Six stones, inlaid with steel from the original World Trade Center building, point skyward at Ground Zero in New York’s lower Manhattan.
The pathway between the stones, called the Memorial Glade, opened to the public today, honoring those who are sick or have died from exposure to toxins in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks.
Many of them are rescue and recovery workers, who ran towards the danger when their instincts would have turned them away.
“It was my job,” said Rob Serra, a former firefighter who was off-duty when the attacks happened, but reported to the nearest fire station immediately after he saw the towers ablaze.
“There [was a] recall which means everyone has to come. That’s just what we do,” he said.
Serra suffers from sinuses polyps, neuropathy, and a sleeping disorder—all related with his work in the aftermath of 9/11.
Former firefighter Joseph Mckay lost four of his colleagues working in the rescue efforts.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I think about them every day,” adding that he had a memorial tattoo painted on his arm.
According to the city, nearly 400 members from the fire and police department have died from 9/11 injuries since the attacks. And another 2,000 are still soldiering on with their injuries.
But the number of people who suffer is more than that. Standing beside the memorial glade during the ceremony, Patty Sumner comforted her sister-in-law, wrapping one arm around her sister’s shoulder while wiping her own tears with the other.
During the attacks, Sumner’s firefighter brother, Lt. Joseph Leavey, went up to the 78th floor in the South tower to rescue people and never came back. “They found him on Oct. 27, and he was buried in his 45th birthday.”
Sumner said she misses him and prays for him every day “as a hero, and a baby brother.”
Wednesday marks the 17th anniversary of the official end of rescue and recovery work at Ground Zero. But for people like Mckay, Serra, and Sumner, 9/11 is an ongoing day.
An inscription standing by the glade ends with the words: “Here we honor the tens of thousands/ From across America and around the world/Who came to help and to heal/Whose selflessness and resolve/Perseverance and courage/Renewed the spirit of a grieving city/Gave hope to the nation/And inspired the world.”