This year American will commemorate the events of September 11, 2001 during a pandemic. This pandemic has altered the normal ceremonies that occur on that day of remembrance. The National 9-11 Pentagon Memorial is closed. The National Park Service plans for the Flight 93 National Memorial ceremony to be reduced from ninety minutes to twenty minutes, with no speaker or musical performances. In early July, the National September 11th Memorial and Museum decided that the families would not be permitted to read the names of the victims and that the Tribute in Lights would be cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns. In response, the 9-11 charity, the Tunnel to Towers foundation, announced they would have a ceremony where families could read the names. The NYC Sergeants Benevolent Association planned to operate their own Tribute in Lights on the evening of September 11th. Further public objection led the New York governor to allow state funding so the Tribute in Light could continue while simultaneously observing efforts to promote health and safety during the pandemic. Jim McCaffery, the brother in law of FDNY Battalion Chief Orio Palmer, one of the heroic firefighters killed in the collapse of the South Tower, may have best summarized the situation about the reduced ceremony with this quote “If they didn’t have it this year it would give them maybe license to never have it again, which I think would be a terrible thing.”
A fact that many may not realize is that the casualty numbers from the events of September 11, 2001 continue to grow. We know nearly 3,000 people were murdered that day because of nineteen Islamists. The body count continues to grow each year from those who have died from illnesses related to the cleanup of the attack site and the toxic cloud generated by the collapse of the Twin Towers that endured for months over the city. The World Trade Center Health Registry estimate 410,000 people faced exposure to pulverized concrete, glass, asbestos, metals, mercury and other dangerous substances. The World Trade Center Health Program tracks and offers medical help to anyone in the area during the attack who may have been affected. Thus far, 75,000 registrants have reported illness, with 17,000 (or 22%) reporting some type of cancer, such as mesothelioma, a cancer caused by breathing in or ingesting asbestos fibers. Statistically, those involved in the 9-11 recovery and cleanup are between 5%-30% more likely than the general U.S. population to develop some form of cancer.
This year 163 more names will be added to the wall of the 9-11 Responders Remembered Park on Long Island. Only the names of those who were paid or volunteer Ground Zero responders who died of a 9-11 related illness are inscribed on this wall. The addition of the new names will raise the total number of names on that wall to over 1700. It is estimated that more than one fifth of the new names were those who had COVID-19 as a contributing factor in their deaths. The 163 names added to the memorial wall this year would be about one death related to 9-11 every two days. With the projection of over 400,000 people exposed to dangers (including those who attended schools near Ground Zero) that may lead to the development of fatal conditions, such a body count will far surpass the current U.S. death rate from COVID-19. Thus, the final, horrific tally of total deaths from the indirect results of the 9-11 attacks may not be known until sometime in the 22nd Century!
We must NEVER FORGET what happened on September 11, 2001. There are still people today, at the very hour you are reading this statement, who are suffering physically and emotionally, directly or indirectly because of the attacks. The survivors, first responders and families of the victims live with the scars of September 11th each day, and some die every few days because of what happened nineteen years ago this month. Americans are still learning how to adapt to life during a pandemic. Despite this new reality, let us not fail to remember the attacks, those that died that day as well as those that are suffering and slowly dying from illnesses related to that attack. We need to remember and honor them all.
William E. Plants
URG Chaplaincy Coordinator