More Than Just One Day to Remember

For those who responded during the days and weeks that followed, 9/11 is an everyday tribute

By Mitchell Krugel 

They now call it “The Glade.”

Or, more precisely, “The Memorial Glade.”

Those who responded at Ground Zero on Sept. 12 and the days and months thereafter knew The Glade as the corner where things went in and out of the pit. If you have seen pictures of a ramp coming up out of Ground Zero, that’s where The Memorial Glade is located.

“That’s where the last beam came out,” related Steve Wallace, retired NYPD officer, and New York PBA delegate, who is now with the World Trade Center Health Program and first responded there on Sept. 12. “Whenever a police officer or a firefighter or anybody was uncovered in the rubble, everybody went silent. It was pretty eerie. Everybody would just stand at attention, and they would escort the body out of the pit.”

Many NJ State PBA members are invested in what happened at the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of 9/11. Some responded for a few hours or a few days. Others, like then-Sussex County Local 138 State Delegate John Hulse, helped man the PBA’s support trailer, which was stationed at the site for months after the attack. They ran supplies, provisions and cups of coffee to the many, many, many emergency services personnel working the pile.

Most no doubt know that corner. It is now a space dedicated to first responders, recovery workers and those who have died or are suffering from health-related issues as a result of the attack. Behind its design, proposed by the Memorial’s original architects, Michael Arad and Peter Walker, the Glade is rich with symbolism.

The centerpiece of the Glade includes six monoliths that erupt from the ground, pointing skyward in an act of defiance. The coarse edges of the massive monoliths might lend an appearance that is bruised and battered, which symbolizes the resilience and character of the recovery workers and the city of New York.

The 9/11 Museum came up with the idea to make this The Memorial Glade.

“But it’s really an area just for the responders,” Wallace continued. “I’ve talked to a lot of them from Jersey. They all responded in the first couple of weeks after 9/11, and I’ve heard all of their stories. That area there is for us on the site. They’ve got the names of all of the victims that are etched in the pools
where the towers once stood. But the victims afterward, it’s actually double the amount of people that actually died on 9/11 at this point, about 6,000. That southwest corner of the site is for those victims.”

The roll call of the names that takes place every Sept. 11 at the WTC site has become one of the most hallowed days in the history of the U.S. It always will be, and all those who responded in the days after 9/11 will feel it always should, moved by, among other things, hearing the sweet music from the Port Authority PD Pipes and Drums, who always honor their 37 who were lost there that day.

A look at the ramp that was at the WTC site after the attacks used to move equipment in and out of the pit and carry bodies found in the rubble out.

For all first responders, though, the 9/11 remembrance has become about more than just one day. The number of law enforcement officers who responded to the site and have been lost since 9/11 continues to increase. By the hundreds each year, as anyone who has been to the Candlelight Vigil during National Police Week has heard.

The names of officers lost to cancer and other 9/11-related illnesses has increased so much, in fact, that working with the WTC Health Center it has become a full-time gig for Wallace. He helps first responders who responded to the site get into programs that monitor their health annually and pay for their treatment if they get sick. And if they do succumb, the program ensures their families get the line-of-duty-death benefits now secured by the repeated renewal of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

The 9/11 tributes also need to honor first responders like NYPD Sergeant William Brautigam. He was one of the recruits from the academy where Wallace instructed and was picked to be part of Wallace’s detail at the site beginning on Sept. 12, 2001. Brautigam battled stomach cancer and diaphragm cancer before it spread to his lung and metastasized. When the lymph nodes in his lung were biopsied after Brautigam passed on Jan. 31, 2021, doctors found a piece of human bone in one of the nodes.

But first responders also worked relentlessly on the site for moments like the one that occurred a few days before 9/11 this year. For 20 years, the medical examiner’s office has quietly conducted the largest missing persons investigation ever undertaken in the nation — testing and retesting the 22,000 body parts recovered from the wreckage after the attacks. Scientists are still testing the vast inventory of unidentified remains for a genetic connection to the 1,106 victims — roughly 40 percent of the Ground Zero death toll — who are still without a match.

But earlier this month a sigh of “yesssss” reverberated through all those responders who were there when authorities confirmed the identification of the remains of a man and woman days ahead of the 22nd anniversary of the attacks. The two positive identifications are the first since September 2021, officials said. Before that, the last identification was made in 2019.

“It’s a sacred place, not a museum,” Wallace commented. “It’s a place where brothers and sisters died. It’s a place where human beings died, civilians that we so desperately tried to…. When I was doing one of the ceremonies on 9/11, there was a gentleman who I’ve known for a very long time who pointed out a fact that we actually saved 25,000 Americans that day. So focus on the good, focus on what we have done.”

Memorial Glade monoliths stands on the 9/11 Memorial plaza in New York on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Jin S. Lee, 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Of course, 9/11 has created so many indelible memories that have produced so many perspectives on the tragedy. Some of those who responded in the days and months after the attack don’t want to be anywhere near the site and the ceremonies on 9/11.

“I was at the museum once on Sunday before 9/11 trying to do outreach for first responders, and very few first responders came,” Wallace related. “I understand the reason why. That’s hallowed ground for them.”

Near the spot known as The Memorial Glade stands what is known as the “survivor tree.” Wallace explained it was the only tree that survived the collapse on the grounds.

On any day, he added, you might see a first responder who was there in the days and months after the attack sitting by the survivor tree. Perhaps it’s, as he said, “a little numbing” because they continue to lose sisters and brothers they stood on the pile with. And the tree continues to be a symbol of the healing that has needed to take place every day of the past 22-plus years and will continue to be needed.

“It’s a hard site to be at if you were down there,” Wallace confirmed as if speaking on behalf of all those who were. “When you’re just sitting there and gathering your thoughts up, though, I actually find comfort because I can sit there and just feel the presence of all of the responders who have passed on before us.”