By Betty Gordon
© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.
On the crisp winter morning of February 17, 2018, a precisely cut 2-inch stem of a white rose extended from the letter “M” of Simon Marash Dedvukaj’s middle name on the stencil-cut parapet of panel N-64 of the North Memorial Pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Dedvukaj, a native of the Bronx, New York, and of Albanian heritage, would have turned 43 years old on this sunny day when I was visiting New York, had he survived the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan 17 years earlier. (I did not know or have any connection to Mr. Dedvukaj or his family.)
But at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Dedvukaj, a janitorial foreman for ABM Industries, was at work between the 93rd and 95th floors when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, which had taken off from Boston en route to Los Angeles, crashed into the 110-story North Tower between floors 93 and 99.
Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175, also en route from Boston to L.A., flew into the South Tower between floors 77 and 85.
At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77, which had departed from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, also scheduled to land in L.A., hurled into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, United Flight 93, heading from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California, was also under the control of terrorists. As many as 37 calls were made from the Boeing 757, and these frightened travelers were aware that something had happened in New York. After some heroic passengers and crew stormed the cockpit, the plane rammed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Dedvukaj was 26 years old. He was looking forward to celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Elizabeta, in October.
Instead, he was one of 2,753 who died at the World Trade Center. At the Pentagon, 184 died, as did the 40 people in Pennsylvania.
All of their names, representing 93 countries, and those of the six who died in the February 26, 1993 terrorist-linked van explosion in the underground parking garage at the WTC, are similarly honored with a rose on the anniversary of the day of their birth, placed by their name by volunteers at the memorial site, a custom that began in 2013.
The outdoor memorial, which opened on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, occupies eight acres of the original 16-acre site. Situated among a grove of 400 swamp white oak trees are two almost-acre-square reflecting pools, occupying terrain within the original footprints of the North and South towers.
The pools feature 30-foot waterfalls on each side, and are flanked by bronze panels bearing the 2,983 names that will be read aloud Tuesday morning as part of the annual memorial service.
Plaza Architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker and Partners envisioned these eco-friendly features as symbols of hope and renewal.
ABM Industries, with 800 janitorial, engineering and lighting employees performing maintenance on the WTC, lost 17 employees on 9/11. Dedvukaj’s name on the North memorial pool is surrounded by 12 co-workers. The other four names are on the South Tower memorial pool.
The majority of the 110,000-square-foot museum, which opened on May 21, 2014, is seven stories below the memorial, built into the bedrock foundation of the WTC.
Standing in the atrium at the street-level entrance are two 70-foot-tall steel tridents from the east facade of the North Tower.
Visitors follow a descending, 70-foot-long ramp, past the Survivor Stairs — a damaged concrete-and-granite flight that led to life for many fleeing the disaster — to Foundation Hall, in the center of which is what has become known as the “Last Column,” the final support structure removed from Ground Zero at the end of May 2002, when 1.8 tons of debris had been cleared from the site.
The 36-foot-tall column is covered with police and fire department unit numbers and missing persons posters, including snapshots of first responders lost in the chaos.
Be prepared for an emotional wallop while touring the September 11, 2001 historical exhibition mounted in what was the North Tower. A thorough examination of the artifacts and information is likely to take up to three hours or more. (If the experience becomes overwhelming, museum-goers can exit as needed, but once out of the building, re-entry isn’t permitted on the same ticket.)
A comprehensive retelling of that sky-blue, perfect late-summer morning unfolds, explained through photographs, video and audio clips, interactive kiosks and eyewitness accounts, putting into context the before, during, and after of the events.
Thousands of objects, large and small, burn new images into the memory of every soul who already has a vivid picture of where he or she was when the twin towers were struck, became roaring jet fuel-fed infernos and finally collapsed into ash heaps of smoking, lung-damaging wreckage.
Myriad personal effects evoke the further heartbreak of everyday lives lost, illustrated through ordinary items such as dust-covered shoes and clothing, shattered eyeglasses, ragged identification cards and scratched jewelry.
On the industrial end, the scorched FDNY Engine 21 is dreadful evidence of the raging fires, while the 19.8-foot twisted steel fragment of a once 360-foot-tall antenna that had stood atop the North Tower broadcasting TV signals since 1980 attests to the site’s utter destruction.
Other exhibits include “Rebirth at Ground Zero,” an 11-minute film featuring interviews and time-lapse photography about the revival of the site; and “In Memoriam,” showcasing photographs of everyone who died and an opportunity to learn more about each individual.
Aside from the continuous audio clips, the expansive space was respectfully quiet, as if visitors were unconsciously unified in understanding the level of solemnity required.
At 8:40 a.m. Tuesday, the live broadcast of the ceremony from Ground Zero will be streaming on the memorial and museum website.
From 3 p.m. to midnight, the blue Tribute in Light, an art installation beaming four miles skyward and mimicking the shape of the twin towers, will be illuminated as it has been in past years.
The Pentagon and Pennsylvania sites will also mark today’s anniversary.
Simon Marash Dedvukaj’s family set up a foundation in his name, dedicated to helping and empowering children through scholarships, recreational sports and religious activities. See smdf.com.
Quick reference: National September 11 Memorial & Museum: memorial, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; museum, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. To mark the 17th anniversary, the memorial and museum will be closed Tuesday. Only the memorial will reopen at 3 p.m. Free to visit the outdoor memorial. See the website for museum ticket purchase information; some options include separate guided tours of the memorial and museum. Tickets can be purchased online up to six months in advance, and are time- and date-specific. Adult admission for museum only, $24. Tip: Several ticket kiosks are around the left side of the building as you face it, if you haven’t purchased online. Photography is not allowed in some exhibits. 180 Greenwich Street, New York, New York. The website is excellent, for pre- and post-trip information: 911memorial.org