Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001? As is well known, 911 is the emergency code used by Americans on the telephone to summon for help in extreme situations. But since Sept. 11, 2001, it has also come to mean the day of infamy when the World Trade Center was attacked by two planes that had been transformed into terrorist weapons. Six billion people all over the world were able to witness it in real time or shortly thereafter.
In Manila on that day, I had just arrived from an arduous drive from work when I was summoned by a hyperexcited friend on the phone to turn on the TV immediately. I had a glimpse of one of the iconic towers aflame in what I thought was an accident. But when I saw the second plane crash into the second tower, I knew that that was no accident.
And I began to worry about family and friends in New York or Pennsylvania, where I later learned that a plane had crashed in what had been intended as an attack on Washington, DC.
Moment of silence
On Sept. 11, in New York City, the event is marked at 9:03 a.m., with a moment of silence and the reading out of the names of the 3,000 victims at the site of the attack, where two limpid pools mark the imprint of the buildings of the now vanished twin towers. This ceremony is echoed in Washington, DC, and other places in the United States.
After much debate and a prolonged passage of time, memorials and new buildings have risen once more in the 16 hectares which had harbored the World Trade Center.
One of them is a 9/11 Memorial Museum, which encloses remnants of the foundation walls of the North Tower and poignant remains of the proud TV tower that once stood on its pinnacle.
Here is the battered fire truck whose heroic members had raced as first responders to a duty they had trained for endlessly. Some of them had already completed the night shift but turned back courageously to help the fellows of the morning shift.
There are now many stories that have been collected of all those whose lives and destinies had been radically changed by one lightning incident. One can hear some of these on the recordings within the Memorial Museum.
My own son had worked in that building in a summer job but had left at the end of August for the beginning of college semester.
People later recounted how tarrying at a task, being late for the subway or calling in absent for the day had made all the difference.
The husband of a close family friend had rung up his wife from his office on the 100th floor of the South Tower to say that he was leaving. But, tragically, that was the last she heard from him.
The irony was that, when the World Trade Center experienced a truck bombing in its basement in 1993, their company (engaged in nuclear energy) decided to relocate to New Jersey, leaving a skeleton force behind. He was among those who chose to stay since he did not think that lightning would ever strike twice and, besides, the view was so grand from his office aerie.
Sixteen years after that life-changing episode, a new World Trade Center has arisen from the ashes with the 9/11 Memorial Museum at its base—commerce and commemoration co-existing in a historical space.
A committee to oversee the rebuilding of this area—the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.—was appointed by New York Governor George Pataki in November 2001, composed of government and business leaders, representatives of the victims, artists and architects, including Maya Lin who created the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, DC.
Originally, the Memory Foundations design by Daniel Libeskind—known for his Holocaust museum in Berlin—was chosen as the master plan for the World Trade Center Site. However, this was not accepted by the developer of the site, Larry Silverstein, and was modified to adjust to commercial needs.
Out of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition, a design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, titled “Reflecting Absence,” was selected in January 2004. These architects are the creators of the reflecting pools which recall the singular event of 9/11. The names of the victims are inscribed on the retaining walls around these pools.
The World Trade Transportation Hub, with an impressive hall designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was opened to the public on March 4, 2016. This was prioritized given that it is as important a transportation center as Grand Central Station.
One World Trade Center—previously known as Freedom Tower—is now the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (the tallest being in Canada by a few feet) and is the sixth tallest in the world.
The One World Observatory offers panoramic views of New York and New Jersey while the elevator ride encapsulates views in the ascent and descent, showing the development of Manhattan from its original pristine natural state to its colonial past and present condition.
A place of mourning has, therefore, been given new meaning and purpose by a people who have shown that they can rise above the challenge of destruction.
When a steel beam was hoisted to the top of the tower in April 2012, making its roof height higher than the Empire State Building, a dedication inscribed by President Barack Obama was placed on it with the words, “We remember, we rebuild, we come back stronger!”