Never Forget - A 9/11 Tribute

Today we are going to talk about more than just a destination, more than just a “tourist attraction”, more than just a resort or place to visit. The paragraphs to follow are going to recount one of the most somber places in the world and what it has meant to one of our own. The words below are written by our Agency Administrator, Katelyn, and her thoughts about 9/11 and the days and years to follow.

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September 11, 2001.

18 years ago.

2977 lives lost.

On that day I was an 8th Grader who had little to no knowledge of the World Trade Centers, and I certainly had no idea of their impact on the world. I did not know the 1000s of people who worked within the walls of those massive buildings and I was naive to the fact that so much evil existed in our world. But, all of that changed quickly. Much quicker than I could have ever imagined. I remember it like it was yesterday, walking into the band room at my high school after our morning practice and someone telling me “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” I looked at them with a blank stare, confused and truly trying to figure out what that meant. This small town girl had little knowledge about NYC and the buildings there, but the upper classmen were concerned and clearly shaken, so I followed suit, quickly realizing why. I remember walking from classroom to classroom that day in a daze, anticipating what we could possibly see on TV next. Our teachers were glued to the TVs and were trying to explain to us what was going on as the day continued. It was overwhelming for my 8th Grade brain.

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Fast forward a few years to 2006. I graduated high school and was able to visit NYC for the first time. Once again, I was unprepared for the emotions to come. For the last 5 years we had remembered the day and it’s significance, but it wasn’t until my feet stepped off the subway and my eyes caught a glimpse of the magnitude of Ground Zero that I truly felt the weight with every ounce of my being. I remember standing there unable to put my emotions into words. It had been 5 years and there were still massive holes in the ground. It had been five years and there were still excavators moving debris around. It had been five years and the cleanup process was still very much in progress. We see disasters and the clean-up process, but it is usually the beginning and the end result, and the time in between seems to be lost. We don’t see the day in and day out process. Standing there I was just awe-struck that those who lived and worked in that area were watching this process every. single. day. That their grieving process continued with every sound of concrete crashing to the ground and being scooped up and placed in a dumpster. I can’t imagine. My heart aches even now as I write these words. The pictures above are just a few from my very first visit to Ground Zero. It will forever be etched into my mind.

After my trip in 2006, NYC had found a place in my heart that wasn’t going to be disappearing anytime soon. It was going to be a place that I would visit often - I knew it even then. And those feelings have not changed in the 13 years since my first visit.

In 2012 I was blessed with the opportunity to return and deep in my bones there was an anxiousness to get back to Ground Zero to see all of the progress that had taken place since my last visit in 2006. And once again, the emotion that would overtake my, now older, heart took me by surprise. As we walked up and saw the fountains for the first time, I remember being unable to speak. I honestly do not think I have ever experienced something so somber and humbling. The faces of the fountains, complete with each name of those who lost their lives that day. I remember just running my fingers over them and tears filling my eyes, for the naïve 8th Grader all of a sudden was standing and touching the names of so many people who had lost their lives in a senseless act of terror on our country. My heart ached. Yes, this was a “tourist” destination for people visiting NYC, but it was so much more than that. As a girl from the south, I, of course, spoke with people who worked there, etc. and time after time they mentioned that New Yorkers who are native or have been there since before 2001 do not visit. That even getting close to the area is still very difficult for them. Friends, that emotion is real. It is hard. And they have to deal with it so often. I can’t imagine.

The years following 2012 allowed for me to visit a few more times, but the most memorable of them all was the visit in 2018. I had stood in somber silence in front of the fountains several times, but this was the first trip where I was able to actually visit the newly opened museum, and, you guessed it, I was not prepared. Although I knew the emotion that I had felt those times in previous years before, I do knot think I could have ever prepared myself for the emotions that I would feel that day. The reality of this experience was chilling. The museum is underground, and you walk around the fountains, which sit in the footprints of Towers 1 and 2. The artifacts that are on the walls, the pictures of each person that lost their life, the pieces of the Towers that remain. All of it. All of the emotions. As you make your way through you are thrown back in time to the days of watching it all unfold, and when you realize that you are standing in many of the places where so many lost their lives, it will knock the breath out of you. TVs replaying the new stations from that day and the days to follow. Hearing the voicemails that loved ones received as their friends and family knew they wouldn’t be making it home that day. Seeing the effects of the heat on objects within the buildings. Knowing that this is more than just a “place to visit,” it is a place of solemn remembrance. It left an impact on my life.

Some of the most touching things to me that day were there following:

The “Survivor Stairs” – these are the actual stairs that so many people ran down that day trying to reach safety. Can you imagine?

This Firetruck was literally melted because of the heat coming out of the buildings and the rubble. It’s hard for me to fathom that intense amount of heat and pressure, and to even think about running into it like the firefighters from the truck did. True Heroes!

And, the “Survivor Tree.” This tree actually survived that horrible day, was removed from the grounds during clean-up and the returned to the memorial site as a sign of all that survived that day! Such an encouragement!

Last year I also was able to go up in One World Trade – what a beautiful completion that started so many years ago. It stands tall in the NYC skyline and reminds each of us all that can come from such rubble and tragedy.

I could probably write for hours about all that these moments have meant to me, but the most important is that they have taught, and still continue to teach me, that what happened on that day is so much larger than what I am able to understand. And today, on September 11, 2019, I will #NeverForget what that day meant to our country, even if it took me several years to grasp it. I hope that you will take some time to remember those who we lost that day, not only in the Twin Towers, but also in that Pennsylvania field, and at the Pentagon. 2977 lives that day, and countless others in the days, weeks, and months to follow. September 11th is a day that will forever have an impact on this great nation that we call home!


In closing, first of all, thank you for reading along and letting me express my heartfelt emotions about 9/11. And secondly, if you have never had the privilege to experience the grounds of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, please add that to your list of things to see and do. I truly believe that it is a must for all Americans.

May we always remember this day and what it taught us about being Americans and loving our neighbors!

Katelyn Mitchell