By James Weldon and Marcia Narine Weldon
The Firefighter Perspective
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.