May 30, 2002 dawned, a typically warm New York City day, but this was not a typical day at all. It had been a long, emotionally grueling 8 months and 19 days of cleanup after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The majority of the lost were in the World Trade Center in New York City. Those 8 months and 19 days were filled with every possible emotion there could be…from joy when one was found alive, to grief over the lost, to anger at the attack, to hate for the Muslim attackers, to love for the survivors and the families of the lost. It was something that we all knew that we could never really wrap our heads around, and something that we knew we would never forget. It was a senseless attack that proved only that the attackers were insane and filled with hate for Americans and Christians. It was a time when America came together as one, and donated time, money, letters, and love to each other, because we were all victims of this attack, after all.
On May 29, 2002, the last beam was removed from the site…marking the end of the cleanup effort that had been expected to last a year. There were many disappointments in the cleanup, because there were very few people pulled out alive after that first day, and in fact, the last survivor was pulled out 27 hours after the attack. There would be no more lives saved. People were lined up to donate blood in the hope that someone’s life could be saved, but the sad reality was that very few whole bodies were even pulled from the rubble. Most were bits and pieces, body parts, and even just fragments of bone or teeth. Authorities put the final death toll from the World Trade Center’s destruction at 2,823. Of those 2823 people, only 1,102 victims have been identified, and only 289 intact bodies were recovered.
The ceremony…if it could really be called that, because ceremony usually means a happy event…began in silence. There would be no speeches. Thousands of people stood silently in one place…Ground Zero, and no one spoke…no one spoke!! The ceremony began with the sound of a fire bell ringing for the fallen firefighters at 10:29 am ET, the same time the World Trade Center’s north tower collapsed on September 11, 2001. Thousands of people stood in silence, some with tears streaming from their eyes, as an honor guard made up of police, firefighters, and representatives of other agencies walked slowly up a ramp from the site carrying a stretcher bearing only an American flag. The flag, symbolizing the victims who were killed on September 11, but never found, was placed into a waiting ambulance. It was followed by a flatbed truck carrying the last 50 ton steel column from the site of the Trade Center ruins. The beam was part of the southeast corner of the south tower. It was hoisted onto a flatbed truck and shrouded in black cloth after its removal on May 29, 2002. Ten minutes into the ceremony, a pair of buglers…one from New York’s Police Department, the other from the New York Fire Department…played “Taps,” followed by a flyover of NYPD helicopters. Among the dead following the horrific attack, were 343 New York firefighters and an estimated 70 police officers from various departments, including 37 from New York’s Port Authority and 23 from the New York Police Department. Fewer than half of the firefighters who died were recovered. Five of them were from the Chelsea Firehouse, Engine 3 and Ladder 12. At the fire stations and police stations in New York City, dozens of family and friends watched the tribute on television. Hundreds of workers had labored around the clock since September 11 to recover the bodies of those who died in the attack and to remove the 1.6 million tons of steel and concrete left behind. The debris was moved to a Staten Island landfill, but reminders of the attack remain in the area. “It’s over, but it will never be forgotten,” said FDNY Battalion Commander Richard Picciotto, who was in the north tower when it was hit. He was right. Today marks the 15th anniversary of that ceremony, and we have not forgotten.
On this, the 105 anniversary of the April 10, 1912 sailing of the RMS Titanic, for her maiden and only voyage, my thoughts have been leaning toward the people who were on board, and particularly those who did not survive that fateful trip. The Titanic was the most amazing ship of it’s time, filled with luxuries beyond the imagination…at least in first class. Back then, people were separated into classes based on their social importance. It’s sad to think about that, because every person has value, and many of those in 3rd class, or steerage were considered expendable. Nevertheless, it was not just those in steerage who lost their lives when Titanic went down on April 12th, 1912.
As Titanic set sail on April 10th, here was much excitement. Those who were “lucky” enough to have secured passage, were to be envied. Of course, the rich and famous had no trouble paying for their passage, but the less fortunate had a different situation, and different accommodations. Many of the steerage passengers had spent their last penny to pay for their passage, and still they considered it money well spent, because they were heading to America for a better life. Little did any of the passengers in all three classes know that in just two days, their beautiful ship would be at the bottom of the ocean, along with many of her passengers and crew. It is here that I began to wonder what they were thinking as the ship sank beneath their feet, into the deep dark murky depths. I know most of them were just trying to find a way to get onto one of the life boats…of which there were too few by at least half, but did it also become that moment when they thought about what might have been for them…had they not taken this particular trip, on this particular ship. I think that anytime a person finds themselves faced with death, their thoughts turn to family, friends, and what might have been. Most luxury trips taken are for a few reasons…among them the scenery, a long awaited visit, or just the sheer luxury of this particular type of trip. No one really considers what might happen if things go wrong, or at the very least, we try not to think about it. Still, when the moment of emergency arrives, did the passengers of Titanic think that if only they had waited for Titanic’s next trip, they wouldn’t be here today…in this most horrible of situations, with so many others screaming in fear, because they knew they were about to die…unless a miracle happened for them.
Titanic was carrying 2,222 people (passengers and crew), when she set sail. Of those people only 706 would receive that miracle. For the rest, this would be the end of their life. Of the 706 survivors, 492 were passengers, and 214 were crew members, a fact that I find rather odd. The class distinctions were closer to expected, with 61% of first class passengers surviving, 42% of second class passengers surviving, and 24% of third class passengers surviving. That is a sad reality of a time when class was everything. I’m sure that all of these people felt that their lives were a tremendous gift, and I’m sure too that their lives changed in a big way. Still, I wonder about the final thoughts of the 1516 people who died that day. I’m sure they wished they had not taken the trip, and I’m sure that they regretted the fact that their family would be sad. It really doesn’t matter what they were thinking, I guess, because it was too late to change what was…for most of them anyway. For the holder of Ticket number 242154, it appears that it was not to late. The holder of that ticket is unknown, but they were given a full refund for their ticket, and it appears that they did not sail on Titanic. Perhaps, they had their ear to the Lord’s Word, and were told not to sail. Not knowing who this person was, we will never know for sure.