Remembering 9/11 by Norman Smith

Norman Smith, a smiling white man wearing a green shirt and a baseball hat, seated in his wheelchair.
Image of Norman Smith smiling at the camera.

Today marks 22 years since the attacks of September 11th. For many, the memory of that awful September day in 2001 is fading away as many bad dreams do. But my memories are still vivid down to my shirt and tie. The day started out so bright, beautiful, and refreshing, but it ended so dark and frightening; later, the feeling of anger and uncertainty would spread around us like a thick cloaking fog. 

Every year since the attacks, I choose to pay tribute to the three elements that embed my memory of that day. First, I honor the life of my friend and colleague Colleen Fraser who died on Flight 93 with those other selfless heroes who may have saved the Capitol or the White House and thousands of other lives. Colleen was a fighter, and she was in good company that morning fighting to take back that plane.

Second, I remember the lives of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died that day. Most knew going into those buildings that some of them would not come out alive. They knew this instinctively by virtue of their experience and profession. They still went in with police officers and EMS personnel to save those who could not save themselves. They went in to save people with disabilities.

And, yes, thirdly, I remember those people with disabilities who died that day in those towers. I was not watching the horror on television that morning. I had a meeting at 10:00, and during that meeting I spoke of Colleen and wanting to connect her with someone. Later, someone told me of the collapse. My very first thought was that many firefighters had just died; my immediate second thought was that many people with disabilities had died as well.

How many people with disabilities died that morning in September may never be known. We do know that the corporations and government agencies housed in those towers hired people with disabilities. We do know that some people with disabilities made it out because they had a plan, their company had a plan, or some colleague or friend took the initiative to get them out.

We do know that others with disabilities stayed behind not wanting to burden friends, not wanting to get in the way, or just having unwavering faith that the FDNY would get to them.  

We also know that loyal friends stayed behind with them. We know that some people with disabilities who stayed were rescued but many died with their rescuers.

Every victim of this national tragedy needs to be remembered and honored. I feel a personal duty to honor Colleen, The 343, and those almost nameless people with disabilities who died waiting for help.

As I say each year, let us all remember the victims and the heroes of September 11, 2001, by getting prepared and staying prepared. You never know how a bright, beautiful, and refreshing day may end.


About the Author

Norman Smith is a current Board member of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies with decades of experience in advancing inclusive emergency management. Read more about Norman here

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