Last week, my friend Jimmie and I visited the September 11th Memorial for the first time. By the way, he only likes to be called "Jim," so naturally I call him "Jimmie" and spell it with an "ie" at the end to really annoy him. His annoyance is my pleasure.
The September 11th Museum will be on the same site, but it's not yet complete. The target date for its opening is September 11, 2012.
Jimmie and I went on a drizzly Monday, so the crowd wasn't overwhelming, but it was robust. Note: In order to enter the grounds, you must have a ticket. They're available on the internet for free (you can click HERE to access the web page), although a monetary donation of your choosing is suggested. Don't be a cheapo.
Security is somewhat tight; guards check your ticket at three or four points along the serpentine route into the Memorial, and then you have to go through a metal detector, just like at an airport. The extremely sensitive metal detector picked up on some small bit of metal in Jimmie's rubber boat shoes. I set off the machine too, even after removing all metal on my person (belt, ring, change, wallet, etc.) The alarm continued to blare each time I passed through, before I realized what was triggering the alarm: Not metal ON me, but metal IN me - the titanium hip that was installed in me ten weeks earlier.
I had been issued a card to prove to security officers that I had a titanium hip, but I didn't think to bring it with me. The guard, however, didn't really care; when I told him that I had a metal hip, he simply shooed me through the line to keep things moving (I hope Al Qaeda doesn't read The LG Report and pick up on this security weak spot.)
The Memorial site is much more imposing and impressive than I had imagined. Here's a picture of one of the two pools:
It's difficult to get a sense of scale from this photo, but each of the two pools (which are in the original footprint of the two World Trade Center buildings) covers about an acre. The waterfalls drop 30 feet down. Names are inscribed, as you can see, along metal barriers ringing the pools. Each name appears on the barrier of the specific World Trade Center tower that each person was believed to be in when they died.
Jimmie and I searched for the names of three specific people.
First we found Mike Cahill.
Mike worked at Marsh (the first plane hit directly into his offices) and when I was a colleague at that firm, he used to help me out regularly when I had questions about fidelity insurance, his specialty. You'd never meet a nicer guy. His memorial service on Long Island was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Jam packed church. Powerful eulogies, including the final one, by his wife, which had everyone sobbing before it ended. It's hard to describe that day adequately.
The second name was Sal Tieri.
Sal was another truly awesome guy who didn't have an enemy in the world. Honestly. His memorial service was held on the edge of the Atlantic at the beach club his family belonged to in Sea Bright, NJ. Another exceedingly sad affair, punctuated by the strains of a bagpiper. He met his wife when they both worked for AIG. Sal was in the home office in New York and Maureen worked in Detroit. They had spoken on the phone for months when Sal asked if she'd send him a photo of herself via interoffice mail. Maureen said no dice, he'd have to fly to Detroit if he wanted to see what she looked like. He did, which took some nerve because Maureen says that Sal hated flying, he always feared that he'd die in a plane crash.
The last name that Jimmie and I found, which was literally in the last ten feet of the entire two acres of names that we searched, was that of Danielle Kousoulis.
I never knew Danielle, but I know a number of people who knew her. I saw Danielle's story on 9-11, after I had made my way back through the chaos of downtown to my home in Gramercy Park. About six friends and colleagues who didn't live in Manhattan were with me. Smoke rising from the WTC site was visible out my living room window. We turned on the TV and happened to see Barbara Walters interviewing Danielle's boyfriend, who was walking downtown from his job in midtown to try to help her. Danielle worked at Cantor Fitzgerald on the top floors of the North Tower of the WTC, above where the first plane hit. I took special note of Danielle's name because I knew that she was Greek, like me. A month later, my college alumni magazine arrived and I learned that Danielle had also graduated from Villanova. Small world, I thought. About ten months after that, a friend at work asked if I'd like to play in a memorial golf tournament to raise money for a scholarship in the name of his family friend who died on 9-11 -- Danielle Kousoulis.
I've played in Danielle's memorial golf tournament almost every year since it started, and it has always been a very heartwarming and uplifting experience.
I know that these three people, and the thousands of others who died on 9-11, didn't technically die in a war, or as soldiers defending our freedom, but, nonetheless, they were patriotic Americans who lost their lives to those who would destroy the American way. I'm going to take some time to remember each of them this Memorial Day weekend, along with the many other Americans who bravely gave their lives fighting for our freedom.