Worn but not beaten.
That’s the fitting description the National September 11 Memorial & Museum provided for the large stones that will point toward the sky and mark a new pathway at the World Trade Center site: a tribute to survivors and first responders who are sick or have died from 9/11-related illnesses.
It’s been 16 years since first responders ended their rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. But in illness after illness, and loss after loss, the tragic impact of the months they spent at “the pile” reverberates in the ongoing suffering of tens of thousands of rescue and recovery workers, area residents and others who were exposed to toxins.
Nearly 70,000 first responders and more than 14,000 survivors now receive monitoring, treatment and care through the World Trade Center Health Program.
The national memorial’s plan to acknowledge their plight, through a space called the Memorial Glade, is especially meaningful given the years those victims spent fighting for the health care and treatment they needed. After all, it was 2006 when NYPD Officer James Zadroga died of a respiratory illness attributed to his work on the pile, and the Zadroga Act was proposed. But it wasn’t until 2010 that the act finally passed, and it wasn’t until 2015 that the health program became permanent.
The image of first responders, some of whom were already ill, in the halls of Congress, begging our nation’s leaders to help take care of them, still resonates. So do the stories of first responders still getting sick, still dying. Just last week, David Levalley, a special agent with the FBI’s Atlanta office, died of complications from exposure to toxins at the trade center. On May 4, retired NYPD Officer Mark Natale of Long Island died of cancer, also related to his work after 9/11.
The new memorial at the World Trade Center plaza will pay tribute to Zadroga, Levalley, Natale, and thousands of others, to their strength, heroism and sacrifice, and to the debt we all owe them.
Worn but not beaten.