We will never forget

It's been 12 years since the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the United States. Two loc­als, one who was then liv­ing in New York City, re­flect on their ex­per­i­ences that day.

In trib­ute: A me­mori­al flag is il­lu­min­ated near the spot where Amer­ic­an Air­lines Flight 77 crashed in­to the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. FROM WIKI­ME­DIA COM­MONS

Mi­chael Walton and Kristen Kupniewski both live in Port Rich­mond. They’re in the same place now, but 12 years ago, they wer­en’t. Each was mired, on a Septem­ber morn­ing in 2001, in sep­ar­ate situ­ations some 90 miles apart. 

Walton was here, in Phil­adelphia. The 57-year-old chief of May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s se­cur­ity team was a po­lice ser­geant on duty the day of the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. He was as­signed to an un­der­cov­er de­tail in Cen­ter City.

Kupniewski was in Man­hat­tan, only four blocks from where the World Trade Cen­ter towers fell. She said she heard the rumble of the second tower fall from with­in the build­ing where she worked. 

They are bound, like all Amer­ic­ans, by their ex­per­i­ences that fate­ful day more than a dec­ade ago. 

Kupniewski is ori­gin­ally from Port Rich­mond. She moved to Brook­lyn, she told Star in a phone in­ter­view last week, when she got a fin­ance job at Brown Broth­ers Har­ri­m­an in Lower Man­hat­tan, in Oc­to­ber of 2000. 

By the time Kupniewski got to work on Sept. 11, the plane had hit the first tower. She didn’t know yet, she said, what was go­ing on — she only heard snip­pets of con­ver­sa­tion from passerby.

“When I got off the train, you could already see pa­pers blow­ing around, every­one was freak­ing out,” she said. 

Once she got in­to her of­fice, Kupniewski said, every­one was still there. A com­pany head told em­ploy­ees he was stay­ing at work, and that the com­pany was con­cerned people could be walk­ing in­to yet an­oth­er at­tack if they left the build­ing. Kupniewski de­cided to stay.

Be­cause of that, she said, her ex­per­i­ence of 9/11 is “a lot dif­fer­ent” — she didn’t know much of what was go­ing on out­side.

“We had a TV that only got one chan­nel; we were get­ting such bits and pieces of info. We couldn’t see out the win­dow, everything was dust-covered,” she aid. 

Once she left her of­fice at about 2 p.m., when a cowork­er offered to drive her home, Kupniewski was stopped by fire­men on the street ask­ing where she was head­ing. She ex­plained her group was try­ing to drive back home to Brook­lyn.

“The fire­man said, ‘If you can get your car out of here in the next month, that would be a good thing,’” Kupniewski said. She was dir­ec­ted to take a ferry home. When the boat docked at the Brook­lyn Navy Yard, Kupniewski said the pas­sen­gers were greeted there by more than 100 hos­pit­al work­ers with wheel­chairs. 

“I don’t think they knew what state people were go­ing to be in, com­ing off that boat from the city,” she said.

Kupniewski said be­cause she stayed in her build­ing, she avoided much of the chaos of the at­tacks. She said she felt a lot safer in her build­ing than if she had tried to go home.

“I hon­estly didn’t real­ize what had happened un­til I got home and saw it on TV, which is good — I prob­ably would have had a heart at­tack.”

In the months fol­low­ing 9/11, Kupniewski said the city was “de­press­ing.”

“When I went back to work, there was soot every­where, you could still smell the burn­ing. It made me so de­pressed, I couldn’t stay there,” he aid.

Kupniewski moved back to Phil­adelphia in 2009. She now works for the De­part­ment of De­fense at a Navy base in the North­east. 

“It’s a very sad day for me,” Kupniewski said of 9/11. “You re­mem­ber ex­actly where you were at what time. I don’t really watch the news cov­er­age of it. I was in New York a few weeks ago, ac­tu­ally, but I can’t go in­to the me­mori­al [the Na­tion­al Septem­ber 11 Me­mori­al & Mu­seum at Ground Zero]. It’s something you nev­er for­get.”

She said that in Phil­adelphia, 9/11 me­mori­al and re­mem­brance events have “tapered off.”

“I re­mem­ber the 10-year an­niversary [of the at­tacks] in Philly was kind of a big deal. People of course re­mem­ber it, but I don’t know if [at­ten­tion to the an­niversary] is as pre­val­ent as it was in the be­gin­ning.”

Port Rich­mond’s Walton, who grew up in Kens­ing­ton, is one of a group of in­di­vidu­als work­ing to change that.

Search on­line for “Phil­adelphia 9/11 me­mori­al,” and the first search res­ult takes you to a webpage for a group of people who are work­ing to con­struct the city’s second 9/11 me­mori­al — the first was ded­ic­ated last year along the banks of the Schuylkill River, near the Chest­nut Street Bridge. That me­mori­al show­cases a piece of a beam from one of the towers.

The po­ten­tial second me­mori­al, co-foun­ded by World Trade Cen­ter First Re­spon­der Steven R. Say­mon and Jef­frey Little, would be called “Mend­ing Liberty,” and would be con­struc­ted in Frank­lin Square, not far from North­ern Liber­ties and Fishtown. It would com­prise a half-size rep­lica of the Liberty Bell, hung between two marble columns rep­res­ent­ing the former Twin Towers. 

A sec­tion of a World Trade Cen­ter beam, a lime­stone block from the Pentagon, and soil and stone ar­ti­facts from near the Flight 93 crash area would be in­cluded in the me­mori­al.

World Trade Cen­ter steel would be “mol­ded” in­to the crack of the rep­lica bell — the concept be­ing that the World Trade Cen­ter is “mend­ing” the cracked bell. 

Walton is a state re­gistered ar­chi­tect and design con­sult­ant work­ing on the pro­ject.

On Sept. 4, the Phil­adelphia Art Com­mis­sion re­jec­ted the design of the me­mori­al. Its fate is cur­rently un­clear. Walton wouldn’t dis­cuss the pro­ject’s fu­ture in de­tail when he spoke to Star on the phone last week, but he did dis­cuss its concept.

“It’s the concept of re­mem­ber­ing all the sac­ri­fices that have been made, and the on­go­ing struggle since that day,” Walton said. “It’s brin­ing some re­cog­ni­tion to the people who have made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice, and the con­tinu­ing sac­ri­fice of the men and wo­men in all branches of the ser­vice.”

Walton re­calls the chaos of Sept. 11, 2001, here in Phil­adelphia. He was pos­ted at the base of the Ben Frank­lin Bridge, on the Phil­adelphia side, to make sure no one came in­to Cen­ter City. 

“I can re­mem­ber see­ing the col­lapse of the tower on TV. I can still see it, it took my breath away. I re­mem­ber the first thing I said was, ‘All those po­lice and fire­men were killed. Turned out it was true,” Walton said. 

“It’s been 12 years and it’s still go­ing on,” Walton said, re­fer­ring to on­go­ing wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan. “God know if it will ever end.” 

Kupniewski said she would wel­come a second me­mori­al in the city.

“If it had names [of those who lost their lives] on it, I could ap­pre­ci­ate it. But if it had pic­tures,” she said, “I can’t look.”

“[The me­mori­al] is just something that we’re try­ing to let people un­der­stand,” Walton said. “When New York was at­tacked, Phil­adelphia was at­tacked, the U.S. was at­tacked.” 

“It’s just to re­mem­ber,” he con­tin­ued, “And not for­get.”

To learn more about the “Mend­ing Liberty” me­mori­al, vis­it www.phil­a911.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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