001, when he was chief speechwriter to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and included in the anthology Empire City: New York Through the Centuries, where it won acclaim as “the single best essay written in the wake of 9/11” by Fred Siegel in The New York Sun. It is republished by The Daily Beast every year on 9/11.

Reflections on the recovery: Locals recall the destruction and resurrection of Downtown

Associated Press / Jennifer Brown
The powerful spotlights of the annual Tribute in Light have been a tradition since 2002.


We all recall the vaunted heroes of 9/11 — the first responders who rushed to the burning towers and gave their lives saving thousands from certain death, and their compatriots who toiled for weeks on the smoldering pile to retrieve the remains of those who never made it out.

But it was the residents who lived Downtown when the attacks tore a hole in Lower Manhattan, and who remained through the cleanup and rebuilding that followed, who are the heroes of Downtown’s eventual resurgence.

The local business people who struggled to keep their shops and restaurants open, and the companies that returned to their Downtown offices when the dust settled, are the heroes of Lower Manhattan’s economic revitalization.

After the most devastating foreign attack on U.S. soil in history laid waste to the heart of America’s greatest city and traumatized the nation, it was the people closest to the destruction who defied despair and resolved to remain and rebuild.

Downtown Express spoke to several of these individuals who took leadership in the aftermath to repair the community, in ways large and small, and helped rebuild Downtown even better than before.

Pat Moore and her husband were in their third-floor apartment directly across from the Twin Towers when the first plane struck. She remembers looking out the window at the horror unfolding outside her home.

Associated Press / Jerry Torrens
The South Tower collapsed first, followed nearly 30 minutes later by the North Tower, taking 2,973 souls with them.

“Fire came raining down from all this paper flying out the hole where the plane hit. People were pouring from the World Trade Center. They were screaming and their faces were black with soot. It was bedlam,” she recalled.

Moore — who stayed home on September 11, 2001 to vote in the primaries — fled with her husband to a friend’s apartment near City Hall. They were huddled around the television watching the news when both towers crashed to the ground. The later collapse of WTC 7, which pushed clouds of smoke around their friend’s home, forced them to another apartment on Canal St.

“I’ll forever be grateful I was with my husband when it happened. I didn’t have to worry about where he was,” she said. “But we lost everything — pretty much everything, except for what we had when we ran out the doorway.”

When Moore and her husband returned home four days later — after a sympathetic police officer snuck them past security — they found that almost two tons of debris had crashed through their windows and buried the apartment.

“Everything that was in the World Trade Center came into our apartment,” she said. “There were huge boulders and a computer from one of the towers. There was stuff everywhere.”

Moore said her neighborhood, where she has lived since 1977, was unrecognizable in the days immediately after the attacks.

“It looked like Dresden after the war,” she said. “Everything was blown out, everything was gray, cars were crushed in. Think of a disaster movie.”

It took almost two years to move back into their apartment. Cleaning out the debris from the Twin Towers was made even more difficult, Moore said, because a broken pipe flooded her apartment when her landlord turned the water back on — turning most of the toxic dust into cement.

The challenges that accompanied the recovery drove Moore to become a member of Community Board 1, where she is now chairwoman of the Quality of Life Committee. She remembers long stretches with pounding construction work taking place at all hours.

“I would call the Port Authority director’s office at 2 a.m. and stick the phone up to the window and say ‘Do you hear this?’ That’s when you really understand insanity,” she said.

But as tough as it has been, Moore said she’s pleased to see how her neighborhood has bounced back in ways she never expected.

“It used to feel like a tiny little neighborhood. The workers would leave at five, and that’s when a lot of businesses would close,” she said. “Now the population has tripled. It’s completely different than how it was before the attacks 15 years ago.”

‘Our community was devastated’

Joan Mastropaolo was at her office in Jersey City when she watched the first plane crash into the North Tower — a block away from her home in Battery Park City.

Associated Press / Alexandre Fuchs
The 9/11 attack suddenly transformed the heart of Downtown in to “Ground Zero.”

“I saw it come roaring down and get swallowed up into the tower,” she said. “I knew it was an attack. The plane made no attempt to go around the tower. There’s no way a pilot couldn’t miss the damn building.”

She called her husband, who was at home in the shower when the first plane struck. However, he was near the window when the other plane crashed into the South Tower.

“He was frantic when he called me,” she said. “He told me there was another explosion. It felt like an earthquake.”

Her husband evacuated the building and it would be six days before they returned home to find their apartment swallowed by debris. They found another apartment in Gateway Plaza to live and returned to the neighborhood six months after the attacks.

Mastropaolo now volunteers at the 9/11 Tribute Center, where she tells visitors what is was like to be a Downtown resident after the attacks.

“Our community was devastated by 9/11. But this community has proved to be very strong and resilient. Those who returned are very proud of what is has become,” she said.

For Mastropaolo, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site has had particular symbolic power.

“I’ve celebrated every milestone of One World Trade Center. From when it first popped out of the ground to when they put the spire on top,” she said. “To me, rebuilding has sent a message that we have been reborn and come back stronger than ever.”

‘It was a really tough place to stay’

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Downtown’s recovery wasn’t at all the inevitable triumph it may now seem in retrospect. At the time, angst and confusion reigned, and residents felt at the mercy of powerful forces beyond their control.

Caught between grandstanding politicians, faceless bureaucracies, competing agendas, an information blackout, and the ubiquitous dust that permeated their homes, many neighbors turned to Madelyn Wils — then the chairwoman of CB1 — to unite the residents and stand up for them.

“I watched the neighborhood go from a thriving, growing area to being completely obliterated,” Wils recalled. “And it started an extremely long process where I felt like my role was to solidify the community and represent it as best I could.”

Wils and other community leaders immediately organized ad hoc meetings for the residents to share information — the first at a basketball court on Canal St. just a few days after the attacks.

“Hundreds of people showed up because they didn’t know where else to go,” she said. “People were in shock and trying to get answers to very basic questions.”

While government agencies were focused on cleanup and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, Wils had to fight to make sure the people who lived around it weren’t forgotten. Her advocacy sometimes put her at loggerheads with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, forcing “America’s Mayor” to pay attention to the needs of the Downtown community.

Wils became the lone local on the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and played a crucial role in making sure that Downtown residents had a strong voice in the rebuilding of their neighborhood.

But Wils said it took a long time before life started to feel normal again.

“Fires at the World Trade Center burned for months, the cars on the street were crushed, there were men with guns guarding security checkpoints. Everything was a reminder of all the people who died that day,” she said. “It was a really tough place to stay.”

Not everyone did, Wils noted.

Courtesy of Mary Perillo
The view from a local apartment in the days after 9/11.

“Most of the community didn’t return home for months, and almost one-third never returned,” she said.

Wils was able to use her position on CB1 and the LMDC, as well as a later appointment to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, to steer funds towards new schools and parks aimed at making the neighborhood more livable.

Under her leadership, CB1 raised $12 million for the construction of Millennium High School, which opened barely two years after the 9/11 attacks. Downtown has since resoundingly rebounded — adding three more public schools to accommodate a residential population that’s now more that double what it was before the attacks. And as new residents have flocked to an area that many once fled, retail development has followed, with an ongoing influx of culinary landmarks and shopping destinations turning what had previously been a somewhat sterile office district into one of Manhattan’s hottest neighborhoods.

“It took a very long time,” Wils said, “but Lower Manhattan has become what we always thought it could be.”

Staying was an ‘act of heroism’

Anthony Notaro, the new chairman of Community Board 1, was in Denver on a business trip when the airplanes struck the Twin Towers. The longtime Battery Park City resident — stranded more than 1,700 miles from his home — watched live television broadcasts show the collapsing towers blanket his neighborhood in rubble.

Notaro went to stay with family in New Jersey when he returned to the East Coast. Like many Downtowners, he was not able to live in his home for more than two months.

“You couldn’t come back because the whole neighborhood was a crime scene,” he said. “Three thousand people were murdered and more than 1 million square feet of commercial space was destroyed in a few hours. That’s what happened here.”

The neighborhood has since clawed it way out of the devastation — and in many ways has returned stronger and more vibrant than before the attacks. New residents are flocking to the community, which has one of the fastest growing populations in the city.

However, Notaro explained that while the neighborhood was buried in debris during the weeks after 9/11, the commitment of many residents to return home felt like an act of defiance.

“The neighborhood was devastated. The people who came back to their apartments and kept going to work were part of a small but important act of heroism,” he said.

The resolve of Downtown residents to stay on their community laid the foundation for the area to rebound, Notaro said. And while the recovery brought unexpected challenges — such as overcrowded schools, traffic congestion, and a spike in residential garbage — he said it has also been gratifying to see the neighborhood become livable again.

Notaro, who has been a CB1 member for more than 15 years, listed the opening of new schools and neighborhood parks as some of the biggest victories during the rebuilding effort.

“It’s taken 10 to 15 years, but it’s amazing to see the community come back from such a devastating tragedy,” he said. “There have certainly been a lot of unexpected problems caused by the rebuilding, but if we are able to come back from what happened on September 11, I think everything else is solvable.”

Doug Van Horn was there in Battery Park City on that terrible day fifteen years ago. As the senior manager of education and nature programs for BPC Parks, he was getting ready for the Preschool Play program that Tuesday morning when the towers came down.

“After the second tower fell, the dust cleared enough to see a bit,” he said. “I was amazed to see all the boats coming across the harbor towards us.”

Commuter ferries pulled directly up to the Battery Park City esplanade to load up panicked survivors for transport across the Hudson.

The hundreds of mostly civilian vessels that converged on Lower Manhattan on 9/11 helped evacuate as many as half a million people from the area that day, and Van Horn spent much of his morning helping terrified BPC residents onto the boats before finally boarding one himself and heading for New Jersey.

There he ran into a family he knew who was actually on their way to he Preschool Play session that morning.

“In the months that followed, our focus was getting the programs back for the community,” van Horn said.

It was tough going in the early days, with so many BPC residents exiled from their homes, but it was only a mater of weeks before he had the programs running again and families started trickling back — including the family he ran into in New Jersey.

“I’d see them,” he said, “but there was only a handful of people at first.”

Doing his part to help restore a sense of ease and normalcy to the community, Van Horn even took to toting baseball gear out to Wagner Park and inviting passing kids and families to play catch.

It was the well-attended Preschool Play program on the one-year anniversary of the attacks that finally felt like turning a page.

“It was another beautiful day in September,” he said, “and seeing so many kids there having fun, it was enough to feel like, ‘yeah, we’re back.’”

Since then, Van Horn, who has been with BPC Parks since 1999, has seen Downtown and the BPC community more than just recover, but also improve.

“This is a better place in a lot of ways,” he said, citing the heightened participation in the expended parks programs.

There were about 500 events this summer with 40,000 participants, according to Van Horn.

“Those numbers are beyond what we use to have before the attacks,” he said.

Captain Patrick Harris was among that armada that came to the rescue of stranded Downtowners on 9/11.

The captain of the historic sailboat Ventura, who operates out of Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina, recalled the sight of the ad hoc flotilla coming across the harbor.

“I saw this V-shaped formation of about a half a dozen or so tugboats charging up in our direction,” Harris said. “It was actually very inspiring to see that, knowing those guys were going in there and that’s where all the trouble was.”

Harris took a few boatloads of survivors to safety on the Ventura, before he docked the nearly century-old sailboat to help crew the larger, more powerful Royal Princess, a party boat that was filled beyond capacity over and over that day, ferrying about 300 people each trip.

His most poignant memory of that day, however, came when he was still aboard the Ventura, ferrying his first mate’s family across the Hudson as the Twin Towers still burned. Their mother had been on a bus heading to Newark Airport when news broke of the attack, and she immediately disembarked. She knew her whole family was near the World Trade Center, and she made her way to the coast in a panic.

There, as she helplessly watched the towers burn, she saw an approaching boat that she recognized — the Ventura — and on the deck was her family.

“That’s something I’ll never forget,” said Harris. “It was one of those acts of God, where she just happened to be there and was standing aghast and suddenly saw the Ventura and all of her family safe.”

The waterborne evacuation of Lower Manhattan was one of the largest of its kind in history, rescuing as many as half a million souls, and it was carried out largely by civilian vessels spontaneously volunteering to help, according to a recent book on the effort, “American Dunkirk.”

And the bravery of the rescuers was matched by the gratitude of the rescued, according to Harris.

“We were unloading people off the Royal Princess, standing at the gangway helping them off, these disoriented New Yorkers, not knowing where they were, and about a third of them stopped and touched my arm and said, ‘Thanks for helping out,’” Harris recalled. “It made me reflect that this is a culture we can be proud of. They took a big shot, they got back up, and they kept their manners.”

‘I wanted to do something to help’

Before she took a leading role in establishing the 9/11 Tribute Center, Jennifer Adams-Webb went Downtown in the days after the attacks because she just wanted to help.

9/11 Tribute Center
Jennifer Adams-Webb co-founded the 9/11 Tribute Center in 2006 with former firefighter Lee Ielpi, who lost his firefighter son in the attacks.

Though she had worked in the World Trade Center before the attacks, and still had people she knew there, Adams-Webb was on the Upper West Side when the towers collapsed, taking the life of one of her friends. As rescue workers swarmed over the smoking pile, she went down to the site to do what she could for them.

“Like many New Yorkers, I wanted to do something to help,” she said, “so I went down there and started handing out food to the first responders.”

As she got to know the firefighters, police officers and construction workers picking through the debris, and particularly the distraught family members waiting in vigil hoping their loved ones would be found, Adams-Webb bonded with the people most affected by the calamity. So when she saw how difficult it was for family members of 9/11 victims not working for the city to get information about the recovery mission, she put her management skills to work in February 2002 creating a network to keep them informed — the seed that eventually grew into the September 11th Families’ Association, which she now serves as CEO.

Working with former firefighter Lee Ielpi, who lost his firefighter son, Jonathan, in the towers’ collapse, Adams-Webb helped turn the loose network of victims’ families into a powerful force in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan.

“We worked to give the families a voice in what happened to the area,” she said, reminding the many players working to rebuild the WTC site that it wasn’t just a disaster zone to be rebuilt, but the final resting place of thousands of people.

Adams-Webb got the idea for the 9/11 Tribute Center while working for the Families’ Association out of an office overlooking the fenced-off site that was still called Ground Zero nearl five years after the dust had settled and drew a steady stream of tourists.

“Thousands came down there, but there was nowhere to go,” she said. “That’s when I got the idea for a place where people could learn about what happened.”

Leading the Tribute Center gave Adams-Webb a front-row seat to watch Downtown transform from a sterile business district, to a bleak disaster area, to a churning construction site, to a bustling neighborhood.

“When I worked in the towers, everybody left at night,” she said. “Now you see people 24/7. It wasn’t that way before.”

Adams-Webb said that it was the residents — those who stayed and those who later came — who have remade Downtown even better than before.

“You can build all the infrastructure, but without the people and the community, it doesn’t work.”

The residents of Lower Manhattan suffered tremendously from 9/11, but local businesses struggled in the aftermath as well. The dust, the cleanup, the security barricades — not to mention the temporary exile of so many office workers and residents — made it nearly impossible to stay in business Downtown.

“Businesses couldn’t receive deliveries, their employees couldn’t come to work and their customers were driven away. They were in the frozen zone,” said Julie Menin, who at the time owned the Vine Restaurant on Broad St. “A number of people counted us out.”

But the same spirit that made residents resolved to stay and rebuild brought the local business community together to keep Downtown’s economy afloat.

Two weeks after the attacks, Menin founded Wall Street Rising, a grassroots organization dedicated to revitalizing Lower Manhattan. The non-profit spearheaded numerous cultural and commercial projects aimed at bringing foot traffic back to the neighborhood and helping local businesses rebound.

“It was really important after 9/11 to get that sense of community back and that meant bringing back our local businesses,” said Menin. “Wall Street Rising came out of a conversation among residents and local businesses who were all struggling and wanted to be involved in advocating for the neighborhood.”

Support for the organization was enormous, and Wall Street Rising soon boasted 30,000 members, according to Menin. The group put together cultural events such as Art Downtown and Music Downtown, to draw people back to the area. Menin also created the “Do It Downtown!” discount card, which encouraged New Yorkers to patronize Lower Manhattan businesses. She said some restaurants saw their profits rebound by as much as 400 percent.

“I believe all ships are carried by a rising tide,” said Menin. “We tried to bring more people to Lower Manhattan and promote the neighborhood as a whole. I think that made an enormous difference.”

The organization’s efforts clearly bore fruit. Wall Street Rising was able to help more than 600 small businesses stay in or relocate to Lower Manhattan, according to Menin.

The economic turnaround was accompanied by a boom in the residential population, creating a new set of challenges, with Downtown becoming something of a victim of its own success.

In 2005, Menin was elected chairwoman of Community Board 1 and served for seven years, focusing on bringing more public resources to the growing community and pushing for population surveys to draw attention the need for more school seats, parks and affordable housing.

“We felt it was important to have data to quantify and predict the population growth and show people were absolutely coming to stay in Lower Manhattan,” she said.

Menin wanted to make sure that Lower Manhattan didn’t just rebuild, but led the city into the future, citing the opening in 2009 of the city’s first ever “green school,” P.S. 276, as a milestone in Downtown’s revitalization.

Menin acknowledged that Downtown’s economy has come a long way forward in the last 15 years, but she said it was residents’ commitment to rebuild immediately after the attacks that established the foundation for area to rebound.

“It’s incredible to see the progress that has occurred in Lower Manhattan, but it’s due in large part to those of us who lived and worked in the area and felt strongly that it would recover,” she said.

‘Better than we ever thought possible’

In the aftermath 9/11, Downtowners were driven to do more than simply sweep away the dust and carry on with their lives. Residents and local businesses shared an impulse to defy the destruction and rebuild their neighborhood into something even better than it was before.

And nowhere did Lower Manhattan’s passion for resurgence manifest so beautifully in as it did in The Battery, according to its keeper.

“I have always felt that The Battery is the counterbalance — a public space that is communicating how this city has come back,” said Warrie Price, founder of The Battery Conservancy.

Photos by Warrie Price
An initial grant of $8 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to remake The Bosque allowed The Battery Conservancy to rip out an acre of paving stones (above) and replace the drab expanse with a garden of perennial flowers (below).

Price founded the conservancy in 1994 after she discovered that the Battery Park City Authority had drafted a master plan to renovate the park — which is actually a city park just outside the state-controlled development — but the city had made no effort to make the grand vision a reality, she said.

Back then, the park was in rough shape. There was very little green space compared to today, and it was crisscrossed with asphalt and cobblestone paths, appearing barren and lifeless for a park.

“It was in terrible shape,” said Price.

But at that time, there wasn’t much interest in renovating the patchy public space at the tip of Manhattan, according to Price, and she struggled even to scrape together funding to repair The Battery’s upper promenade.

In the aftermath of 9/11, however, everything changed. Public support for reinvigorating the park surged along with the overall momentum to rebuild Downtown, and the newly formed LMDC offered millions of dollars in grants.

An initial $8 million grant allowed Price to transform The Bosque. An acre of Belgian block pavement was torn up and replaced with perennial gardens, turning the relatively gray space into a vast flowerbed bursting with color.

The project so impressed the LMDC that it continued to provide funding for additional renovations over the years, and local government took a renewed interest in sprucing up the space as Downtown’s residential population boomed and tourists flooded the area on the pilgrimage to Ground Zero and later the 9/11 memorial.

“The city and City Council all believed that The Battery was important to the revitalization of Downtown,” said Price.

With support from the LMDC, the city, and from locals through the conservancy’s own fund-raising efforts, The Battery has become a world-class green space of fountains, gardens, playgrounds, and amenities.

The park has since unveiled the popular Seaglass Carousel, the Labyrinth Maze, its Urban Farm, the Battery Oval, and become home to the largest collection of perennial gardens in the city, featuring nearly two-and-a-half football fields worth of flowering plants.

Once gray, sterile and often empty, over the past 15 years The Battery has literally blossomed, and become vibrant, active, and full of life — much like Downtown itself.

“It represents a grand revitalization,” said Price, “a sense that nothing will get us down, that we’re building better than we ever thought possible.”

Associated Press / Mark Lennihan
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, some doubted whether the area could be restored, but Downtowners defied despair and united to remake Lower Manhattan even better than before.

In Our Own Words: Reflections on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh activists and allies recall where they were on September 11, 2001 and how that day has shaped their movements and resistance today.

September 11th missing person posters are shown attached to a wall outside Saint Vincent's Hospital in August 22, 2002 in New York City. The posters have been attached to the wall since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took place in New York City.
Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

This Sunday, the nation marks the 15 th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States and sparked the sweeping War on Terror. In the wake of 9/11, Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians began to report unprecedented levels of hate violence, profiling and discrimination. Further exacerbating this climate was a set of government policies that to this day target people from particular national-origin and faith backgrounds in the name of national security. Divisive narratives in media and political discourse have become commonplace.

As we reflect on this anniversary of 9/11, Colorlines contributor Deepa Iyer asked a group of Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians and allies to share their own 9/11 stories, what they think has changed over the past 15 years, and how they see visions for the path forward. All reflections have been condensed and edited for space and clarity and we acknowledge that this curated set is not fully representative of all the experiences and identities affected by the post-9/11 climate.

Maheen Ahmed, student director of Muslim Students Association (National)

I was in my third-grade classroom on 9/11 when the principal read a statement by then-First Lady Laura Bush, assuring us that we were safe and should not be scared. As the daughter of a Pakistani, Muslim Air Force veteran, my family was deeply troubled by the attack on our nation. But none of us predicted the immense shift on our lives as Muslim-Americans due to the rise in Islamophobia after 9/11. At the same time, I’m inspired by the Muslim leaders who have stepped up over the past 15 years. This includes Muslim youth who are much more actively mobilizing in their communities and on campuses—because our identities have been shaped in the post-9/11 world. I am committed to amplifying the student voice and supporting the mobilization of Muslim students on campuses.

Debbie Almontaser, educator and board president of Muslim Community Network (New York City)

On 9/11, I was teaching in an elementary school in Brooklyn. Within hours of the attacks, my whole life changed. I was a prisoner in my own home for almost a month I was afraid to go out in public alone because I wear the hijab. Fifteen years after 9/11, our communities continue to face discrimination and violence. In 2007, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first Arabic dual language public school in the U.S., made front-page headlines as a so-called publicly funded madrassa seeking to train homegrown terrorists. In 2010, the announcement of the Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan drew national controversy. In 2011, Congressman Peter King called a hearing on Muslim radicalization in the halls of Congress. Moving forward, we must begin to see our struggles as one, so that we are equally committed to fighting bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia.

Sharmin Sadequee, prisoners’ rights activist, organizer and anthropologist

In the years after the attacks, my family was personally affected by the government’s War on Terror. My brother, Shifa Sadequee, who was born and raised in America, was kidnapped from Bangladesh just days after his wedding in 2006 at the behest of the U.S. Since then, I have been documenting the movement to free post-9/11 Muslim prisoners. Looking ahead, our nation must release those imprisoned on manufactured FBI cases, including the prisoners held in Guantanamo. I am committed to keep fighting for the liberation of all political prisoners and all communities repressed under oppressive state power.

New York University ( NYU ) students attend a town hall to discuss the NYPD ’s surveillance of Muslim communities on February 29, 2012 in New York City. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Kalia Abiade, advocacy director for Center for New Community (Chicago)

On 9/11, I was a senior in college at the University of Florida. As a copy editor at the student newspaper, I became focused on writing and editing pieces related to the tragedy. At the time, I was considering converting to Islam, and was concerned about how my Muslim friends would be affected by the immediate aftermath. Sadly, over the past 15 years, it has become politically acceptable and advantageous to demonize and scapegoat Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims. For Black Muslims in particular, we often endure the triple impact of being criminalized and marginalized—subjected to policing and violence as Black people in America to surveillance and profiling as Muslims in the post 9/11 climate and anti-Black racism within our own faith community. But, we can find many sources of strength and guidance if we connect our current advocacy to the long legacy and struggle of Muslims right here in the United States, The issues our communities are facing today are not new ones in the Black Muslim community: surveillance, entrapment, over policing, criminalization of activism all pre-date 9/11. Recognizing this and building meaningful intra-community relationships is the foundation for true and lasting solidarity. Moving forward, we have to zoom out of the crisis mode that we have been in for the last 15 years, and we need to reframe what are typically thought of as “Muslim” issues—it goes beyond security and anti-hate to include education, jobs, healthcare access and more.

Tuhina Verma Rasche, associate pastor of Grace Lutheran Church (Palo Alto, California)

As a South Asian woman, life became increasingly complicated after 9/11. From that day on, I have become increasingly aware of the skin I inhabit and am uneasy in public spaces. As an ordained minister, I serve a predominantly White Protestant denomination—which can be complicated as a Brown woman navigating post-9/11 America. I believe a large part of my call to ministry is to be a change agent and a disrupter. Part of that means upsetting the status quo, getting people to not simply think differently, but to act differently. I am committed to truth-telling, to showing up and working with others to strive for justice and equality.

Valarie Kaur, activist, lawyer, filmmaker and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project at the University of Southern California Office of Religious Life (Los Angeles)

On 9/11, I was 20 years old, sitting in shock on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, watching footage of the Towers coming down. But I did not have a chance to grieve. Within moments, the picture of turbaned and bearded bin Laden filled the frame. Like Sikhs across the country, I realized that America’s new enemy looked like my family. Then, on September 15, a family friend (Balbir Singh Sodhi) was murdered in the first of dozens of hate crimes. But his story barely made the evening news. I grabbed my camera, got into my car, and crossed the country to chronicle stories of hate and hope in a film called “Divided We Fall.” I thought the film would document just one chapter in U.S. history—a brief explosion of hate toward Muslim- and Sikh-Americans. But, today, bigotry has become part of daily life. Racial profiling is embedded in our immigration and national security policies candidates running for office incite hate as a political tool and Sikh- and Muslim-Americans continue to be targets of violence. But one thing has changed: We are now telling our own stories and organizing on the ground and online. We are writing articles, making our own films, building new organizations. We are no longer victims or bystanders.

Mohammad Khan, 13, who’s family immigrated from Bangladesh, stands outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement ( ICE ), detention center at a protest on October 29, 2013 in New York City. The Queens resident said his father was detained by ICE in December, and his family is seeking to block his deportation. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Mohamed Shukri, executive director of New American Development Center (Nashville)

I was 13 years old when 9/11 happened. I felt what everyone was feeling—confusion, anger and fear. But looking back, I also know that I felt that I was blamed for the attacks and asked for apologies for actions that have nothing to do with my faith or me. As a refugee, a Black man and a Muslim, the past 15 years have affected me deeply. My multiple identities, in combination, are what many people in America hate. While in the past 15 years, opportunities for conversations and unity have begun to occur, we still need to address White supremacy and racism in the United States—especially at a time when the election discourse includes talk about a ban on Muslims. Moving forward, I think we need to look through the eyes of empathy and humanity. I’m committed to never standing on the sidelines.

D’Lo, actor, writer and comedian

I was a performing artist living in New York City when 9/11 happened. I participated in a silent art action organized by the Artist Network of Refuse and Resist in Union Square and Times Square. We wore medical masks (as people were doing because of the asbestos and other flying debris), and held placards that said, “Our Grief is not a Cry for War.” Educating ourselves about the lies we have been told that justify war, profiling and deportations is a critical first step. My personal commitment as an artist is to create work that speaks to the current climate of fear, and hopefully inspires folks to action—whether that involves challenging someone on their bigotry or moving them to get involved at some level.

Recently-arrived refugees from Somalia learn about how to receive food stamps during a class held by the Arizona Department of Economic Security at the International Rescue Committee ( IRC ), office on March 1, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Asha Noor, advocacy specialist for Take On Hate and the National Network for Arab American Communities (National)

When 9/11 happened, I was sitting in Mrs. Morgan’s sixth grade English class in Falls Church, Virginia. My initial thoughts were that of fear for my father who worked a block away from the White House. The moment of calm I experienced upon knowing my father was safe was soon replaced with both immense mourning and fear of backlash. My parents discussed what it meant for my sister and [me] to wear the hijab. My community was scared. Sometimes I feel we have not fully recovered. Moving ahead, I believe that it is vital to learn from African-American Muslims who have endured the struggles for freedom from the inception of this nation to modern-day racism. While today, we are dealing with policies like CVE (Countering Violent Extremism), these are just new names for old systems of oppression and control.

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Philadelphia)

The aftermath of 9/11 is what led me to decide to focus my research domestically. While there has certainly been more awareness and understanding about the impact of conflating Muslims with terrorism over the past 15 years, we still need to recognize, name and combat Islamophobia. I’m committed to the work I do with teachers to raise awareness, and to find ways to cultivate the civic engagement of Muslim youth so that they feel that they are valued and are part of the nation.

Gurjot Kaur, attorney, activist and former senior staff attorney at the Sikh Coalition (National)

When 9/11 happened, I was in my dorm room at SUNY -Binghamton. As pictures of Osama Bin Laden splashed across the airwaves, I knew, amidst the horror and grief, that the world had permanently changed. Fear filled my stomach, but it wasn’t just fear for our nation, but also fear for my family, for my turbaned Sikh father, for all Sikhs, for Muslims. In 2012, I joined the Sikh Coalition—an organization created immediately after 9/11—as an attorney and worked with the community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in the aftermath of the most brutal act of violence against Sikh-Americans to date. The most profound changes that I have witnessed over the past 15 years include the growth of community organizations, stronger laws to protect religious minorities, and the creation of a civil rights movement accessible to all. To move forward, the Sikh community needs to put the offensive “mistaken identity” rhetoric behind us. Sikhs are not attacked because people think we are Muslim. We are attacked because of racism and xenophobia. And to stop violence against Sikhs, we have to also end violence against Muslims, Latinx, African-Americans, Indigenous and LGBTQ communities. What happened to African-Americans in Ferguson is intrinsically connected to what happened to Sikhs in Oak Creek, to Muslims in Chapel Hill, and to the LGBTQ community in Orlando.

Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, their guests and supporters attend a vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the temple August 5, 2013 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. White supremacist Michael Page killed six members of the temple during a shooting rampage on August 5, 2012. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ayesha Wahidi, sophomore at Bellarmine University (Louisville, Kentucky)

I was 6 years old when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Since 9/11, many Americans have given into the fear of Muslims and used it to justify their hate and prejudice. I think the best way to address anti-Muslim backlash is to build individual relationships and connections. That’s what we have been doing at Bellarmine with Better Together, an initiative that focuses on building bridges through service and dialogue. We focus on creating brave spaces for tough conversations. I’m committed to dialogue and action that can move people outside of their personal bubbles, and change their hearts and minds.

Monisha Bajaj, associate professor, of International & Multicultural Education at University of San Francisco

As the horrific events of 9/11 were unfolding, I volunteered at the armory where services were being centralized. I remember how family members—including Urdu, Hindi and Bengali speakers—were bringing in toothbrushes and combs with DNA to match with the body parts that recovery workers were finding in the rubble. In the 15 years since 9/11, the unity among South Asian, Arab, Sikh and Muslim communities has been a positive outcome. For many years, these groups bought into the myths of meritocracy and the “American Dream”—that each individual can succeed if they just work hard enough. The post-9/11 backlash has been a wakeup call. As a professor of education, I am committed to raising awareness and creating resources for teachers and schools to combat intolerance, xenophobia, and the criminalization of South Asian, Arab and Muslim youth.

Azadeh N. Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South past president of National Lawyers Guild

I was a law student when 9/11 occurred—and it set the direction of my career. After graduation, I worked with the ACLU of North Carolina to conduct Know Your Rights presentations at mosques and cultural centers, and to train a network of attorneys on how to represent Arab- and Muslim-Americans who were approached by the FBI . But 15 years after 9/11, the repression continues, and Islamophobia is at an all time high. In Newtown County, Georgia, for example, we are seeing backlash to mosque construction. What I think has changed for the better is that our communities are fighting back in unison with other communities of color and immigrants. I am committed to this joint struggle in the U.S. and in the Global South.

Joanne Taleb of the Cool Blue Salon puts up a sign in a window as part of the Yalla Vote Walk October 24, 2004 in Dearborn, Michigan. The Yalla (which in Arabic means ‘come on’) Vote Walk was sponsored by the Arab-American Institute. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Manpreet Kaur Teji, law student (Chicago)

I was 11 years old on 9/11. In the following weeks, my family kept a low profile given the incidents of violence targeting Sikhs. We stopped going out to dinner and sporting events and canceled a religious event at our house. My heart churns every time my dad is called “Osama Bin Laden” or is pulled over for secondary screening at the airport. In the 15 years since 9/11, there has been progress: Advocacy organizations have emerged, and there are improved policies for hate crimes tracking. But Sikhs, Muslims and many other communities of color are not safe from violence—the tragedy at the Oak Creek gurdwara occurred just four years ago after all. I am committed to being an advocate for oppressed communities and to utilize the legal system to seek justice.

Sasha W., organizing director of National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance co-founder of Queer South Asian National Network

Growing up in post 9/11 America, I learned what it meant to be “South Asian,” not just Lankan. I realized that I was racialized – not only with people from South Asia, but also with people from the Middle East and North Africa. In the 15 years since 9/11, this country’s infrastructure of surveillance has grown stronger, broader and more frightening—and led to the Patriot Act, expanded reach of the NSA , wire-tapping, fusion centers, and the exponential growth of surveillance practices. To push back against the policies that legalize our profiling, harassment and incarceration, we need to lift up the most marginalized in our communities—including those who are queer, trans*, working-class, and at the intersection of multiple identities—and build long-lasting solidarities. At the same time, we must center Black liberation in our solidarity work and address anti-Black racism within our communities.

Jaideep Singh, lead scholar, National Sikh American Discrimination/Hate Crimes Survey

As a co-founder of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( SALDEF ), the community advocacy work necessitated by the attacks took over my life for several months after 9/11. Over the past 15 years, the Sikh-American community has developed an effective advocacy structure. However, as the terrifying cluster of hate attacks against Sikh-Americans in late 2015 (after the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino) verifies, little else has improved. Sikhs still contend with state-sanctioned, routine ethno-racial profiling at airports, and unwarranted and illegal scrutiny. We also face limits to free worship, due to the resistance to sacred-site construction around the nation and attacks such as the one at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Looking forward, our communities must support others who are organizing for racial justice, especially the movement for Black lives. We must demand accountability together on issues of racial equity and justice.

Colorlines screenshot of “Adikaar at 10 Years” video taken on September 9, 2016

Riyah Basha, student at University of Michigan

I was just 3 years old on 9/11, but September 11th has defined the Muslim community and still continues to pulse in our collective memory. September 11th marked the beginning of a public reckoning over whether my people belong in this country. I appreciate the many Muslims who immediately recognized the need for self-definition, increased civic engagement, and a commitment to Islam in America. At the same time, the price for security seems too steep it involves trumpeting American exceptionalism, hailing foreign invasions, and sanctioning profiling and targeting. I commit to being as loud as possible in challenging the surveillance state.

Luna Ranjit, co-founder and executive director of Adhikaar (Queens, New York)

When 9/11 occurred, I had been in the U.S. for only five years. I thought I was in the U.S. temporarily and did not identify myself as an immigrant. But, during the period right after 9/11, my identity as a South Asian, an immigrant, and a person of color solidified, and I started focusing my work on immigrant rights and racial justice issues. In the 15 years since 9/11, we have seen the harmful effects of a cultural narrative that equates Muslims with terrorism. At the same time, amazing organizers are challenging this status quo and building bridges with other communities here in Queens and around the nation. At Adhikaar, we have been engaging the Nepali-speaking community in difficult discussions surrounding race, religion, class and privilege in order to build understanding and support for Muslim and Black communities. Moving forward, we must push for both policy and culture changes, and engage new immigrants in the broader struggle for racial justice.

Protesters chant anti-war slogans during a rally against U.S. President George W. Bush at Ground Zero September 10 , 2006 in New York City. Monday will mark the fifth anniversary of the hijacked plane attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, Color of Change

The 15th anniversary of 9/11 is not just a historic moment. It ushered in an array of harmful government policies and cultural narratives. While the immediate impact has been focused on Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities, all people of color, including Black people, have been affected by the alarming breadth and scope of law-enforcement practices. Moving forward, and especially given the political climate that we are currently facing, it is critical for Black and Brown folks to build the type of collective political and cultural power that holds decision makers accountable. Together, we must advance the vision of the Movement for Black Lives and address Islamophobia and xenophobia. Our histories—and our futures—are intrinsically linked, and we must resist any racial wedge narratives that attempt to tear us apart.

Tania Unzueta, legal and policy director, Mijente

On September 11 th , 2001, I had a flight to Washington D.C. to testify in support of the DREAM Act, which would have given undocumented students like me a way to become U.S. citizens. My flight was canceled, the Congressional hearing was indefinitely postponed, and all immigration discussions shifted to immigrants as potential terrorist threats, particularly if they were Muslim, Arab or South Asian. Fifteen years later, the rhetoric of immigrants as threats to national security is still used as a justification for the record-breaking deportations, incarceration and criminalization, and violations of immigrants’ due process and civil rights. We need to work towards dismantling the systems that were created in the name of preserving national security, starting with the two agencies born 15 years ago after 9/11: the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Anti-war protesters hold hands near the National Mall during a rally against the possible American invasion of Iraq October 26, 2002 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Greg Cendana, executive director of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

As we mark the 15 th anniversary of 9/11, we face a polarized moment as a nation. So much of the rhetoric in the election, media and mainstream narratives has been plagued with xenophobic sentiment, and some people are conflating what it means to be American with anti-Muslim hate. For Asian Pacific Americans, it is vital that we stand in solidarity with South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities in the struggle for justice. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese American internment to the Southeast Asian deportation crisis, our communities have endured the impact of profiling, criminalization and scrutiny. We are in this struggle together. Moving forward, we need to train and uplift more leaders at all levels of government, in our community, and in our schools who will stand up against all forms of xenophobia, racism and anti-Muslim hate.

Rich Stolz, executive director, One America (Seattle)

I see an abundance of fear. September 11th remains a constant justification for our militarized surveillance state. Sometimes violent political rhetoric aimed at Muslims, undocumented immigrants and refugees has sowed fear and isolation in already marginalized communities, reminiscent of shameful episodes of our past. Yet we’re also living in a period of remarkable resistance and the rise of peoples’ movements. We need more courage, greater capacity, and deeper connections across contemporary movements for immigrant rights and racial justice, and we must strive to bridge the divides between religious and racial minorities and a shrinking, yet not monolithic, White majority.

Dara Silverman, Movement 2016 founding director of Showing Up for Racial Justice ( SURJ )

On 9/11, I was in Boston. I watched the second tower go down as I huddled with my co-workers in front of a computer screen. I felt shock, sadness and grief. In the weeks after 9/11, I saw the attacks on Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities, which ended up being just the beginning of the violence to come. September 11th and its aftermath have forced White folks to get clear on our stake in ending White supremacy. The greatest challenge of our time is build multiracial movements that challenge the economic and political power structure to win real changes in peoples’ lives. White folks must organize our communities and participate in these movements—for our own humanity depends on it.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images September 11th missing person posters are shown attached to a wall outside Saint Vincent’s Hospital in August 22, 2002 in New York City. The posters have been attached to the wall since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took place in New York City.

Vince Warren, executive director, Center for Constitutional Rights ( CCR )

Fifteen years ago, we at CCR knew something was up. After the tragic events of 9/11, the military began to claim broad authority to detain people around the world it thought were, or could be, threats to the United States. Men were rounded up—far from any battlefield—and were jailed, abused and tortured. More than 700 were brought to Guantanamo, which the government claimed the rule of law could not reach. And the unconstitutional, social-control practice of racial profiling and stop-and-frisk came back with a vengeance, but not just with respect to African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants—Muslims and Arabs were targeted as well. In sum, the last 15 years have ushered in a potent new era of the criminalization of entire communities of color, and our challenge, as noted by the court in CCR ’s and Muslim Advocates’ case Hassan v. City of New York, is to “see with foresight what we see so clearly in hindsight.” The first step for us is solidarity. The second step is activation and demand. We must commit ourselves full time to dismantling the structures that criminalize us, be that through advocacy, litigation, activism, or art. And we must do so with the historical understanding that demands for justice are often met with great resistance by the structures that need to be changed.

Deepa Iyer is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion. Her book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future,” is a 2016 American Book Award selection. Iyer is also former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.

Leading Through Hard Times: Lessons From 9/11

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed leaders to find new ways to manage amid evolving chaos. But the pandemic is not the first disaster of this generation to force rapid, meaningful change. The devastating terrorist attack on the World Trade Center nearly 20 years ago left behind painful memories and powerful lessons about how leaders must learn and adapt. Wharton adjunct management professor Gregory P. Shea, executive coach Andre Kotze, and retired New York City Fire Department captain Paul Brown have captured some of that insight through interviews with first responders who survived that fateful day. In the following opinion piece, they share what they have learned. Shea is also co-author of the book Leading Successful Change and a senior fellow at the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management.

COVID-19 disrupted organizations, scattering members to remote locations or, in the case of others such as hospital workers, packing them into prolonged and intense proximity. For weeks, more Americans died daily from the virus than died in the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11 and, in total, more than in all American wars combined. Collateral damage continues to mount, and social and political unrest have threatened to tear the country apart.

Leaders at all organizational levels are facing the challenge of recovery and how to lead themselves, their people, and their organizations forward. The decisions and actions of the men and women of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives, offer stark and powerfully useful lessons to keep in mind when confronting the challenges of 2021 — even as we approach the 20 th anniversary of 9/11.

As part of our research into leadership, we have been conducting about 20 lengthy interviews with retired members of the FDNY and other first responders. Participants have been telling us about what happened that day and how they continue to recover, both as individuals and as an organization. The interviews, interrupted by the pandemic, will continue well into 2021. Already, lessons relevant to the current challenges facing leaders have emerged. We share them below, ahead of our schedule, because we expect that they will prove helpful during these demanding times. All quotations come from these interviews.

First, see what’s there.

It sounds obvious and simple. However, people tend to see the figure in front of them and not the ground that it stands on or the background that it stands before. Both matter, especially for a leader, because they create the context that determines the majority of what a given act or word means to others. As noted by psychiatrist RD Laing, “How you see determines what you see.” Catastrophe generates at least three stages for leaders to incorporate how and what they see into how they act: hurt, trekking through, and renewal. The stages overlap and intertwine, but they produce different needs and hence different leadership focal questions:

  • The Hurt: Where’s the pain? How might we minimize it?
  • Trekking Through: What happened and is happening? How do we understand it, collect our learnings and maintain our connections to one another?
  • Renewal: Where to now? What do you (we) want to create and head toward?

Leadership here comes down to timing and balance. Talking too soon of renewal means not adequately acknowledging the physical or emotional pain, and failing to move towards renewal means the risk of being trapped in survival mode.

One of the individuals we interviewed noted: “To this day, I could name a dozen firemen on my command and they’re still in 9/11 mode — meaning, it’s still the day after for them as far as training, working. They don’t know how to get out of that mode, and the only way they’re going to get out of that mode is when they leave the department. It was very challenging for the guys and especially the captains, because they had to keep control of their men and still be sympathetic.”

Break the overwhelming into smaller pieces.

The collapse of the towers was nothing if not potentially overwhelming in nearly every sense, from the work challenge to the destruction of the chain of command. “Depending on how we count, there were nine major fires burning at the World Trade Center site. Any one of those major fires would have been the largest fire that anyone had been to in their careers,” one individual told us. The collapse of the towers wiped out the original command center and killed three of the department’s five ranking officers. Debris limited visibility to a few feet and cut off survivors from one another. Communication devices provided spotty service.

[email protected] High School

Command structure, order, and focus arose piecemeal. Leaders on the ground set priorities based on what they could glean from their surroundings and what was possible — or as one interviewed firefighter said, “You do what you can with what you got.” One officer we interviewed recounted standing amid stories of debris, barely able to see beyond the length of his arm. He could just make out the orange light from multiple fires in his vicinity and the dust-encrusted shapes of those under his command. While constructing a local plan of action, he received a call from the newly established (and remote) command center. He was instructed to cross over to the other side of the plaza and join up with another unit. He agreed, but then continued executing a local plan of action. Why? He told us that there was no way he could effectively communicate his situation to someone not on-site. He couldn’t see. There were stories of loose debris between him and where command wanted him to go. Who knew if he could even get to the other side of the plaza or how much time he might lose getting there? Besides, he saw more than enough that needed doing right where he was.

Another interviewee stressed a point of particular relevance amidst the ongoing pandemic — namely, don’t overcommit your people and don’t let them overcommit themselves. Following this counsel can prove both particularly challenging and particularly necessary when leading a dedicated, eager workforce. The interviewee continued: “You do have to make a commitment… You have to get the officers to make that commitment as well, because the men are going to try to overdo always. That’s what they do. They’re going to over-commit.”

“Talking too soon of renewal means not adequately acknowledging the physical or emotional pain, and failing to move towards renewal means the risk of being trapped in survival mode.”

Getting the pieces right can come down to knowing what job someone can handle in the moment. A firefighter was preparing to hop on an engine bound for the towers when the boss wanted a word. Delayed, the firefighter jumped on the next engine and arrived at the plaza to find the first one. Everyone on that first engine was missing and presumed dead, except for the driver, who had remained with the vehicle per protocol. The arriving firefighter stopped to observe the driver amid the chaos and grime of this circle of hell. The driver was cleaning his rig. The first responder thought of all the other duties that the driver might perform in that moment. Then the first responder thought about what the driver just lost and decided that if he needed to clean his rig, then he should clean his rig.

Highlight the job and tend to the people, including yourself.

Several quotes from our interviews illustrate this balance. You have to “rise to your responsibilities, your accountability to peers and subordinates.” And “having a mission and engaging in work that you feel has a purpose helps tremendously.” Yet, “Every once in a while, you have your little private moment and you’d let out the tears and you’d let out some sobs…. Then you [feel] renewed afterward. That’s right about the time that you realize that part of the process is not to fight it and to let it come.”

Managing this balance for an extended time affects both individuals and their performance. “The cooperation that existed in the first five weeks when we were working with the police department, the fire department, sanitation, the construction industry — it was terrific,” one firefighter said. By April, burnout had taken a great toll on cooperation. Some of the agencies had kept the same personnel on the site, and those workers were physically and emotionally spent. People vary as does the work at hand and leaders need to pay attention to both, or they and their people will too likely burnout. They need the freedom to step away well before that and to do so without repercussion. As a first responder said, “That’s something you’d have to look at… how much can an individual take… and try to give them as much dignity as possible.”

One firefighter told of how, several weeks after 9/11, his captain gathered the unit together in the heart of the firehouse, the kitchen. The captain apologized for not acting like a captain since 9/11, for not being able to provide the leadership that people needed. The captain then said, “I got it and I’m back, and from now on I’m going to take care of stuff.” The firefighter, his voice cracking all these years later, said, “That was very noble. And honest. And the right thing to do.”

Prepare for what you can’t foresee.

Staying with best practices — such as clarifying the mission, deepening organizational skills, and nurturing teams — does not always pay obvious dividends. But it can pay dividends in ways that one could never imagine, such as at Ground Zero or during a pandemic and times of roiling unrest. One interviewee noted, “If you know your job and know the mission, you will be able to make that decision [that] somebody is not making. You’ve got to step up and make that decision, so the leadership thing for me is to make sure those involved, those equal and those below you, know their jobs, know what’s going on.”

Another first responder spoke of the trust required. “Our job… is a very trustful back and forth from the command level all the way down to the firefighter level. That’s how I look at accountability. You’re accountable for you, the guy next to you, the guy above you, your family at home, and any other actions you take.”

“Many very tough and hardened professional firefighters had to learn to recognize and to incorporate a different kind of skill: getting and giving personal help.”

The same applies personally: emphasize relationships. It’s good advice for well-being generally, and in unforeseen, even unimaginable times, those relationships — the clarity of role, the depth of trust, and mutual commitment — can matter profoundly in the moment and over time. The lead medical officer on-site experienced the trauma of near-death herself, even presuming her own death as a tower collapsed near her. Her years of subsequent experience with first responders means that she understands their ongoing struggle to heal. She summed up the factors aiding recovery as: “Strong… connections, not just in the department but outside… are critical. I think people who have established good relationships, whether they’re new or preexisting, have done well.”

Stay with it.

The search for remains took weeks. The funerals went on for months. Even today, people are still dying. One interviewee said, “My sister died from the 9/11 cancer. One of my heroes, one of the best firefighters I ever worked with… just passed away from 9/11. He had asthma. He had young kids and had to retire.” First responders have realized the experiences of that day will linger for a lifetime. Many continue to labor to live with it. “You got to try and adjust. When I take my medical, the nurse that reviews it is amazed, knowing my history, that my psychological part of the test is as good as it is.”

Organizationally, the fire department leadership has “gamed every possible scenario” since 9/11, hoping to save more lives in the event of a similar catastrophe. “What you can do is increase your flexibility, increase your capability. You can add resources… that’s all the time… getting into the recovery aspect of the whole department.”

Keep learning.

Many very tough and hardened professional firefighters had to learn to recognize and to incorporate a different kind of skill: getting and giving personal help. “I was worried about my guys, and I would talk to them a lot about it,” an interviewee said. “I became a big advocate for getting psychological help and seeing a therapist. I saw a therapist for three years,” another noted. You need to “personally acknowledge the continuous stress you are under [and] allow yourself to release.”

At the organizational level, amid the rubble, federal experts showed up to help. Skillfully, they negotiated a working relationship with the bruised, battered, and skeptical members of the FDNY. A world-class fire department, the FDNY came to accept help and training. The leadership decided that the department needed not just to rebuild itself, but to recreate and to renew itself, including learning how to get much, much better at handling an event like the twin towers. No one had foreseen anything like 9/11, but the FDNY set out to learn from people who handled mass catastrophes all the time, namely the All-Hazard Incident Management Teams from the U.S. Fire Administration. The FDNY and its members have become so good at incident management that now when you see the federal experts dealing with events such as Hurricane Katrina, you may well also see FDNY firefighters front and center, first responders once again, using their past to help, teach, and lead.

Learn more: Gregory P. Shea teaches in Wharton Executive Education’s live online program Leading through Challenging Times.


The area that eventually encompassed modern day New York was inhabited by the Lenape people. These groups of culturally and linguistically related Native Americans traditionally spoke an Algonquian language now referred to as Unami. Early European settlers called bands of Lenape by the Unami place name for where they lived, such as "Raritan" in Staten Island and New Jersey, "Canarsee" in Brooklyn, and "Hackensack" in New Jersey across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. Some modern place names such as Raritan Bay and Canarsie are derived from Lenape names. Eastern Long Island neighbors were culturally and linguistically more closely related to the Mohegan-Pequot peoples of New England who spoke the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language. [4]

These peoples made use of the abundant waterways in the New York region for fishing, hunting trips, trade, and occasionally war. Many paths created by the indigenous peoples are now main thoroughfares, such as Broadway in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester. [5] The Lenape developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources. By the time of the arrival of Europeans, they were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bay. [6] Historians estimate that at the time of European settlement, approximately 5,000 Lenape lived in 80 settlements around the region. [7] [8]

New Angoulême Edit

The first European visitor to the area was Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian in command of the French ship La Dauphine in 1524. It is believed he sailed into Upper New York Bay, where he encountered native Lenape, returned through the Narrows, where he anchored the night of April 17, and left to continue his voyage. He named the area New Angoulême (French: Nouvelle-Angoulême) [9] in honor of Francis I, King of France of the royal house of Valois-Angoulême and who had been Count of Angoulême from 1496 until his coronation in 1515. [10] [11] The name refers to the town of Angoulême, in the Charente département of France. For the next century, the area was occasionally visited by fur traders or explorers, such as by Esteban Gomez in 1525. [8] : 11–12

European exploration continued on September 2, 1609, when the Englishman Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, sailed the Half Moon through the Narrows into Upper New York Bay. Like Christopher Columbus, Hudson was looking for a westerly passage to Asia. He never found one, but he did take note of the abundant beaver population. Beaver pelts were in fashion in Europe, fueling a lucrative business. Hudson's report on the regional beaver population served as the impetus for the founding of Dutch trading colonies in the New World. The beaver's importance in New York's history is reflected by its use on the city's official seal.

Dutch settlement Edit

The first Dutch fur trading posts and settlements were in 1614 near present-day Albany, New York, the same year that New Netherland first appeared on maps. Only in May 1624, the Dutch West India Company landed a number of families at Noten Eylant (today's Governors Island) off the southern tip of Manhattan at the mouth of the North River (today's Hudson River). [12] Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began. [12] Later, the Dutch West Indies Company imported African slaves to serve as laborers they helped to build the wall that defended the town against English and Indian attacks. Early directors included Willem Verhulst and Peter Minuit. Willem Kieft became director in 1638 but five years later was embroiled in Kieft's War against the Native Americans. The Pavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present-day Jersey City, resulted in the death of 80 natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, Algonquian tribes joined forces and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, leading to the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans and a peace treaty on August 29, 1645. [13]

On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as director general upon his arrival and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. The colony was granted self-government in 1652, and New Amsterdam was incorporated as a city on February 2, 1653. [14] The first mayors (burgemeesters) of New Amsterdam, Arent van Hattem and Martin Cregier, were appointed in that year. [15] By the early 1660s, the population existed of approximately 1500 Europeans, only about half of whom were Dutch, and 375 Africans, 300 of whom were slaves. [16] [a]

A few of the original Dutch place names have been retained, most notably Flushing (after the Dutch town of Vlissingen), Harlem (after Haarlem), and Brooklyn (after Breukelen). Few buildings, however, remain from the 17th century. The oldest recorded house still in existence in New York, the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House in Brooklyn, dates from 1652.

English rule and American Revolution: 1664–1783 Edit

On August 27, 1664, four English frigates under the command of Col. Richard Nicolls sailed into New Amsterdam's harbor and demanded New Netherland's surrender, as part of an effort by king Charles' brother James, Duke of York, the Lord High Admiral to provoke the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Two weeks later, Stuyvesant officially capitulated by signing Articles of Surrender and in June 1665, the town was reincorporated under English law and renamed "New York" after the Duke, and Fort Orange was renamed "Fort Albany". [18] [19] The war ended in a Dutch victory in 1667, but the colony remained under English rule as stipulated in the Treaty of Breda. During the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch briefly recaptured the city in 1673, renaming the city "New Orange", before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the English for what is now Suriname in November 1674 at the Treaty of Westminster. [20]

The colony benefited from increased immigration from Europe and its population grew faster. The Bolting Act of 1678, whereby no mill outside the city was permitted to grind wheat or corn, boosted growth until its repeal in 1694, increasing the number of houses over the period from 384 to 983. [21]

In the context of the Glorious Revolution in England, Jacob Leisler led Leisler's Rebellion and effectively controlled the city and surrounding areas from 1689 to 1691, before being arrested and executed. [ citation needed ]

Lawyers Edit

In New York at first, legal practitioners were full-time businessmen and merchants, with no legal training, who had watched a few court proceedings, and mostly used their own common sense together with snippets they had picked up about English law. Court proceedings were quite informal, for the judges had no more training than the attorneys.

By the 1760s, the situation had dramatically changed. Lawyers were essential to the rapidly growing international trade, dealing with questions of partnerships, contracts, and insurance. The sums of money involved were large, and hiring an incompetent lawyer was a very expensive proposition. Lawyers were now professionally trained, and conversant in an extremely complex language that combined highly specific legal terms and motions with a dose of Latin. Court proceedings became a baffling mystery to the ordinary layman. Lawyers became more specialized and built their reputation, and their fee schedule, on the basis of their reputation for success. But as their status, wealth and power rose, animosity grew even faster. [22] By the 1750s and 1760s, there was a widespread attack ridiculing and demeaning the lawyers as pettifoggers (lawyers lacking sound legal skills). Their image and influence declined. [23] The lawyers organized a bar association, but it fell apart in 1768 during the bitter political dispute between the factions based in the Delancey and Livingston families. A large fraction of the prominent lawyers were Loyalists their clientele was often tied to royal authority or British merchants and financiers. They were not allowed to practice law unless they took a loyalty oath to the new United States of America. Many went to Britain or Canada (primarily to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) after losing the war. [24]

For the next century, various attempts were made, and failed, to build an effective organization of lawyers. Finally a Bar Association emerged in 1869 that proved successful and continues to operate. [25]

Indians and slaves Edit

By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200. [7] The Dutch West Indies Company transported African slaves to the post as trading laborers used to build the fort and stockade, and some gained freedom under the Dutch. After the seizure of the colony in 1664, the slave trade continued to be legal. In 1703, 42% of the New York households had slaves they served as domestic servants and laborers but also became involved in skilled trades, shipping and other fields. Yet following reform in ethics according to American Enlightenment thought, by the 1770s slaves made up less than 25% of the population. [26]

By the 1740s, 20% of the residents of New York were slaves, [27] totaling about 2,500 people. [28]

After a series of fires in 1741, the city became panicked that blacks planned to burn the city in conspiracy with some poor whites. Historians believe their alarm was mostly fabrication and fear, but officials rounded up 31 blacks and 4 whites, who over a period of months were convicted of arson. Of these, the city executed 13 blacks by burning them alive and hanged 4 whites and 18 blacks. [29]

In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by King George II as King's College in Lower Manhattan. [30]

American Revolution Edit

The Stamp Act and other British measures fomented dissent, particularly among Sons of Liberty who maintained a long-running skirmish with locally stationed British troops over Liberty Poles from 1766 to 1776. The Stamp Act Congress met in New York City in 1765 in the first organized resistance to British authority across the colonies. After the major defeat of the Continental Army in the Battle of Long Island in late 1776, General George Washington withdrew to Manhattan Island, but with the subsequent defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington the island was effectively left to the British. The city became a haven for loyalist refugees, becoming a British stronghold for the entire war. Consequently, the area also became the focal point for Washington's espionage and intelligence-gathering throughout the war.

New York was greatly damaged twice by fires of suspicious origin, with the Loyalists and Patriots accusing each other of starting the conflagration. The city became the political and military center of operations for the British in North America for the remainder of the war. Continental Army officer Nathan Hale was hanged in Manhattan for espionage. In addition, the British began to hold the majority of captured American prisoners of war aboard prison ships in Wallabout Bay, across the East River in Brooklyn. More Americans lost their lives aboard these ships than died in all the battles of the war. [31] The British occupation lasted until November 25, 1783. George Washington triumphantly returned to the city that day, as the last British forces left the city.

Federal and early America: 1784–1854 Edit

Starting in 1785 the Congress met in the city of New York under the Articles of Confederation. In 1789, New York became the first national capital of the United States under the new United States Constitution. The Constitution also created the current Congress of the United States, and its first sitting was at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The first United States Supreme Court sat there. The United States Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified there. George Washington was inaugurated at Federal Hall. [32] New York remained the capital of the U.S. until 1790, when the role was transferred to Philadelphia.

During the 19th century, the city was transformed by immigration, a visionary development proposal called the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 which expanded the city street grid to encompass all of Manhattan, and the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the Midwestern United States and Canada. By 1835, New York had surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the United States. New York grew as an economic center, first as a result of Alexander Hamilton's policies and practices as the first Secretary of the Treasury. [33] [34]

In 1842, water was piped from a reservoir to supply the city for the first time. [35]

The Great Irish Famine (1845–1850) brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1850 the Irish comprised one quarter of the city's population. [36] Government institutions, including the New York City Police Department and the public schools, were established in the 1840s and 1850s to respond to growing demands of residents. [37]

Tammany and consolidation: 1855–1897 Edit

This period started with the 1855 inauguration of Fernando Wood as the first mayor from Tammany Hall, an Irish immigrant-supported Democratic Party political machine that dominated local politics throughout this period and into the 1930s. [38] Public-minded members of the old merchant aristocracy pressed for a Central Park, which was opened to a design competition in 1857 it became the first landscape park in an American city.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the city was affected by its history of strong commercial ties to the South before the war, half of its exports were related to cotton, including textiles from upstate mills. Together with its growing immigrant population, which was angry about conscription, sympathies among residents were divided for both the Union and Confederacy at the outbreak of war. Tensions related to the war culminated in the Draft Riots of 1863 by ethnic white immigrants, who attacked black neighborhood and abolitionist homes. [39] Many blacks left the city and moved to Brooklyn. After the Civil War, the rate of immigration from Europe grew steeply, and New York became the first stop for millions seeking a new and better life in the United States, a role acknowledged by the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

Early 20th century: 1898–1945 Edit

From 1890 to 1930, the larger cities were the focus of national attention. The skyscrapers and tourist attractions were widely publicized. Suburbs existed, but they were largely bedroom communities for commuters to the central city. San Francisco dominated the West, Atlanta dominated the South, Boston dominated New England Chicago, the nation's railroad hub, dominated the Midwest United States however, New York City dominated the entire nation in terms of communications, trade, finance, popular culture, and high culture. More than a fourth of the 300 largest corporations in 1920 were headquartered in New York. [40]

In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan, and outlying areas. [41] Manhattan and the Bronx were established as two separate boroughs and joined together with three other boroughs created from parts of adjacent counties to form the new municipal government originally called "Greater New York". The Borough of Brooklyn incorporated the independent City of Brooklyn, recently joined to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge the Borough of Queens was created from western Queens County (with the remnant established as Nassau County in 1899) and the Borough of Richmond contained all of Richmond County. Municipal governments contained within the boroughs were abolished, and the county governmental functions were absorbed by the city or each borough. [42] In 1914, the New York State Legislature created Bronx County, making five counties coterminous with the five boroughs.

The Bronx had a steady boom period during 1898–1929, with a population growth by a factor of six from 200,000 in 1900 to 1.3 million in 1930. The Great Depression created a surge of unemployment, especially among the working class, and a slow-down of growth. [43]

On June 15, 1904, over 1,000 people, mostly German immigrant women and children, were killed when the excursion steamship General Slocum caught fire and sank. It is the city's worst maritime disaster. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 146 garment workers. In response, the city made great advancements in the fire department, building codes, and workplace regulations.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication, marking its rising influence with such events as the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909. Interborough Rapid Transit (the first New York City Subway company) began operating in 1904, and the railroads operating out of Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station thrived.

The city was a destination for internal migrants as well as immigrants. Through 1940, New York was a major destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the rural American South. The Harlem Renaissance flourished during the 1920s and the era of Prohibition. New York's ever accelerating changes and rising crime and poverty rates were reduced after World War I disrupted trade routes, the Immigration Restriction Acts limited additional immigration after the war, and the Great Depression reduced the need for new labor. The combination ended the rule of the Gilded Age barons. As the city's demographics temporarily stabilized, labor unionization helped the working class gain new protections and middle-class affluence, the city's government and infrastructure underwent a dramatic overhaul under Fiorello La Guardia, and his controversial parks commissioner, Robert Moses, ended the blight of many tenement areas, expanded new parks, remade streets, and restricted and reorganized zoning controls.

For a while, New York ranked as the most populous city in the world, overtaking London in 1925, which had reigned for a century. [45] During the difficult years of the Great Depression, the reformer Fiorello La Guardia was elected as mayor, and Tammany Hall fell after eighty years of political dominance. [46]

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, some of the world's tallest skyscrapers were built during the 1930s. Art Deco architecture—such as the iconic Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and 30 Rockefeller Plaza— came to define the city's skyline. The construction of the Rockefeller Center occurred in the 1930s and was the largest-ever private development project at the time. Both before and especially after World War II, vast areas of the city were also reshaped by the construction of bridges, parks and parkways coordinated by Robert Moses, the greatest proponent of automobile-centered modernist urbanism in America.

Post–World War II: 1946–1977 Edit

Returning World War II veterans and immigrants from Europe created a postwar economic boom. Demands for new housing were aided by the G.I. Bill for veterans, stimulating the development of huge suburban tracts in eastern Queens and Nassau County. The city was extensively photographed during the post–war years by photographer Todd Webb. [47]

New York emerged from the war as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading the United States ascendancy. In 1951, the United Nations relocated from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, to the East Side of Manhattan. [48] During the late 1960s, the views of real estate developer and city leader Robert Moses began to fall out of favor as the anti-urban renewal views of Jane Jacobs gained popularity. Citizen rebellion stopped a plan to construct an expressway through Lower Manhattan.

After a short war boom, The Bronx declined from 1950 to 1985, going from predominantly moderate-income to mostly lower-income, with high rates of violent crime and poverty. The Bronx has experienced an economic and developmental resurgence starting in the late 1980s that continues into today. [49]

The transition away from the industrial base toward a service economy picked up speed, while the jobs in the large shipbuilding and garment industries declined sharply. The ports converted to container ships, costing many traditional jobs among longshoremen. Many large corporations moved their headquarters to the suburbs or to distant cities. At the same time, there was enormous growth in services, especially finance, education, medicine, tourism, communications and law. New York remained the largest city and largest metropolitan area in the United States, and continued as its largest financial, commercial, information, and cultural center.

Like many major U.S. cities, New York suffered race riots, gang wars and some population decline in the late 1960s. Street activists and minority groups such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords organized rent strikes and garbage offensives, demanding improved city services for poor areas. They also set up free health clinics and other programs, as a guide for organizing and gaining "Power to the People." By the 1970s the city had gained a reputation as a crime-ridden relic of history. In 1975, the city government avoided bankruptcy only through a federal loan and debt restructuring by the Municipal Assistance Corporation, headed by Felix Rohatyn. The city was also forced to accept increased financial scrutiny by an agency of New York State. In 1977, the city was struck by the twin crises of the New York City blackout of 1977 and serial slayings by the Son of Sam.

1978–present Edit

The 1980s began a rebirth of Wall Street, and the city reclaimed its role at the center of the worldwide financial industry. Unemployment and crime remained high, the latter reaching peak levels in some categories around the close of the decade and the beginning of the 1990s. Neighborhood restoration projects funded by the city and state had very good effects for New York, especially Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, and The Bronx. The city later resumed its social and economic recovery, bolstered by the influx of Asians, Latin Americans, and U.S. citizens, and by new crime-fighting techniques on the part of the New York Police Department. In 1989, New York City elected its first African American Mayor, David Dinkins. He came out of the Harlem Clubhouse.

In the late 1990s, the city benefited from the success of the financial sectors, such as Silicon Alley, during the dot com boom, one of the factors in a decade of booming real estate values. New York was also able to attract more business and convert abandoned industrialized neighborhoods into arts or attractive residential neighborhoods examples include the Meatpacking District and Chelsea (in Manhattan) and Williamsburg (in Brooklyn).

New York's population reached an all-time high in the 2000 census according to census estimates since 2000, the city has continued to grow, including rapid growth in the most urbanized borough, Manhattan. During this period, New York City was a site of the September 11 attacks of 2001 2,606 people who were in the towers and in the surrounding area were killed by a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, an event considered highly traumatic for the city but which did not stop the city's rapid regrowth. On November 3, 2014, One World Trade Center opened on the site of the attack. [50] Hurricane Sandy brought a destructive storm surge to New York in the evening of October 29, 2012, flooding numerous streets, tunnels, and subway lines in Lower Manhattan. It flooded low-lying areas of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Electrical power was lost in many parts of the city and its suburbs. [51]

Remembrance, reflection 15 years after Sept. 11 attack

Carmine Albano, 28, who works as a porter at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, polishes the names etched into the bronze panels that surround the North Pool on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. Albano, of Port Chester, was in the eighth grade at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Credit: Steven Sunshine

This story was reported by staff writers Laura Blasey , Robert Brodsky , Matthew Chayes and Chau Lam and written by Blasey .

Cathy Vichaidith came to the World Trade Center memorial on Saturday morning, holding a bunch of long-stemmed white roses, to talk to her close friend Saranya Srinuan.

Srinuan, a bond trader at the Cantor Fitzgerald financial services firm, was 23 when she died on Sept. 11, 2001. Her memory is very much alive for Vichaidith: She named her daughter, now 6, Saranya in honor of the vibrant young woman she considered a cousin.

“I come here, bring some flowers for her, have a little chat,” said Vichaidith, 39, who grew up in Valley Stream, carefully placing the stems in some of the 14 letters of her friend’s name, etched in a bronze panel at the memorial’s North Pool.

More than 2,700 people were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. For many of their relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues, the passage of 15 years has not eased the heartbreak of losing a loved one, with each holiday, life milestone and anniversary presenting another time to look at an empty chair.

496 LIers whose lives were cut short by 9/11

Those affected by the attacks have varied ways of seeking solace: Support groups still meet, remembrance events still draw crowds, and families hold tightly to self-made rituals.

“They say time is a healer, but time just fills the space,” said Eva K. Gujral, 41, whose younger sister — Manika K. Narula, 22, of Kings Park — died on that September day. “I am not sure how much it actually heals you.”

Thomas Demaria, a psychologist at LIU Post who works with families, victims and first responders and others affected by 9/11, said “the fives” — 5-year, 10-year, 15-year benchmarks — seem to uniquely inspire reflection after life-changing events, making this year’s anniversary especially poignant.

“It’s a time of remembering, but also looking back at not only the tragedy that 9/11 has caused, but also what the 15 years has been,” Demaria said. “It kind of clicks that switch, ‘Let me take a look back and see what that meant.’ ”

Carmine Albano, a porter at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, does the somber work of cleaning and polishing the bronze panels that surround the two reflecting pools.

He was overwhelmed by his job at first. There were so many names, so many lives lost.

How did 9/11 change you?

“For the first six months I was here, I really hated it,” he said early Saturday morning.

Albano, 28, now cherishes his duty. Two blue microfiber cloths in hand, he moved from one panel to the next. With a gloved hand, he guided the fabric into the grooves, treating each name with care and dignity.

“I get to give these people honor when they’re gone,” said Albano, of Port Chester, who was an eighth-grader on Sept. 11, 2001.

On Long Island, local residents come to remembrance ceremonies in droves, wearing T-shirts and carrying photos of loved ones. Nearly 200 people attended a reading of names at Nassau County’s annual ceremony at Eisenhower Park at sunset Thursday.

Remembering Sept. 11 On Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, visitors at One World Trade Center and the memorial site talked about how their lives have changed since Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: Patrick McCarthy

New Hyde Park resident Christina Evans, who lost her son, Robert, was there.

The last 15 years sometimes feel like a movie about someone else’s life, she said. Other times, the heartache is too much to bear.

“It depends on where you are at the moment,” Evans said. “When I see images of the towers coming down, I know he is dying.”

Robert Evans, who lived in Franklin Square, was a member of the FDNY’s Engine Company 33 in Manhattan. He was killed leaving the north tower. His mother has been in support groups for victims’ families and finds comfort being around those who understand her pain.

“I think about what he would be doing,” Evans said. “Would he be married? I miss him so much.”

Marilyn Weinberg of North Bellmore teared up as she considered the major events that her son, Steven Weinberg, has missed. Birthdays. His three children graduating high school, then college.

“It feels like it happened just yesterday,” she said. “My emotions have not changed. I miss him as much as I did 15 years ago.”

Weinberg, whose son was an accounting manager at Baseline Financial Services in the south tower, attends remembrance ceremonies every year and meets at a diner every other week with the mothers of others lost on Sept. 11.

9/11: A Decade Later Newsday reached out to the families of every Long Islander who lost a loved one on Sept. 11, 2001. This is a compilation of interviews made during the year leading up to Sept. 10, 2011. (Credit: Newsday Staff)

“I was asked, ‘Why do you do ceremonies like this?’” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said at Thursday evening’s event. “I think, more or less, it becomes a place to reflect and to know that you have support from those that have experienced the same loss.”

For Gujral, coming together with her family can bring some peace to their memories of her sister. The hardest day she faces each year is not Sept. 11. It’s the day before — a reminder of the day when the world “was still OK.”

On Saturday, Gujral, her parents, her husband and their children gathered at the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, a Sikh temple in Hicksville, to mark the end of a three-day prayer ceremony in which all the verses in the holy book were recited nonstop by a team of readers. The recitations began Thursday, with Gujral’s parents in attendance.

“In our religion, it brings the soul peace,” she said. “And it gives us our peace of mind, too.”

Narula worked as a data processor at Cantor Fitzgerald. Mona, as she was known to friends and family, had been employed there for less than a year when the terrorist attack occurred.

“I have two girls. I see her in them every day,” said Gujral, who is pregnant with her fourth child. “My son, his hugs are exactly the same as Mona’s hugs. When he hugs you, he forms that connection with you.”

But among some family members, the grief still can provoke a range of responses.

For Patti Ann Valerio of West Hempstead, the sorrow compels her to speak and read names at as many events as she can in honor of her brother, Matthew James Grzymalski.

Grzymalski, 34, of New Hyde Park, and his girlfriend Kaleen Pezzuti, 28, of Fair Haven, New Jersey, were working together as bond brokers for Cantor Fitzgerald.

Sometimes Valerio’s husband, Joe, a retired FDNY firefighter, attends the events, including the Nassau County remembrance, to support his wife. But most days, Valerio would rather not remember Sept. 11, 2001, at all.

“I was down there at the time of 9/11. It wasn’t a nice day,” Valerio said. “It’s something that’s very difficult to go through every year.”

Valerio, 55, was working in Manhattan that morning and was called to the scene. He arrived at 11 a.m., about a half-hour after the north tower collapsed. He can’t forget the rest of that day or talk much about it either.

He prefers to avoid visiting Ground Zero, a pilgrimage his wife makes each year.

In 15 years, the landscape looks different — the reflecting pools catch the sunlight, the names of the victims are beautifully etched on the panels surrounding the pools. But there’s another landscape in Valerio’s mind, too.

“Sometimes I go down there to the memorial and it’s tough for me,” he said. “I look around and it’s so nice now, but I remember.”

Watch the video: Inside the Twin Towers on 911 MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY (June 2022).


  1. Juha

    She visited the remarkable idea

  2. Zaharia

    Absolutely agree with you. I think it's an excellent idea.

  3. Elliot

    By what good topic

  4. Shakajind

    Interesting site, but you need to add more articles

  5. Kigagami

    Nice post! I drew up a lot of new and interesting things for myself! I'll go give a link to a friend in ICQ :)

  6. Istaqa

    Yes ... I guess ... the simpler the better ... everything ingenious is simple.

Write a message