"We will never forget that day as long as we live," said State Senator Tom O'Mara at the opening of Ithaca's 9-11 Memorial exhibit. O'Mara and other leading officials spoke at the exhibit's opening Friday, September 9 at 11 a.m. The exhibit, which features artifacts from the World Trade Center, a timeline of events leading to the attack and on the fateful day, will be open throughout the month in the Rothschilds building at 215 the Commons.
"It goes without saying that we remember those who perished," said O'Mara, who went on to thank the first responders of the state and the nation, and then to say that it's important to teach the next generation about the events of September 11, 2001. "My kids are ten, eleven years old and they have no recollection of these events. It is important that they learn."
Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson and State Assemblyperson Barbara Lifton both expressed appreciation to first responders- fire, ambulance, rescue and police personnel- for their heroic response that day and in the ordinary line of duty. "We are also here to acknowledge everyone who does that kind of work in our community," said Peterson.
Lifton mentioned the role the arts play in helping communities grieve and make sense of events. "Artists have not yet helped us much to grapple with this great trauma," she said, pointing out the importance of Jewish writing on the Holocaust or American literature about Vietnam.
First responder and paramedic Beth Harrington, who went down to Ground Zero in a Groton ambulance with Lee Shurtleff, also spoke. "A bunch of us went down for EMS," she remembered. Harrington, who has been a volunteer at Slaterville Fire & Ambulance since 1976, is now Tompkins County's Assistant Director of Emergency Management while Shurtleff is the Director.
"Three things, " said Harrington. "When you go into an emergency situation you draw on past experiences to know what to do. You learn from every situation... Ground Zero was nobody's past experience. I can only describe it as surreal... it looked like a movie set."
"I remember the long line of ambulances," Harrington said. "They were full of people whom you knew were beyond help... and I remember people in New York would just stop us and ask if we needed anything, water, anything. They saluted us."
"I remember the wall of Missing posters," she said. In the first hours and days, when nothing was heard from people's loved ones, hundreds of people created posters with their names and photographs and posted them on the board walls of construction sites and the sides of buildings in lower Manhattan.
"I want to thank Beth Harrington for being a representative of all the heroic first responders who rush to help others," said Sam Voight, former Assemblyperson, present as a representative of the Governor's office. "When every instinct said ‘save yourself' they ran in to save the lives of others."
Harrington said that something good had come out of the tragedy in that people are now better prepared for disasters, such as the flooding in the Southern tier. "September is National Preparedness Month," she said. "We want people to honor those who died by being prepared."