A Firefighter Family Visits the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York

9/11 memorial

The skyline near the 9/11 Memorial Museum

By James Weldon and Marcia Narine Weldon

The Firefighter Perspective

When you visit the 9/11 Memorial, you will see actual pictures that family members posted of their missing or fallen loved ones.

It took a while for me to write this post. Our visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in NY in 2017 humbled me. As an American, I emotionally relived 9/11– a day I, and most people, will never forget. As a firefighter who knows the dangers of my job,  the visit devastated me. As we walked around the 9/11 Memorial Museum, I could see how emotional Marcia became and I maintained my stone face. I had to show her how strong I was.

Outside the 9/11 Memorial Museum, you see names of the fallen from both 9/11/2001 and 2/23/1993 etched in bronze near the reflecting pools. Staffers and volunteers put flowers next to the names of those who have a birthday.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum honors the 2,977 people killed of September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.

Because of what I do and what I have experienced after years on the job, somehow it didn’t bother me looking at the crushed helmets, the mangled fire trucks, and the destroyed ambulances. I did not cry looking at all of our heroes who lost their lives and listening to the recordings of family members speaking of fond memories. Marcia, on the other hand, was much more emotional.

Suddenly I heard the radio transmission of all of the units being banged out for this call. What do I hear next? The dispatcher called out Station 10 and in an instant, I stopped in my tracks!!!! Station 10 is home for me with Miami Dade Fire Rescue. That’s the moment I realized this could be my crew and my station on any given day. Of course, I had to google Firehouse 10 and 9/11. What I discovered was gut-wrenching. No firehouse was hit harder than Station 10. The fifteen firefighters from Firehouse 10 were among the very first responders to get to the World Trade Center, and none of them made it back. That firehouse was the only one to have an entire shift killed that day. This was the moment I had to step outside for some fresh air.

One of two reflecting pools outside the 9/11 Memorial Museum. They are each are each nearly an acre in size and have the largest manmade waterfalls in North America.

Once outside, Marcia questioned me to see what and how I was feeling. I walked away from the Memorial with mixed emotions. Thinking of how lives were changed in an instant was brutal. Families, friends, and coworkers are still looking for closure. How would Marcia handle this type of tragedy? That’s why it’s so important to say I love you and to show it because you may not have another chance. Then somehow a sense of pride took over……. Do you realize the moment 9/11 happened, no one cared about your color, race, sexual orientation, income level or even your credit score? 9/11 was the day we all came together as one family and one love. Let’s figure out a way to get back to where we were.

Marcia’s Perspective As the Wife of a Firefighter

I had always pledged that I would never marry a firefighter or police officer. James’ love of travel, caring spirit, and desire to help people changed all of that. I’m so proud of what he and other first responders do every day, but the fear always lingers in my mind (although it’s getting much better). I remember one day walking into a conference room full of people ready to give a speech and receiving a call from James telling me that he was running into a high rise that had exploded and he wanted to speak to me in case he didn’t make it out. As we walked into the 9/11 Memorial Museum, I wondered how many wives and family members received a call from first responders rushing to the World Trade Center in 2001.

James and I did not use the tour guide or audio, preferring to go at our own pace through the narrations and interactive exhibits. We could have spent a full day in the 100,000 square feet exhibit, but after a couple of hours, we had to leave. For different reasons, we could no longer stay. Although James didn’t seem bothered by the crushed helmets or the mangled ambulances, I looked at them imagining him or his coworkers in those fire trucks or breathing in those carcinogens. I kept looking at him to see his reaction. He remained stoic and I tried to do so as well. I know that it bothers him when I worry. I tried to hold strong, but as a wife, mother, and empath, seeing all of the death and destruction ripped me apart inside. I cannot imagine how the family members of the 9/11 first responders reacted when they visited the Memorial for the first time.

Looking at the destroyed equipment nearly destroyed me.

Inside the 9/11 Memorial

Although it’s a heavy experience, you should go and you should take your children. In the Historical wing of the Memorial Museum, you can learn about the “Events of the Day,” “Before 9/11,” and “After 9/11” through narrations from actual participants. It will take you back to where you were when you heard the news. It traces the histories of the terrorists and the development of the 9/11 plot. The 9/11 Memorial Museum educates you without inflaming ethnic or racial hatred. Both James and I marveled at the meticulous detail and planning that went into making this an unforgettable experience.

Footage of people’s reactions at the scene.

Furthermore, although the 9/11 Memorial Museum focuses on 2001, the exhibit does not ignore the 1993 World Trade Center attack. In 1993, I worked in New Jersey but took the PATH train through the World Trade Center every day. On February 26, 1993, I was a world away in Trinidad, enjoying the annual Carnival celebration. Later, I worked in New York for years right across the street from the World Trade Center. I will never forget seeing the devastation on September 11, 2001, unfold on television. I panicked thinking of friends and family members who worked or passed through there every day. I was lucky. Three thousand people and their family members were not.

After the visit, James asked me what affected me the most. During my visit, I sat transfixed in a room listening to the actual recordings of family members discussing their lost loved ones. I got chills listening to those who called their families from the planes and the towers, knowing that they would soon perish. I’m not normally an emotional person, but that exhibit shook me. I didn’t bring tissues but I wished I had. One day, I plan to go back to see what I skipped. I want to honor all of those families by listening to every single tribute.

If you visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum

If you have the opportunity to see the 9/11 Memorial Museum, we should not miss it. To visit the National 9/11 Memorial Museum, it’s best to buy a ticket in advance to avoid the long lines and take public transportation. Enter the 9/11 Memorial at the intersection of Liberty Street and Greenwich Street, at the intersection of Liberty Street and West Street, or the at the intersection of West Street and Fulton Street. Download the app as well. Adults pay $24 per ticket without the tour and $39 with the tour. Active and retired military have free entry with valid ID.

Also published on Medium.

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  1. I would like to visit the 9/11 memorial next year. It’s pretty historic place and I’m quite interested on it. I remember seeing it on TV as a young boy when it happened. So sad.

  2. This is one of the saddest moment I witness. Though I was in the Philippines during that, and having breakfast when this was flashed in our newscreen, it gives me a scary goosebumps. Until now it still gives me that little scare. I guess my subconciousness will only be released to this sadness when I visit this memorial.

  3. Beautifully penned story. I salute all the firefighters and emergency squad who rush into darkest dens to rescue people, putting their own lives at risk. Reading this was in itself an emotional journey for me. I also respect the fact that the memorial honors everyone who lost their lives in the brutal attack.

  4. This is such a beautiful post. I loved how you shared the story through perspectives, both Marcia’s and yours. I have been to the memorial and it was really a very humbling experience. Your article brought back my memories.

  5. What a wonderful article about a place that has become a national treasure! Every time I hear or see the 9/11 sign i have goosebumps… I really enjoyed this article and would definitely want to check this place out when I visit NYC.

  6. I remember that day so well. I teared up just reading both of your perspectives of this site. I’m glad that the memorial honors those who lost their lives and serves as a constant reminder of that day. Thank you both for your sacrifices both on the job as a family of a firefighter.

  7. What a beautifully and heartfelt written post and loved that you did this in 2 perspectives. When you mentioned that was the only firehouse to have had all its firefighters killed in 1 shift, I was heartbroken. When I was in NYC, the 9/11 memorial was being constructed so I will have to go back again one day to see it. We all talk about where we were on that dreaded day. I live in Australia and those images and footage I watched on TV for the next week will forever be etched in my memory. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  8. I love how you’ve divided this into 2 perspectives, both yours and Marcia’s. Really interesting way to post about the memorial. I did visit it back in 2015 when I went to New York in January, but as the city had just been hit by blizzard Juno, there was no one around and everything was shut up. Though I think that made the whole memorial a lot more poignant, if you know what I mean? X

  9. Such a wonderful post about a place that has become such a national treasure. It is also very moving to get the perspective of a firefighter family. I think about this place every time I’m in NYC and will never forget where I was when this happened. It’s etched in time.

  10. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling reading the part where an entire team perished. I am a world away but I vividly remember the day it happened. I watched it on CNN and that day I felt sick to my stomach watching the devastation. All those feelings came back today. I admire your wife. She’s a strong one and I pray God keeps you! I will definitely go see WTC memorial when I visit the States

  11. I have been to the Memorial and it really is a heart wrenching experience. But to read it from the perspective of a fire fighter and his wife is even more touching. I cannot imagine what it would’ve been like for the team of fire fighters that responded to the call and went in, never to return. Or their families. Or the families of those people who lost their lives that day. And I cannot imagine the fear that you must live in (the wife), my family is from the Indian Armed Forces and when I was younger, I’d see that fear in so many wives’ of fighter pilots and Army men.

  12. Wow, I can’t imagine what that was like for you! As tough as it was to visit I bet the impact will last a lifetime. I don’t think I could have handled the part about listening to loved ones discussing their family members.

  13. It must be quite hard for anyone, especially for people like you who dedicate their lives in saving people from an imminent tragedy and putting your lives on the line, to see and relive all these scenes. I went there a few years back and even though I didn’t get to go into the museum anymore, the pain is still palpable in the atmosphere.

  14. Beautiful write-up, I know how emotional it is to visit. I took my dad there who is a vet! Your words, “9/11 was the day we all came together as one family and one love” really spoke to me. Sad it took a tragedy for us to get there!

  15. I cannot even imagine how this must feel. I’ve been to the fountains twice and each time i’m In tears. Having a personal tie (firefighting) must make it even harder. Thank you both for serving!

  16. I am sure this was extremely tough to go through. Everyone in America knows exactly where they were when this tragedy happened. The museum looks incredible and it appears that no detail was missed while creating it. Very touching.

  17. The 9/11 tragedy was really heart breaking. I can’t even imagine the plight of the ones who had to go through those hard times. I hope to visit the memorial someday and pay homage to the ones who had lost their lives and families.

  18. Every time I hear or see the 9/11 sign i have goosebumps. Up to this day I’m still teary eyes remembering it. We’ve been to NYC last year but we didn’t got a chance to visit this museum hopefully next time.

  19. I remember till today, when I returned from school on September 11, they showed an attack on the World Trade Center on television. In New York it was morning, we had an afternoon. This day changed a lot in the world.

  20. I, like most people, still remember when 9-11 happened. I think I was in shock for the next few days trying to process what happened. I haven’t been back to NYC since the memorial opened and hope to one day pay my respects.

  21. This is heartbreaking and I am unable to find the right words to put together. A year passes by every year, but the pain is the same. I feel sorry.

  22. I can only imagine the impact the 9-11 Memorial in NYC has on a first responder. Sadly I haven’t been to the memorial despite visiting NYC several times. Every year, including today, I always catch the services on TV and each year it moves me. I vividly remember where I was in San Diego and all of the movement that was happening with the different military there. May we never forget them!