Visiting the 9/11 memorial a long overdue, emotional journey

Just shy of the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on our country, I was able to spend a day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York.

It was something I had thought about and hoped to do since the opening of the museum and the memorial fountains that take up the massive footprints of the north and south towers of the former World Trade Center.


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We all watched in horror that fateful morning as the towers crumbled in front of our eyes — towers that once stood as powerful symbols of the American workforce, prosperity and spirit. We all watched as countless lives were taken with each floor that collapsed upon the next.

Recalling that day is something each of us does from time to time. For many of us born after the Kennedy assassination, this is likely the most impactful news moment of our lives.

We all remember where we were. How we felt. And what we resolved to do in our own lives at that point in time.

As a young journalist who was in advertising sales at the time, Sept. 11, 2001 hit locally for me in Independence, Missouri. And for many of us, we had seven or less degrees of separation from the thousands that perished that day or the tens of thousands who were in one way or another directly affected by these terrorist acts, from first responders and residents of the Manhattan borough and New York City to those that would eventually be called to duty to fight a war.

When I learned our family reunion was to be held in New York, I immediately made plans to visit the memorial and museum. And while the week in New York was spent with family and my daughter Addy, this was a trip I was taking alone.

Prior to leaving, I was sitting in a chair at John’s Barber Shop in downtown Lee’s Summit and talking about my New York plans. Jim the barber asked me if I knew about the two local residents who tragically lost their lives on Sept. 11. I didn’t know those stories and was infinitely thankful that he shared the names with me.

Lee’s Summit residents Randall Drake and Julie Geis were two of the 2,977 that died Sept. 11, 2001. And, as we all know, many, many more have perished since, fighting overseas and here at home after working in the recovery efforts.

Mr. Drake was not in either the north or south towers during the attack, but rather was working a project at nearby 195 Broadway as part of his network integration job with Siemens. When Flight 11 struck the North Tower, Drake and others evacuated the building. In a catastrophic and fatal turn of events, Drake was struck by falling debris after Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. Drake lived for 11 more days but died on Sept. 22, 2001.

Julie Geis was a senior vice president for Aon Corporation. And like every other person that was caught up in the abhorrent acts of hate and terror, she found herself in the worst possible place that morning. Geis was at a monthly meeting on the 102nd Floor of the South Tower. When the plane hit, the building took on extensive and irreversible damage from the 77th to 85th floors and she was unable to escape.

As I walked onto the grounds, wholly unfamiliar with area (I had just walked about 10 blocks north from the financial district), I asked a man in uniform where the museum was. He pointed beyond the fountains and said, in a low voice, “This is your first time here I suspect? Take the time you need to process all of this.”

It wasn’t long after I walked to the first fountain, names and American flags draped out as far as the eye could see, that the emotions of the moment overtook me.

I put my phone away and walked every inch of both memorial pools. Men, women and children from this and many countries were there, taking in the gravity of the moment and the atmosphere, which on this day seemed heavy. A woman slightly older than I stood nearby, her hand on a name I couldn’t fully read, weeping, completely consumed in her grief and memories of whomever it was she lost that day.

I went back over to the South Tower pool and located the names of both Randall Drake and Julie Geis. A few photos were snapped. Then, like many that surrounded me and that had come before, it was time to reflect on that day, our country and the names and lives that almost overwhelm you.

As I left the museum, I passed a couple who were overtaken with the moment and visit. The woman said to her husband (and I am paraphrasing as I caught less than 10 seconds of their private conversation as they held the door for me and I walked by them), “...it’s OK to mourn just one person here. It’s more than anyone should expect of us to mourn thousands at once.”

So many cities, big and small, have that unfortunate 9/11 connection and story.

Today, I remember Lee’s Summit’s Julie Geis and Randall Drake, both of whom lived in the city I love and died in the worst of circumstances our country has ever experienced.


 

Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.