Saturday, September 10, 2011


A few years ago, I went to Battery Park in lower Manhattan to attend a ceremony unveiling a flag that honored those who died in the September 11 attacks but whose remains were never recovered. There were no more than a few dozen people there, if that. It was fittingly held at the Korean War Memorial.

The organizer was a Marine Corps veteran who had been active in many veterans issues and other patriotic, flag-waving efforts. It was all good and fine, though it bothered me that no television news organizations, not even New York 1, bothered to show up.

But the part of the ceremony that hit me like a sock full of concrete was when the mother of a firefighter killed in the attacks spoke. She mentioned that 40% of those families who lost a loved one in the September 11 attacks had no remains to bury. No evidence of almost half of those lost that day exists.

Bone fragments from victims of the attacks were still being found years later in some of the buildings near the site. In the initial cleanup, debris from Ground Zero was taken to the Fresh Kills land fill on Staten Island and sorted for human remains. People are still working to identify small bone fragments found at the sites of the attacks.

“Our loves ones' remains were taken to a garbage dump,” said the grieving mother, her voice strained with simmering anger.

How we treat the bodies of our dead is important. It reflects the love and respect we had for them in life, and signifies the pledge we make to keep their memory alive. For nearly half of those who lost someone in the attacks, there is no gravesite to visit, no picturesque site where ashes were spread, nothing for them to point to say that this loved of theirs lived and is still with us in some tangible form today.

Survivors of the attacks have been given short shrift also. People who worked there and have since been stricken with cancer are still not covered under legislation specifically enacted to help them.

Tomorrow, as political officials flock to the site of the attacks and heap encomiums on the first responders— some of whom haven’t been invited to attend—please remember that as a city and a nation we have not done right by either the living or the dead.

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