Worn, but not beaten.
That’s the fitting description the National September 11 Memorial & Museum provided for the large stones that will point toward the sky and mark a new pathway at the World Trade Center: a tribute to survivors and first responders who are sick or have died from 9/11-related illnesses. The new section of the memorial will be located in a grassy section of the southwest end of the plaza.
It’s been 16 years since first responders ended rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. But in illness after illness, and loss after loss, the tragic impact of the months they spent at “the pile” reverberates in the ongoing suffering of tens of thousands of rescue and recovery workers, area residents and others who were exposed to toxins.
Nearly 70,000 first responders and more than 14,000 survivors receive monitoring, treatment and care through the World Trade Center Health Program.
The national memorial’s plan to acknowledge their plight, through a space called the Memorial Glade, is especially meaningful given the years those victims spent fighting for care and treatment. After all, it was 2006 when NYPD Officer James Zadroga died of a respiratory illness attributed to his work on the pile, and the Zadroga Act was proposed. But it wasn’t until 2010 that the act was passed. It became permanent in 2015.
The image of first responders, some of whom were already ill, in the halls of Congress, begging our nation’s leaders to help take care of them, still resonates. So do the stories of first responders still getting sick, still dying. As recently as May 26, David Levalley, a special agent in the FBI’s Atlanta office, died of complications from exposure to toxins from the trade center. A week earlier, retired NYPD Officer Scott Blackshaw of Huntington Station died of cancer; he had spent six weeks in the rubble. And South Huntington resident Mark Natale, also a retired NYPD officer, died of cancer on May 4. He had helped people escape on 9/11, and then stood guard near Ground Zero.
The new memorial at the World Trade Center plaza will pay tribute to Zadroga, Levalley, Blackshaw, Natale and thousands of others, to their strength, heroism and sacrifice, and to the debt we all owe them.
Worn, but not beaten. — The editorial board