9-11 memories still painfully fresh after visit to site of NYC’s Twin Towers

Tue, 09/11/2007 - 3:17pm
By: Letters to the ...

In the six years that have elapsed since the Twin Towers fell, I have learned of at least four people who lost their lives that day whom I either knew or had some connection with. One of them was an extended family member who was a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department.

I visited NYC several times, but only once did I return to the site. It was with the uncle I mentioned in my original letter, “It just got personal,” published Sept. 19, 2001, in The Citizen.

He was an inspector working for the Port Authority (the multi-state agency responsible for the Twin Towers, as well as the airports, shipping and other transit systems in the Metropolitan New York-New Jersey area) not a construction foreman, as mentioned in my original letter. My apologies for the misstatement. It was also my uncle’s first and only trip back to the site since the towers came down.

As we walked around the chain link fence that now surrounds the site, he recounted stories of the buildings’ construction. How the pilings were drilled and foundations set 60 feet below grade, and 40 feet below the water level of the adjacent Hudson River and how the reinforcing rods were drilled and anchored into the bedrock and fastened to the buildings’ foundation.

There was a funny story about the day that he dropped his wallet while riding up the construction elevator, and with the help of one of the construction crews, an empty paint bucket and a length of rope, was able to scoop it out of the pit.

It was his lucky day, as it was payday and the prospect of going home and explaining to my aunt that he had lost his wallet and that week’s pay was not one that he was looking forward to.

It wasn’t until we were most of the way around the site that I noticed that a small crowd had started to follow us, listening to his stories. It was a little piece of history being shared by those within earshot.

Needless to say, the visit to the site was an emotional and disturbing one for both of us. Unless you’ve been there and seen the damage to the buildings that were facing the Towers, and the void that was left where these enormous edifices once stood, you can not have any feel for the enormity of what transpired.

Damage in the form of streaks scar the face of the Burger King building on the corner of Liberty and Trinity streets where falling debris struck and in some places, embedded in the facade.

The gaping hole in the telephone building at Battery Park Plaza and Vessey Street, where the enormous skeletal iron structure of the building was exposed and deformed give only a small hint as to the enormous amount of energy and destruction that was unleashed that day.

Engineers have said that no other buildings existing at that time could have withstood the impact of those airliners. The fact that one tower stood for an hour, the other over an hour and a half before collapsing, is another testament to the engineering and construction practices that were brought to bear on the project.

The official toll that day was set at 2,749. Estimates were that there were up to 50,000 people in the Towers daily. The survival of the remaining 46-000-plus is a direct result of those engineering and construction practices. That in no way diminishes the sacrifice of those 2,749 innocent lives.

There was a cry sounded 60 years ago, after a much more heinous period in our history, but it applies as much today as it did then.

“Never again.”

Bernie Ortmann

Peachtree City, Ga.

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