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On the Heroes and Victims of 9/11 By: Michael Burke
Wall Street Journal | Thursday, June 26, 2003


Some board members of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation -- in an apparent effort to describe all of those killed at the World Trade Center as not "less" than heroes and something "more" than victims -- are determined to deny for all time recognition of the sacrifice of the firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel who gave their lives on Sept. 11.

 

At the permanent memorial that is the LMDC's responsibility, the uniformed service workers who died in the line of duty will not, as is the tradition, be honored by their department, company and rank, but merely honored by name. For instance: Willam F. Burke Jr. Not FDNY Capt. Willam F. Burke Jr., Eng. 21.

 

William was my brother. He was one of the 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11 trying to save the World Trade Center and the people trapped inside. Of the 343 firefighters who perished, 208 remain unaccounted for.

 

The LMDC's thinking is, if visitors to the site do not know who gave their lives in responding to the attacks, they will form no distinction in their hearts and minds between the names; i.e., they will not create a "hierarchy" in which, for instance, firefighters are regarded as heroic and those trapped on the top floors and forced to chose between jumping or dying from smoke and fire are regarded as victims.

 

I intentionally put "less" than heroes and "more" than victims and "hierarchy" in quotation marks because I believe they are concepts that exist only in the minds of the individuals who sit on the LMDC.

 

In the many spontaneous memorials that sprang up about the city following the attacks, made up of the flyers the families themselves created and posted, those lost were always identified by profession, location or why they were at the World Trade Center. They were pictured at work in cubicles, or in uniform or gear, at the beach or family gatherings. Distinguishing characteristics such as height and weight were provided, also tattoos or identifying jewelry. Nothing was more distinct or individual. A bond trader was there, a firefighter there, a cafeteria worker over there. No viewer felt any rank (another LMDC word) or hierarchy. The tragedy and sacrifice, the loss and heroism was appreciated equally. Based on the LMDC's guidelines, the permanent memorial cannot be as successful.

 

By telling less than the truth at their memorial, by insisting on describing all as heroes, it is the LMDC, ironically, which will diminish the memory of those who perished at the WTC.

 

Shortly after Sept. 11, I can recall hearing a woman's sad cry, "Everyone speaks of the heroes. My sister wasn't a hero; she was sitting at her desk." She was right; describe her sister as a hero or draw no distinction between her and my brother and you significantly diminish the memory of both.

Mr. Burke's brother, FDNY Capt. William F. Burke Jr., Eng. 21, died on Sept. 11, 2001.




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