We are the Ultimate Guide to Meaningful and Healthy Travel with Hands-On Travel Advice!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Meaningful Perspective: It's More Than Just The 9/11 Memorial and Museum; It's a Story of Individuals and Collective Memories

“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the hard may be; for without victory there is no survival.” 

-- Winston Churchill

We were honored and grateful to take a tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with the Detective Lieutenant Commander of the Port Authority Police/FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force of New York and New Jersey, John Ryan.  He was the Commander for Recovery Operation Task Force in the New York, NY at the World Trade Center following 9/11.  This was one of the most moving tours we have ever received due to the touching stories and personal accounts provided by the commander.  This was our second visit to the site and nothing compares to experiencing it with his insight.


Let us take you through some of the exhibits we saw and give you some personal stories.  As we have said many times, we are fortunate in our quest to make meaningful travel happen, to have met some incredible individuals and John Ryan is one of them.  In this article we will discuss the following and these themes will recur throughout:

  •  Why do we need a memorial dedicated to 9/11?
  •  The story behind the design and building of the 9/11 Memorial which is what you will see outside
  •  Then we will take you inside the 9/11 Museum and describe 11 artifacts that will reflect the physical destruction, human turmoil and ultimate victory. 

What comes to mind when YOU think of 9/11?

Is it the doomed image of an airplane crashing into a skyscraper? The remnants of two of the tallest buildings on earth mushrooming through lower Manhattan? Or the suggestions of conspiracy theories? Do you remember how the nation came together following that day? That the thousands of victims were from 91 countries? Whatever you may think, it is undeniable that 9/11 touched every one of our lives in its own way and it is hard to imagine, at times, how personal it was and continues to be for so many. Spending time at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum will give you the history and memories of that fateful day. Generally it is recommended that you spend 2 hours touring the museum but we recommend devoting half a day.

Why Do We NEED a 9/11 Memorial and Museum? 

After the attacks on the World Trade Center, spontaneous memorial activities erupted throughout the United States. People gathered throughout the day and night, held candlelight vigils and marked the areas with flowers, candles, posters, chalk drawings, and flags.  Numerous participants discussed the sense of community that existed among the diverse individuals and most of us remember that.  The epic sense of community continued beyond that day and many continue to relive the tragedy.  We owe them a debt of gratitude and we can only start to understand when we spend time at the site in lower Manhattan.
Collective memories...This is what was needed by the population after the horrifying days of 9/11 and the years of war that followed.  But who could design such as memorial?  Architect Michael Arad imagined, two giant empty concrete vessels, each roughly the size and shape of the footprint of the towers themselves.  Two square voids with water cascading into these voids and yet never filling them.  When you visit the memorial, you will see that this idea was perfect and we believe it is important to keep this design in mind when you visit the 9/11 memorial. 

The 9/11 Memorial

The design was called "Reflecting Absence"...Two big holes in the ground marking the spot where the twin towers once stood.  Waterfalls cascading over black stone into deep reflecting pools, with somber rings of trees surrounding each tower's void, yet reaching toward the sky.  What was meant to be conveyed was how large these towers were and you must experience the scale in person, standing next to the two large footprints.  At the same time you are reminded of the loss by viewing the reflecting pools which are at the bottom of each gaping void surrounded with the 1000's of names of those people who died written in brass inlaid into the black stone.  Sometimes we think of them as just names, but 3 years of work went into not only obtaining the names, but understanding the relationships BETWEEN the names.  These were people and like us, they had those they were close with.  Was it their fellow firefighter?  Was it the office mate?  Was it a godparent?  Painstaking planning went into arranging the names so they would be closest in death as they may have been in life.  One difficult relationship to arrange was that individuals on the two separate planes were best friends. How do you arrange them close together, but the architects did...

Ruth Clifford McCourt and Paige Farley Hackel were best friends for more than a decade. On September 11, 2001, Hackel, 46, left first, on American Airlines Flight 11. Ruth McCourt, 45, and her daughter Juliana, 4, boarded United Airlines Flight 175. In New York, McCourt’s brother, Ronald Clifford, had arrived at the World Trade Center from his home in New Jersey. He was 15 minutes early for a business meeting. As he paced the lobby, he felt the building shake.  It was Paige Hackel’s flight crashing into the north tower. Clifford spotted a woman whose skin had been singed. He led her out of the building and helped her find medical treatment. Then he looked up and saw the plane carrying his sister and niece crash into the south tower. Ronald Clifford survived, but his niece and sister did not. These personal stories are what make this memorial more meaningful to us and our resilience stronger.

On February 26, 1993, a group of terrorists detonated explosives in an abandoned van in the public parking garage beneath the North Tower of the World Trade Center. This brutal attack killed six innocent people. In following the motto "Always Remembered, Never Forgotten," their names are forever inscribed in bronze on the 9/11 Memorial on panel N-73, among the thousands of names of those killed on 9/11. They remind us that these events are inextricably related (Although Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had ties to the bombing, the connections would not become clear until 1996).

The concept is beautiful but what we learned on our day with John Ryan is that the Port Authority was in charge of making it real, since the day the towers fell.  Almost as soon as the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, thousands of firefighters, police officers, construction workers, search-and-rescue dogs and volunteers headed to Ground Zero to look for survivors. To be safe, they didn’t use any heavy equipment at first. Some dug with their bare hands, while others formed bucket brigades to move small amounts of Ground Zero as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, there were not many survivors to find: Two firemen were pulled from their truck in a cavity beneath some wreckage, and a few people were pinned at the edges of the pile. By September 12, workers had rescued all of the people who were trapped at the site. After that, the Ground Zero workers had a new and more heartbreaking mission: to sift carefully through the building components in search of human remains. 

The fallen buildings were unstable, and engineers worried that the weight of trucks and cranes would cause the wreckage to shift and collapse again, so the workers had to keep using the bucket brigades. Meanwhile, huge fires continued to burn at the center of the pile. Jagged, sharp pieces of iron and steel were everywhere. The work was so dangerous that many firefighters and police officers wrote their names and phone numbers on their forearms in case they fell into the hole or were crushed.  Miraculously, there were no major onsite injuries.  By May 2002, when the cleanup officially ended, workers had moved more than 108,000 truckloads–1.8 million tons–of building components to a Staten Island landfill. The goal was to open the 8-acre outdoor memorial on the 10th anniversary of that tragic day which was successful and costly.  We were able to visit the 9/11 Memorial early in 2012. The National September 11 Museum opened in May 2014 and we have been privileged to visit twice.  Once with former NYPD Commissioner, Bernie Kerik and then with John Ryan of the NY/NJ Port Authority. Each had a different perspective.

9/11 Museum

We hope to give you some personal insight into some of the highlights of the museum FOR US...the personal touches that make meaningful days of travel happen.  At this location there are so many, it was hard to include everything for times' sake but we hope you will understand why we chose these 11 items.

1. Tridents

The Tridents are two 80-foot tall, 52-ton steel columns that once formed part of the exterior facade of the North Tower are the first artifact visitors see.  International Flags are located in the atrium terrace level of the museum. Some of these flags are part of a collection of more than 180 United Nations member states that once hung from the mezzanine level of the original Twin Tower lobbies at the World Trade Center.  The tridents were especially significant to us since we were touring with active and retired U.S. Navy SEALs. The Naval Special Warfare insignia, also known as the "SEAL Trident", is worn by those who have completed the specialized training to become U.S. Navy SEALs.  During the recovery efforts at World Trade Center site, several tridents pieces were salvaged and subsequently saved by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after being cut down to size to remove via flatbed truck and/or barge. We learned that the tridents were stored in a hangar at JFK Airport until they could be moved back in 2010 and the museum was built around them.  Seeing these in person impresses you just how colossal and solid the twin towers were. These two Tridents maintain their original shape and we included them here because when you see the other Tridents located in the museum, you can understand what the impact of planes colliding into a skyscraper did to these colossi.  They are mangled and each has a special meaning...

2. Section of Steel Facade at Point of Impact, North Tower

The first place you will encounter the sheer magnitude of what occurred is when you see the steel girders from above the Point of Impact Floors 97-99 in the center passage as you descend into the museum.  It is hard to compare these to the intact Tridents that we saw above where we entered the museum but these once were identical girders.  At first you only see the top of these which do not even seem to be the same as the tridents, but when you look down at the bottom of the girders, the distortion is unbelievable.  Remember these were 52 tons each!

3.  The "Angel" 

A closeup of the visage dubbed 'The Angel of 9/11.' (Mary Altaffer/AP)

The contorted metal at the top shows where the underbelly of the plane tore into the tower and the placard on display describes the girder.  The placard misses some important stories about the girder that you will overlook if you haven't read our post!

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ  This twisted and corroded steel girder recovered from Ground Zero is felt by many to bear the visage of an anguished woman who construction workers dubbed the "Angel of 9/11." Experts believe the beams come from the point where American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston collided with the North Tower. Near the top of the distorted metal construction workers say they occasionally see the distinct visage of a person. Her eyes, nose and face are unmistakable.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ What is even more interesting is a photograph used to describe the twisted trident from below the point of impact.  In the photo is a woman standing next to a steel beam looking out from the gaping hole.  This woman is widely believed to be Edna Cintron, an employee for Marsh and McLennan, located on floors 93–100 of WTC1(North Tower) and is thought to have jumped from the building.  This was an especially moving moment for us while imagining the despair and fear she must have experienced.

Placard Showing Location of the Angel Girder Below Fight 11 Impact

Magnification of Image Capturing Woman Standing at Impact Site on Placard 

4. North Tower Antenna

John Ryan told us some touching information about the antenna.  There was an infamous photograph from 1978 called "Moon Over Manhattan" of an ironworker mooning the photographer when installing the very antenna section remains we were viewing.  That same iron worker was able to visit the salvaged antenna piece in the JFK hanger before his demise in 2011. 

Notes on New York has the details about the mooning man that best summarizes the story:
In 1979, photographer Peter B. Kaplan spent 12 days shooting the crew as they installed a new piece of the communications antenna to the top of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. The antenna was added to the North Tower in 1978 and extended some 360 feet into the sky. So when he captured these guys hoisting the antenna into place, they were all about 1,728 feet off the ground. As for the identity of the daredevil butt-baring worker, Matthew Newton discovered it was one Richard Riley, a 49-year member of Ironworkers Union Local 40, who died in 2011. Here's what one reader wrote about him: That guy mooning Manhattan was a friend of mine that I met in Miami through other great friends. His name was Dickie Riley, one of the funniest and greatest I have ever met. He worked on The World Trade Center during its construction as a Union Steel Worker, and he was also involved in the demolition work many years later after the 9-11 attacks. Unfortunately Dickie passed away about four years ago, suffering from illnesses related to working in such toxic conditions at ground zero. He was a hell of a guy, one who I will miss dearly.

“Moon Over Manhattan” by Peter B. Kaplan

5. The Last Column

According to its construction identification stamp, this is core column 1001B, one of the 47 column that made up the interior spine of the South Tower.  Because this piece was the final steel remnant of the towers to be removed from Ground Zero, it became known as the "Last Column."  During the recovery, this 36-foot-tall column was inaccessible because of a road built above it to move remains and building components away from the site for months. Near the end of cleanup, workers began to dismantle the service road, revealing parts of the column.  The 36-foot tall beam had been covered by the wreckage, but as the ground zero components were removed, it became evident that the column remained vertical despite the tower collapsing on it, so construction workers topped it with a flag, spray-painted messages on it and it became a symbol of hope at "Ground Zero." After the remains of some missing members of FDNY Squad 41 had been found nearby, a squad member painted "SQ 41" to mark the recovery.  You can still see that marking in the center of the column. However after it was designated by workers to be the last column to be removed from Ground Zero, it became a spontaneous memorial and recovery workers, first responders, family members of victims and other signed their names, inscribed messages, taped photographs to the column and painted numbers of civilian and response team losses. "PAPD 37," at the very top, refers to the number of Port Authority cops massacred.

The column was cut down and removed from the site in two ceremonies that marked the completion of the recovery period at Ground Zero months ahead of schedule due to the tireless efforts of recovery workers. On the evening of May 28, 2002, trade union members cut the Last Column from its footing in a private ceremony held by and for recovery and relief workers. Workers then laid the column, shrouded in black and draped with an American flag, onto a flatbed truck. Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."

On May 30, 2002, the Last Column was removed from the World Trade Center site on the flatbed truck in an emotional, public, televised ceremony. Thousands of people attended including family and friends of victims, members of the armed forces, dignitaries, and rescue, recovery, and relief workers. As it left, it was draped with an American flag-as were all of the bodies found at the site-almost as if it was a memorial to those victims whose remains were never discovered. An honor guard escorted the column from the site. Police and Fire Department buglers played "Taps," while bagpipers and drummers performed "America, the Beautiful."

The ramp that was used for the removal of the last column and the precession of workers was the same ramp that had been used for months to remove victims' remains from Ground Zero, always draped with an American Flag and ceremony from the recovery workers. It was only fitting that the Last Column that remained upright despite the South Tower collapsing upon it receive the same honor. The ceremony was important to the recovery workers and that fact was not lost upon the organizers of the ceremony.  It was controversial at the time who should attend the ceremony, at one point it was suggested that only city dignitaries attend, but it was eventually realized the importance and symbolism of the event.  From that point on it was how to perform the ceremony.  An interesting story is that organizers were not 100% certain the flatbed truck would be able to ascend the ramp at a slow pace up the steep slope during the procession.  With bated breath attendees who knew this watched the successful removal of the Last Column from the pit that we know as Ground Zero.  Watch highlights of the ceremony here.

Organizers took extra precautions to preserve the photos and notes that emergency workers left in memory of their lost friends and relatives. Preservationists carefully removed the photos of fallen fire fighters and stored them so that they are now back in their correct positions which you will experience at the museum. It is fitting, once you understand the significance of this column that it is placed centrally within the museum for every visitor to experience.

6. The Ground Zero Cross

The shape was oddly identifiable in the blasted wreckage of the World Trade Center, standing upright amid beams bent like fork tines and jagged, pagan-seeming tridents. A grief-exhausted excavator named Frank Silecchia found it on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks. A few days later, he spoke to a Franciscan priest named Father Brian Jordan, who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.
“Father, you want to see God’s House?” he asked. “Look over there.” Father Brian peered through the fields of shredded metal. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Silecchia replied, “Just keep looking, Father, and see what you see.” “Oh my God,” Father Brian said. “I see it.”

The Ground Zero Cross occupied a central place at Ground Zero. Shortly after its discovery, Father Brian persuaded city officials to allow a crew of volunteer union laborers to lift it out of the wreckage by crane and mount it on a concrete pedestal. They placed it in a quiet part of the site, on Church Street and each week, Father Brian held services there. He became the chaplain of the hard hats. Whenever crews working to find the dead needed a blessing or a prayer or absolution, Father Brian would offer it. Sometimes victims’ families came to pray. The congregations grew from 25 or 35 to 200 and 300.  Father Brian said: “We had Jews, Muslims, Buddhists. People who believed or didn’t believe. It was a matter of human solidarity. Whether you believed was irrelevant. We needed some type of fellowship down there, other than working.”

The Cross as Most Remember from Ground Zero
The cross, probably due to the controversy it had for some (the nonprofit group American Atheists sued to remove it, calling it an unlawful and “repugnant” attempt to promote religion on public land) but meaningful for others, is displayed amongst many other artifacts in the September 11, 2001 Historical Exhibition.

The Cross Displayed at 9/11 Museum

7. The Victims

The victims of that tragic day are memorialized and remembered all around the museum.  There are a some especially poignant areas.  The first is where you can hear the personal stories about those that perished on that fateful day.  Walk through and pause to hear those stories.  Remember the victims aren't just a statistic, they were someone's spouse, father, mother, son, daughter, bother, sister, friend, coworker, aunt, uncle....This gallery reminds us as you look at the faces of the victims and listen to voices, tell their stories.  Take a moment to search for a name that may mean something to you. 

In the September 11, 2001 Historical Exhibition is another memorable and heart-wrenching exhibit tucked away to hide the distressing emotional content, but with tearful museum visitors crowded around.  These are the 9/11 victims America wants to forget: The 200 jumpers who flung themselves from the Twin Towers who have been 'airbrushed from history'.  We heard stories of those 200 individuals from Commisioner Kerik and John Ryan when we visited which we won't repeat here.  Did they fall or did they jump?  We will never know the reasons. It seems a harsh fate for those agonized mortals who faced the naked terror of that ten-second plunge to certain death.  But the jumpers saved lives even as they were losing theirs. In testimony after testimony, survivors of the South Tower say they only realized they had to ignore the official safety all-clear and get out fast when they saw those terrible shapes tumbling past their windows.

Our group undertook a long discussion with John Ryan about the identification of victims, not realizing that over 40% have yet to be identified. Although the death toll after two hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers was 2,753, but as of 2018 the remains of more than 1,100 people remain unidentified, to the dismay of their grieving families. However, when considering the circumstances, we were surprised that identification of victims was still occurring. We felt gratitude that those involved with the removal of remains and building components were diligent enough to identify remains, and we praised the chief medical examiner who decided in 2001 to preserve human remains in anticipation of future advancements in DNA identification technology, making it possible for scientists years later to identify victims and bring peace to their families.  Only three victims were identified in 2019 including Scott Michael Johnson, who worked on the 89th floor of the South Tower as a securities analyst at Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, was 26 years old when he died.


The repository for the remains of 9/11 victims under the jurisdiction of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York (OCME) is located at bedrock at the World Trade Center site behind the beautiful quote by Virgil. The repository provides a dignified and reverential setting for the unidentified and unclaimed remains of the World Trade Center victims as identifications continue to be made.

Photo Credit: National September 11 Memorial & Museum

The remaining exhibits we wish to share reflect on the tenacity of America with our military and intelligence agencies to obtain justice for the horrendous day that was September 11, 2001.

8. Operation "Neptune's" Spear

Osama bin Laden remained the most wanted on the FBI's Fugitive list for many years. Here is the poster that showed the most wanted face of terrorism.  While it may seem to be the typical "most wanted" poster, this poster has a special story. This was hung at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan to movivate the troops.  After Osama Bin Laden's death on May 2, 2011, Admiral Bill McRaven, Commander of JSOC traveled to the Air Force base and noticed the poster was gone.  It was later presented to him by his colleagues, saying "Sir, I think this is yours."  Admiral McRaven signed the poster which was later donated to the museum.  Just days before we were honored to hear Admiral McCraven's speech at the Navy SEAL Foundation fundraising event in NYC.
Retired SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven speaks at the Navy SEAL Foundation's 2020 NYC Benefit. from Navy SEAL Foundation on Vimeo

9. Brick

A brick from the compound where bin Laden died is located in the very back of the Foundation Hall.  The house in Pakistan was demolished within a year of the Navy SEALs raid, erasing a three-story building that had acquired a painful symbolism for so many.

10.  Camouflage Shirt Worn by Navy SEAL Team 6 Member

The uniform shirt, tan with camouflage sleeves and an American flag patch - facing backward to invoke the historical role of a flag-bearer leading a charge into battle - belonged to a now-retired member of SEAL Team Six, which put an end to the long manhunt for the world’s most wanted terrorist. The garment “connects us in a powerful and immediate way to that operation,” Museum Director Alice Greenwald once said.

11. Operation Neptune Spear Commemorative Coin

A unique exhibit at the museum contains the commemorative challenge coins donated by the CIA operative known to the world as "Maya." It was owned by “Maya,” who formed the basis for the main character in the Oscar-winning 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty.” She spent years searching for bin Laden's hiding place and positively identified the body after his death. President George W. Bush kept a list in his desk of key al-Qada operatives still at large.  When anyone was exposed, arrested or killed, he would make a red "X" mark through the assailants' name.  Osama bin Laden's name was at the top of the list. The red, white and blue coin was made to commemorate the operation's conclusion and bears the date - May 1, 2011, in U.S. time - on one side and a red “X’’ on the other.



  1. Very interesting post.
    I remember the day clear seeing it on the news while I was at college.

    I made the decision a few months later to join the British Army as I thought USA stood by us in WW2
    Now we have to do same.

  2. Thank for sharing the stories to us. I hope I can visit the memorial museum and will revisit this blog post.