Visiting the 9/11 memorials with those most closely affected

There are three national memorials that honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks. For some, they provide a mechanism of healing, for others, a chance to remember, and still for others, a way to understand the historical significance of that day’s catastrophic events. The NewsHour asked the victims’ families and others what the memorials mean to them.

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    And, finally, some thoughts as we approach, on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    There are national memorials at three sites. In New York City, the World Trade Center Memorial attracts millions of visitors. Two reflecting pools inscribed with the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died in all of the attacks sit in the footprint of the original Twin Towers. There's also a museum and a park.

    The Pentagon Memorial is off the beaten path, located directly behind the building. It has small benches poised above lighted pools to remember the 184 people who died at the Pentagon and on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into it.

    In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the memorial is in a remote field, set upon the crash site of Flight 93.

    We have a collection now of voices, including family members, visitors and writers, who share their thoughts on the meaning of these memorials.


    I think it's a memory that all of us will carry with us all of our lives. I know my parents' generation, they thought of Pearl Harbor. That was kind of a signal moment for them. For my generation, it was this tragic event that happened here on 9/11.


    From the devastation, to how it looks right now, it just — it's a meditation for me. And I'm just in my space of gratitude that I'm here.

    PAUL GOLDBERGER, "Vanity Fair": The most powerful thing of all about the site is the void, the sense that there, where these incredibly tall, strong buildings stood, is just emptiness now.

    But there are also the names. The names are a remembrance. They are a sign that those people who are gone will be remembered permanently. And then there is water, which is a sign of renewal and nature.

    The sound of the waterfall drowning out the sounds of the city is also very, very important, because it helps take you into another place when you're there.


    I'm so proud of the city for not, you know, putting something new, like, right in this spot. Like, I understand that the fact that there needed to be another building. I understand that life goes on. But I am just — I'm so proud that this memorial is not only here, but it's as big.


    In New York, the memorial at Ground Zero had a particular challenge, to allow that entire 16 acres to have been a memorial.

    While it might seem, on the surface, to be a way to honor the dead even more by giving them and their memory all 16 acres, it would have actually have been a terrible mistake, because it would have carved a huge hole in the heart of America's largest city. And restoring the life of the city was an important part of the mission.

  • JIM LAYCHAK, President, Pentagon Memorial Fund:

    I view the memorial as a place that family members can come. Whenever they need to reflect or gain some hope or some renewal, they can come any time.

    My name is Jim Laychak. I'm president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund. And I lost my brother Dave here in the Pentagon on 9/11.

    I think about Dave a lot. So, I don't have to be somewhere to think of him. A song will come on, or I will see my kids or his kids doing something that reminds me of him, or I will have a memory of something when we were growing up that helped me remember him.

    But I think this is more for those who lost friends here and really need it when they need it.

  • MAN:

    Last year, we went to New York and saw the 9/11 memorial for the first time, so we felt that we needed to come here to almost complete the journey to see exactly what happened here.

  • PHILIP KENNICOTT, The Washington Post:

    It was a challenge to make in some ways, because it included both people who were at the Pentagon, including military personnel, and people who were civilians on the plane who died. And so they had to look for a way to memorialize both groups of people.


    I'm actually sitting on my brother Dave's bench.

    And the significance of it for me is that it's on 1961 age line, the year that Dave was born. And you come up to the bench, and you read his name, you will see the Pentagon in the background, which signifies that he was working in the Pentagon.


    The plane that went down at Shanksville had passengers on it who actually resisted. They chose to act. They fought back.

    They breached the cockpit and fought for control of that flight, and in doing so, they saved countless other lives and they perhaps saved the Capitol Building.


    It was one of the very powerful moments of 9/11, because it was perhaps the only moment in that day in which the terrorists weren't writing the narrative.

    And so the passengers on that plane are remembered quite heroically. And yet I think, very much to the credit of the design of Shanksville, it's not a bombastic memorial. It's not about exaggerating the importance of that heroism, as important that it is. It's really about the loss of the people and a sense, truly a sense of healing, more than most of the memorials, because it's in a rural landscape.

    KEN NACKE, Brother of September 11 Victim: This is where my brother is. This is where I choose to remember his last moments on this world and talk to him, tell him, you know, how proud — you know, that he's missed and that he's loved.


    What's happened, I think, is the natural progression, as the event recedes farther into history, there is a tendency to divide those people who were personally connected from the events from the rest of us who remember them now increasingly as historical events.

    You see people who wander through, who look, who are looking at it as an object, as a historical marker. And then you see people who really engage, who touch, who feel, who sit, who contemplate.


    There will be more people who were not around on 9/11, who didn't experience it, who will come there to learn about it, and, we hope, to feel some emotion that is not connected to their own memories, but to what this place brings to them, what it confers, what it inspires inside them.

    The great things speak to those of us who weren't there then and transcend time.


    One postscript to all of this: An American flag that was part of an iconic photo taken on September 11, 2001, and then went missing for years is being returned.

    Three New York firefighters grabbed the flag from a nearby yacht in Lower Manhattan after the attacks. The picture of them raising it at Ground Zero was seen around the world. For reasons that are still unclear, it disappeared from the site within days.

    It has been found in Everett, Washington. A man who said he was a retired Marine turned it over to a local fire station after saying that it was given to him as a gift. Many questions remain, but forensic scientists say that they have confirmed it is indeed the missing flag.

    Online, we continue our remembrance. One woman whose high school is just blocks from Ground Zero explains how she teaches a new generation of students about the attacks.

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