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9/11 Memorial: Remembrance of things past and Irish Americans lost

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Officer Liam Callahan
Donald and Marcee Robertson do it by placing a candle and an illuminated shamrock in the window of their New Jersey home.  It is a particularly Irish way of remembering their son, Donald Robertson, Jr., who was 35 and an employee at Cantor Fitzgerald when the planes hit and the world changed 10 years ago.

“I put a candle in the window and it’s been there ever since,” Marcee told the Star-Ledger newspaper.  “When I put it on at nighttime I say, ‘I love you
Donnie.’  And in the morning I turn it off.”

Somehow, a decade has now come and gone.  The world has changed vastly.
Three thousand were murdered that day and you have to count the thousands more lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and other hotspots around the globe since.

And so for us, the living, we are left to remember, to reflect.  But how?
Solemnly?  Angrily?  How?

We know all eyes will be on the World Trade Center site, what used to be called “the pile,” and then Ground Zero, but where, now, a Freedom Tower rises 1,000 feet into the sky.

Also at the Trade Center site is the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  Perhaps more than any other place, this museum will represent the collective memory of New York City.

The memorial opens to the public September 12. The museum is slated to open next year. But we have been given a glimpse into the museum’s collection and it nobly preserves the memory of the Irish Americans -- of everyone -- who survived that day.

The museum’s displays include the dust-covered flashlight that once belonged to Port Authority Police Department officer James Lynch.

A 22-year veteran, Lynch was on medical leave that day, but nevertheless raced from his Woodbridge, New Jersey home to downtown Manhattan.

He ran into the burning South Tower. His body was recovered on December 7, 2001.
He was still carrying his flashlight, with his badge number, 775, still clearly etched on its barrel. Lynch’s family donated the flashlight as well as his bunker jacket and first aid kit to the museum.

Also at the museum is the Pipe Band hat belonging to Port Authority officer Liam Callahan.

Callahan, who had four children with his wife Joan, had already been recognized for his "heroic actions" while responding to the 1993 Trade Center attack.

There are also oral histories from Irish Americans. There is Brooklyn native and firefighter Adrienne Walsh, one of just 30 or so female firefighters in New York.  Walsh was off-duty that day, driving on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
As every other firefighter in the city did, Walsh raced downtown.

“I looked up and there was just this explosion of confetti in the air,” she recalls.

While riding on the outside of the rig, they approached the towers. “When you got to City Hall, it’s almost as if there was a curtain. The sky disappeared.”

Walsh speaks of “six inches of dust on the ground.”

When the first tower collapsed, she was still on the street and feared the worst.
She thought, "If I beat the cloud, I’ll beat the building.  And I said to myself as I started to run, ‘I’m not gonna beat this cloud.  It’s just moving too fast." When Walsh realized she was safe her mind inevitably turned to others.

“I remember drawing a line in the middle of my brain and putting those who I thought were dead on one side and those who I thought had a chance on the other,” she said.

Another Irish American, Tom Canavan, was working as a securities specialist on the 47th floor of the North Tower.

“Our offices face south when I looked out the window. I could see pieces of metal, pieces of glass, falling outside the window,” he said.

The roof of the nearby Marriot hotel was also on fire, as were many cars on the street. Smoke was already coming through the office doors.  Canavan and others made their way to the stairs.

Then, “there was a huge rush of air straight down...and the sound of - I’d like to say a locomotive.  But it was a thousand times louder than that.”

Canavan, too, believed he’d died.  The cuffs of his pants were on fire.  He told himself the bodies around him were mannequins, because there were department stores in the tower.

“I knew they weren’t,” said Canavan. Canavan, in the end, made it down what came to be known as the “Survivors’
Stairs.”

In the end, the memorial and the museum mean nothing unless we as New Yorkers remain vigilant in honoring the legacies of those lost that day.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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