Centennial Celebration
16 Years after 9/11, and the Loss Continues: Editorial

The Journal News - September 11, 2017

by Journal News

As we prepare to mark the 16th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we continue to witness the loss. As this September began, we said our final goodbyes to former FDNY Firefighter Michael O’Hanlon, who had lost his battle, at age 59, with cancer linked to the toxic swirls he faced day after day, week after week, as he worked on the rescue and then recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

We remember the heroes of that day, all those who rushed into the twin towers to help victims escape; the D.C. first responders and Pentagon personnel who rushed to stem the destruction caused by terrorists plunging American Airlines Flight 77 into the building across the Potomac; the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who surely knew their "let's roll" charge against terrorists that crashed the Washington-bound plane into a Pennsylvania field would save others, but not themselves.

That blue-sky Tuesday morning still captures our attention. A new documentary, “Man In the Red Bandana,” drew hundreds to its Sept. 6 premiere at Suffern's historic Lafayette Theater. The documentary recounts, 16 years past, the heroics of Welles Remy Crowther, who went to work as an equities trader that day but used his volunteer firefighting acumen to lead people to safety, and then returned to the South Tower's 78th floor to guide down more. In 2006, Welles was posthumously made an honorary member the FDNY;the family discovered after his death that Welles was about to apply to the FDNY and change his life’s course, his father, Jefferson Crowther, recounted in the documentary and then during a Q&A after the premiere.

In the retelling of Welles’ story, another firefighter's role in 9/11 and the aftermath was remembered: FDNY Lt. Harry Wanamaker, like so many others, was a victim of that attack,but years afterward. The two, one more than twice the age of the other, had forged a deep bond as Empire Hook & Ladder volunteer firefighters in Upper Nyack. Wanamaker, a mentor and a friend, remained at ground zero for weeks after as the rescue effort changed to recovery. He died in 2010, at age 67, inflicted by various cancers linked to his work on the pile, his dedication to his fellow firefighters, and his nation.

Our region lost so many that day — so many who worked at World Trade Center, who were traveling in the planes turned into missiles by terrorists, who joined the rescue effort only to fall victims themselves. And since that day, in these many years, we have lost so many others.

There will be more. FDNY has lost 343 heroes that day; since then, 159 more FDNY personnel have died from the diseases that visited those who worked the pile. How soon will it be that half as many will have died from the aftereffects of 9/11 than that day’s trauma? Sadly, much sooner than we can prepare for or imagine. According to the firefighters union, some 1,700 now suffer cancers that are linked to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The NYPD lost 23 and the Port Authority Police 37 that day. Since then, some 130 NYPD members’ deaths have been linked to ground zero poisons.

That is why it was so important to win a decades-long extension, finally, of the Zadroga Act, which ensures the health needs of people impacted during the attacks and afterward will be met for decades to come. That is why there should be not a second thought or moment of delay when the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund needs renewal in 2020.

We remember and honor those we lost that day, and in the years since. We must also stand with those whose health could suffer in the future from their past heroic efforts, and pledge future support for them and their families. For as long as it's needed.