It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since that fateful day in September. Planes fell from the sky, our towers collapsed, and the collective hearts of Americans and people in the world cried out in grief for a world that would never be the same. For those who were witness to that devastation, we will always remember.
In Loving Memory of Jonathan Lee Ielpi, September 11, 2001
When I am called to duty,
God, whenever flames may
rage, give me strength to
save some life, whatever be
its age. Help me embrace a
little child before it is too
late, or save an older person
from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and
hear the weakest shout, and
quickly and efficiently to
put the fire out. I want to
fill my calling, and to give
the best in me, to guard
my every neighbor and
protect his property. And if,
according to my fate, I am
to lose my life, please bless
with your protecting hand
my family, friends and wife.
However, for those who were not conscious of what was happening, or simply were not yet born, it is crucial to learn about that day and understand what it meant. Even for those who do remember, it is critical to revisit the day and reevaluate its importance so that we can be reminded of its lessons and pay tribute to those that were lost.
It is in this spirit that Education Update visited the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. The Center was opened in 2006 by the September 11th Families’ Association, a nonprofit group begun by Marian Fontana, the wife of a firefighter who lost his life that day. The initial purpose of the Families’ Association was to disseminate information to the family members of the victims. Later, its mission broadened to helping people everywhere feel empowered rather than angry, sad or frustrated, and to convert grief into something positive. Soon, the center started giving walking tours of the site led by those who had personal connections to the events of 9/11 and stories to share with visitors. Now there are five tours a day and 450 volunteers.
The Tribute Center is comprised of oral histories and person to person stories; its walls are lined with photographs of the dead, most of whom were their 20s and 30s at the time, as well as heart-wrenching notes from parents and spouses asking, “have you seen my son, daughter, husband, wife?”
Education Update was led through the center by its guide, Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter, co-founder of the Tribute Center and member of the Museum Board of Directors. His son, also a firefighter, was killed that day. With a heavy heart, Ielpi offered somber and affecting reflections on what happened, what was lost and what that day meant. It was an emotional experience for all, but one that Ielpi appeared immensely proud to provide.
TEACHERS & STUDENTS REMEMBER
Bring your students to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center! Students build a deeper understanding of the events of September 11th and reflect upon the extraordinary humanitarian efforts that took place around the world. 120 Liberty Street, New York, New York 10006
Resources for Teachers
The Tribute WTC Visitor Center offers a classroom resource kit that teaches the important lessons of 9/11. Eight videos reveal personal stories from people who were directly impacted by September 11th, 2001 and who in response developed projects to make this world a more peaceful, tolerant place. Each story is accompanied by discussion questions, historical context, research links and project. (Reprinted from literature courtesy of Tribute WTC Visitor Center)
Ielpi played sound bites of the radio calls fireman sent to each other as the tragedy was unfolding. Arranged chronologically over the span of the hour, it was heartbreaking to listen to these men while being fully aware that they were about to lose their lives. Their heroism has never been more evident.
Even years later, pieces of the planes have been found scattered across Manhattan rooftops. The fires at the site burned for six months. To this day, the medical examiner’s office has 10,000 remains that cannot be identified by current DNA technology. Ielpi remarks on his good fortune, as he is the only member of the “Band of Dads,” a group of fathers whose children were killed during 9/11, whose child’s body was found intact and removed from the rubble. His son’s fireman’s jacket hangs as an exhibit at the center.
The World Trade Center disaster was the largest rescue attempt in United States history: 15,000 were present, 2,745 died including 343 firefighters and 23 police officers. For Ielpi, remembering 9/11 is about more than simply never forgetting, but about promoting a discussion that can help people who lived through that day understand their emotions. This extends beyond the lives lost on that day. “We don’t talk about 9/11 because we’re afraid of talking about Islam, when really there are many beautiful Islamic people in this world and in our country,” Ielpi said. “The Muslim religion needs to be very vocal, but there is a fear of reprisal from radicals.”
With a hint of frustration in his voice, Ielpi related his experiences in trying to advocate for greater discussion. He spoke of historians he has encountered who backed away from addressing 9/11 because the event was too “fresh” and therefore impossible to discuss impartially. Yet even if one cannot be impartial, ignorance of the event is clearly worse, according to Ielpi.
As we turn the page of the calendar to September 11, 2011, we should recall not only the lives that were lost but the importance of compassion, man helping man, and striving to achieve an understanding of each other’s differences that will eventually pave the way for greater tolerance and peace. #