The class of 1964

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Last fall I received an email from a Facebook friend of my sister-in-law’s. After a brief introduction of who was emailing me, the sender explained that her husband is a 1964 graduate of West Point and she would like to schedule a tour of the Memorial during their 50th reunion weekend. She also mentioned it would be 100 people. I quickly suggested she contact the Tribute Center and forwarded her the information. I did say that I was more than willing to be one of walking tour docents but 100 people will require more than one guide. Through the months arrangements were made for the group to visit Tribute but because of the opening of the Museum the group was told that the Memorial may not be open on May 17 but they were welcome to meet with a docent in gallery 5 instead of a walking tour.

So this morning I traveled into the Tribute Center to speak to 100 people in 2 groups of 50. As I thought about who this group was, I realized as 1964 graduates of USMA at West Point these men most likely went to Vietnam. As graduates of the USMA, they had served their nation, my nation. I realized as I was growing up they were servicing our country.

Well, due to traffic and more traffic I arrived at the Tribute Center at 10:28 for a 10:30 group.Just in time for the group but these folks had arrived early so they were waiting for me. I quickly put my jacket and purse in a locker, grabbed some photos and walked into gallery 5. The gentleman in charge of the group pulled me aside and said “before you start speaking I would like to introduce you to the group.” Okay, I had never met this man but his wife was the one who had emailed me and set everything up. He got everyone’s attention using some military jargon and proceeded to introduce me. He mentioned I was an email friend of his wife, that Richard* had been a firefighter and had been killed on September 11. He commented that he had found a YouTube video of me speaking at a Christian college and suggested everyone watch it. 🙂 One of the things I had said in that video had really stuck with him. He stated that I had said “Bruce’s decision to enter the building on September 11 had been made long before September 11. Just as Christ’s decision to go to cross was made long before the Garden.” He went onto say that “23 members of the class of 1964 had died in Vietnam and 1 had died in the Dominican Republic.” He also said “that their decision to serve their country had been made on the parade ground on July 5, 1964 as they (we) raised our right hand and took the oath. Actually it had been made before that.” He also commented that duty is a form of love. He then introduced another man who handed me their class coin and announced I was an honorary member of the class of 1964. I was overwhelmed and humbled. I thanked them for their service, made reference to the fact that Bruce had been a firefighter at West Point before being FDNY and then told my September 11 story.

When I finished, I did it one more time. The man who introduced me the first time, introduced me a second time and joked there wasn’t another coin. Wow!! I can’t believe I got one coin. I am ever amazed at the opportunities I am given. I am ever humbled by meeting the class of 1964. I am also very glad that the class of 1964 did actually get to go onto the Memorial after they finished at Tribute and they had a beautiful weather to boot.

*Richard Bruce Van Hine was my husband’s full name. People who knew him referred to him as Bruce. The gentleman today referred to him as Richard and even mentioned to the second group that I called my husband Bruce but he would refer to him as Richard. I thought that showed respect.

Travel Tuesdays S2E2 – 9/11 Memorial Museum

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museum opening

The National September 11 Memorial Museum will open to the public on Wednesday May 21, 2014. On Thursday May 15, there will be a dedication ceremony and for one week the museum will be open 24 hours a day to allow family members, 9/11 rescue and recovery workers, survivors, lower Manhattan residents and first responders from agencies that lost members to view the museum. The President and First Lady will attend the dedication ceremony. “Stakeholders” were selected by lottery to attend. I know a couple of my fellow docents who are attending and look forward to hearing their accounts of the event. The ceremony will be available for viewing on the National September 11 Memorial Museum website. I will not be attending the dedication. I will be visiting the Museum on Sunday May 18. It is actually my second visit.

My first visit was in May of 2012. At that time the Museum was still more of a construction site than a museum. I was however struck by the size of the space. It was massive. The museum takes you down to bedrock to the original “bathtub walls”. To see the walls I had spoken of so many during walking tours was amazing. We were allowed to take photos but were not allowed to post them on social media. I assume the statute of limitations has run out on that as the Museum has been featured on Sixty Minutes, etc…
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As the museum opening approaches, there is an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. In one way I am glad it is finally opening but in another way the opening makes it all so real. It is hard to explain but the Museum opening is kind of the last piece in the September 11 story. Once the doors open it seems like the story is set in stone. But part of me believes the story is still being written. I believe there are still stories to be shared and learned from. I guess John W. Gardner’s quote sums it up for me “History never looks like history when you are living through it.”

Please remember to say a prayer for those who the Museum opening is another chapter in that unwritten handbook “a personal loss (or story) in the midst of a national tragedy”. I will blog about my visit in the near future.

doesn’t it make you sad?

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001 The other day a friend asked me a question that I have been asked before, “doesn’t doing tours and speaking to school groups make you relive September 11? Doesn’t being at the WTC make you sad?” I responded “No, it makes me feel blessed. I don’t associate the WTC site with Bruce. It is harder to be at his firehouse because that is where I think of him as being. I am tired after a tour but feel that I have accomplished something but mostly I am hungry.” 🙂 It is strange but I don’t picture Bruce being at the WTC site. I know he was there but I don’t try to imagine him there on the fateful day. I do sometimes think that he may have walked down Liberty Street on his way into the South Tower that thought gives me comfort as I walk that same street telling his story.

In further conversation with my friend I shared what does make me sad or allows memories to seep or rush in is the things I hear on the radio or news. The crash of the Malaysian airliner, the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a mudslide in Washington, the death of 2 firefighters in Boston or a police officer in New York give me pause and cause me to pray for the families because on some level the events are a “repeat” of what I have experienced. An event that captures the attention of the nation or even world, a loved one lost but no body, an act of terrorism, a line of duty death, I can identify and so I pray. I pray that their families will have peace and know that there is hope. I pray that people will gather around them as people gathered around me and my girls. I pray that in the not so distant future they will have strength to put one foot in front of other and smile. My heart is sad that another family will know the saddest that I know, that they will have to navigate a journey they never expected to be on. 😦

On another note: when I was in the stall in Ladies Room at the Tribute Center on Monday, the lights suddenly went out and I thought this is not happening, give me a break. Then a voice said “sorry” and lights went back on. Someone had leaned against the light switch. I laughed because I was in fight or flight mode within a split second. No PTSD here. 🙂

landmark moments

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land·mark (lănd′märk′) n.
1. A prominent identifying feature of a landscape.
2. A fixed marker, such as a concrete block, that indicates a boundary line.
3. An event marking an important stage of development or a turning point in history.
4. A building or site with historical significance, especially one marked for preservation by a municipal or national government.

adj.
Having great import or significance: a landmark court ruling

Today was a landmark moment for the family and friends of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Today the words they had feared and dreaded were spoken aloud for all to hear. Oh, they were first said to those closest to the event but they were repeated for the world to hear.

“It’s with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

I can identify with “landmark moments” that the world shares. I remember vividly a meeting on September 18, 2001 in a NYC hotel. The mayor, the governor, the head of the FDNY all there to tell the FDNY families “we are going from rescue to recovery”. Oh, we knew first but within hours the world would know. See, when I am the “world” during a landmark moment, there is a sense of that is done, what’s next. The moment/event starts to fade from the headlines. But when I am the “first to know” there is a sense of utter disbelief, my hope wanes, my mind spins and I grasp for something to hold onto. My prayer for the families of flight 370 is simple “may they find peace, may they find strength, may they find hope, may they know God loves them”

Today was also a landmark moment for the September 11, 2001 community. Today the opening date (May 21, 2014) for the National September 11 Museum was announced. Another landmark…
http://911memorial.io/ONA3lS

Pay it forward

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Yesterday was the 28th anniversary for lack of a better word of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding as it lifted off for a journey to space. I remember where I was. Most of us if we are of a certain age know where we were and what we were doing. It was a national tragedy but wives lost their husbands, husbands lost their wives, children lost their parent, parents lost their grown children and friends lost friends. It was their personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.

On September 11, 2001 I would become a member of that club no one wants to be a member of. The “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy” club. I mentioned this in reference to the Challenger anniversary because one of the most profound, generous things that happened in those days and weeks after September 11 was the daughter of the Commander of the Challenger space shuttle wrote a letter to the children of the September 11 attacks. I have included it below. She paid it forward. As I thought about that today I realized I was blessed and inspired by her actions. My children were blessed by her actions.

I had opportunity to pay it forward when I went to Japan to speak to families of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear tragedy. Wow!!! God truly doesn’t waste anything. 🙂

“A Letter to the Youngest Victims of the Terrorists Attacks
Dear Children,
The thunderous explosions that rocked the whole world last week have shattered yours.

Why does the TV show the crashing plane, exploding and collapsing buildings over and over? Where is my Mom or Dad? Why can’t the rescuers find him/her? Who could have done this terrible thing? Why is the whole nation crying?

Yours is a small voice in a crashing storm of questions arising from an act of war on the American people. But no answers will bring you comfort. And no answers will bring you closer to understanding, save one: Your Mom or Dad was in harm’s way.

While our great nation bulks up for the first fight of the century, we, the Challenger children and all the children of public disasters, are hearing your hearts break, holding your hands and hugging you from afar. You are not alone. We want you to know that it will be bad ­ very bad ­ for a little while, but it will get better.

You see, 15 years ago, before some of you were even born, I watched my father and his crew die in a horrible accident. Our loved ones were astronauts on board the space shuttle Challenger, which blew up a few minutes after take off. It all happened on live television. It should have been a moment of private grief, but instead it turned into a very public torture. We couldn’t turn on the television for weeks afterward, because we were afraid we would see the gruesome spectacle of the Challenger coming apart a mile up in the sky.

My father died a hundred times a day on televisions all across the country. And since it happened so publicly, everyone in the country felt like it happened to them, too. And it did. The Challenger explosion was a national tragedy. Everyone saw it, everyone hurt, everyone grieved, everyone wanted to help. But that did not make it any easier for me. They wanted to say good-bye to American heroes. I just wanted to say good-bye to my Daddy.

Our nation mourns with you, for itself and for you. But yours is also a personal loss that is separate from this national tragedy. We hope this letter will bring you some comfort now or in the future, when you are strong enough ­ old enough ­ to read it. We want to prepare you for what’s to come and to help you deal with this burden you never asked to bear. No one asked the people in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, or on the airplanes to give their lives in a war they had never volunteered to fight, against people they did not even know were plotting their deaths. Your Mom or Dad was innocent. They were just doing their jobs or traveling to see friends or family, but someone decided to make their everyday lives – and yours – a battlefield.

You’ve discovered by now that you won’t be able to escape the barrage of news and the countless angles of investigation, speculation and exasperation. The 24-hour coverage will ebb and flow, but will blind side you in the weeks, months and years to follow when you least expect it. You will be watching television and then, suddenly, there will be those pictures – the plane, the towers, the cloud of dust, the fires, the people running. For other people watching, this will all be something called “history.” To you, it’s your life.

Just know that the media and public perception of this catastrophe aren’t the same as yours. They can’t know how painful it is to watch your Mom or Dad die several times each day. If they knew how much pain it caused, they would stop.

You imagine death like it is in a fairy tale or like at Grandma or Grandpa’s funeral. They look asleep and peaceful in their coffins. Their earthly bodies are tangible and recognizable. You can say good-bye to someone who looks like your loved one. But the physical proof ­ the recognizable person that was your Mom or Dad ­ is gone or not whole or not recognizable. Your mind can’t accept it, even though your heart knows it. You know their spirit has gone to Heaven, but it’s hard to say good-bye. You will find your own way to say good-bye in your own time.

You may feel sick when you think about his or her broken body. Your imagination might even carry you to new and scary depths and unspeakable images. You will be afraid to ask what happened because the answers might be worse than what you imagined. You’ll torture yourself wondering if they felt pain, if they suffered, if they knew what was happening. They didn’t. In the same way your brain doesn’t register pain immediately when you break your arm, your Mom or Dad didn’t know pain in their last moments of life on this earth.

You may have strange dreams or nightmares about your Mom or Dad being alive somehow, trapped in a pocket of the wreckage of the building or stranded or lost in some remote location after parachuting out of the plane before it crashed. They may call to you in your dream to come find them. You will wake up with such hope and determination, only to have the clouds of reality gather and rain fresh tears of exasperation and sadness on your face. These dreams are your subconscious self trying to make sense out of what your conscious self already knows.

You will think about the last things you said to each other. Were they loving words or actions? Did we speak sharply to each other? Were we too sleepy or rushed to even have one last look at each other’s faces? Rest easy. Their last thoughts were of you ­ the all of who you are ­ not the Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, you. And they were happy thoughts, all in a jumble of emotions so deep they are everlasting.

Everyone you know will cry fresh tears when they see you. People will try to feed you even though you know it all tastes like cardboard. They want to know what you think ­ what you feel ­ what you need. But you really don’t know. You may not know for a very long time. And it will be an even longer amount of time before you can imagine your life without your Mom or Dad.

Some people, working through their own grief, will want to talk to you about the catastrophe, the aftermath, the rescue and recovery, or the actions that will be taken by our nation. Others will whisper as you walk by, “Her dad was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center,” or “His mom was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon,” or “His dad was one of the firefighters who died when the buildings collapsed.” This new identity might be difficult for you. Sometimes you will want to say to the whisperers, “Yes, that was my Dad. We are so proud of him. I miss him like crazy!” But sometimes you will want to fade into the background, wanting to anonymously grieve in your own way, in your own time, without an audience.

When those who loved your Mom or Dad talk with you, cry with you, or even scream with frustration and unfairness of it, you don’t have to make sense of it all. Grief is a weird and winding path with no real destination and lots of switch backs. Look on grief as a journey ­ full of rest stops, enlightening sites and potholes of differing depths of rage, sadness and despair. Just realize that you won’t be staying forever at one stop. You will eventually move on to the next. And the path will become smoother, but it may never come to an end.

Ask the people who love you and who knew and loved your Mom or Dad to help you remember the way they lived ­ not the way they died. You need stories about your Mom or Dad from their friends, co-workers and your family. These stories will keep your Mom or Dad alive and real in your heart and mind for the rest of your life. Listen carefully to the stories. Tell them. Write them. Record them. Post them online. The stories will help you remember. The stories will help you make decisions about your life ­ help you become the person you were meant to be.

Just as a stronger nation will rise out of the grisly cinders and steel skeletal remains of buildings and airplanes, so will you be a stronger person. The events of last week will shape your life in many different ways. You will wonder if you’ll ever be safe again. You will. Our nation will wage a mighty war on terrorism. You will be protected. You can still believe in the future ­ in your future.

Please know that we are with you ­ holding you in our hearts, in our minds and in our prayers.
Kathie Scobee Fulgham”

Mr. Clueless

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As I was waiting to enter security checkpoint at the National September 11 Memorial this afternoon with the Tribute Center visitors on my walking tour, a man and a woman were heading the wrong way in the “row” next to me. They were both well dressed. The man was very tall. I notice tall people because being tall myself I am aware of people who are taller than me. At first I thought they may be VIPs and had just exited the NYPD command post. Then I heard the man in a rather annoyed tone say “how do we get out of here?” The Memorial volunteers said “you have to go through security to exit the site.” The man responded “I am not undressing to go through security for this? Skip it, we are out of here!” And he continued to walk in the wrong direction. And was gone. I commented to the visitors standing near me ” I guess he doesn’t realize that it is because of what happened here on September 11 that we go through security in so many places.” I proceeded through security with my group and our tour continued without incident.

Later as I thought about the man’s over the top response to the security checkpoint I realized that at first I was dumbfounded. And then I was annoyed. Really, Mr. Clueless do you know where you are? Do you realize that there are security checkpoints all over the USA and the world because of what happened right here? And another think Mr. Clueless do you realize how many people around you were foreign visitors and how you were the perfect example of why people think Americans are rude?

Finally I was sad because Mr. Clueless really should have walked on the Memorial and had a reality check about the events of September 11. He should have seen all the names of the people killed here and at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA. He should have read the words “and her unborn child” more than a dozen times. And maybe while Mr. Clueless was on the Memorial there would have been a Wounded Warrior or two so he could remember the price our military has paid since September 11. Or maybe there would have been a firefighter, police officer, sanitation worker, a steelworker, a business person or red cross volunteer who could have told him about one of their friends who have died since September 11 because they have gotten sick from being here.

Mr. Clueless, you missed it!!! The momentary inconvenience of removing your coat, and may I add not even your shoes, could have opened your eyes and maybe even your heart. 😦

Sorry for the rant but wow that guy (aka Mr. Clueless) missed it!!! Of course another part of me wonders if he was carrying something he shouldn’t have been carrying and the whole scene was a bluff to not get caught. 🙂

Respect in the real world: this week’s big news stories

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I have shook my head in amazement more than once this week at the news stories I have heard. There was the continuing NSA stories. Then there was the story of retired fire fighters and police officers and their lawyers scamming Social Security and being caught because of social media. And then midweek there was the story of a top staffer of Governor Christie sending emails stating “that is time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” I am trying to wrap my head around if people are sure they won’t get caught or they don’t think things through before they embark on this kind of insanity or they lack any common sense at all.

Really, don’t people realize than between cell phones, emails and social media our lives are open books. I mean if you are getting disability you should probably be careful what you post on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I commented to a friend that the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” comment would have been safer said in person or on a landline telephone. I wasn’t sure if I was correct about that assumption so I googled it. According to Surveillance Self-Defense website “Speaking generally, just as phone conversations are a safer bet than unencrypted Internet communications, telephone conversations between landline telephones are a safer bet than telephone conversations that involve a cellular telephone.”

I mean think about it Nixon was taken down by a reel to reel tape recorder. Oliver North’s problem was you can’t really delete something from a computer. And Anthony Weiner was taken down by texting photos.

I am not sure what disturbs me most about the current big news stories. The actions of the people who “partook” in the less than excellent ideas or the fact that it is so easy for the media and law enforcement to know what they know. I did have another thought about Governor Christie’s staffer’s “abject stupidity” to quote the Governor. It would have been even a bigger story if she had made those comments during a landline conversation and later it came out that she was being wiretapped by the NSA.

A disclaimer for lack of a better word about my comments: I believe in personal integrity. I grew up in a household where I was taught to respect but question what the government says and does. I was taught to question what I read and see in the media. I have worked with many children through the years and my first question when a child has made a less than stellar choice is “What were you thinking?”. I think a few adults need to answer that question. And lastly “Wag the Dog” is one of my favorite movies.