The 9/11 Museum and September 11th, 2001—A Personal Reflection

Sign in front of 9/11 Memorial Museum in October, 2013

(My personal reflection follows this story)  

September 11th, 2016 marks 15 years since the terrorist attacks which took the lives of nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.  On May 21st, 2014  the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened to the public for the first time.  Those in charge of its design have had to be sensitive to exhibiting artifacts which capture the historical moments of that day in 2001 with the emotions of the families who continue to grieve for their lost loved ones.

The museum sits 70 feet deep beneath what was formerly called “Ground Zero” after the attacks.  Among the 10,000 artifacts are audio and video recordings made that tragic day, including sounds of emergency radio calls and cellphone messages from workers in the Twin Towers calling loved ones.

View looking into the museum in October before construction was complete

The museum features 23,000 still photos, mangled rescue vehicles and plane parts as well as the last steel column removed during the cleanup.  Various personal artifacts found in the rubble are also on display.  The goal of the privately funded museum is to tell the story of the nearly 3,000 people killed in not only the 2001 attacks but also the 1993 trade center bombing. President Barack Obama along with families and others officially dedicated the museum on Thursday, May 15th, 2014.



One of the special fountains built on one of the footprints of the former Twin Towers

The museum is adjacent to the Memorial Plaza where the footprints of the twin towers now feature unique water fountains surrounded by the engraved names of those who died on September 11th when terrorists commandeered United Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 and crashed into the Twin Towers.





The plaza memorial also includes the names of those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon and those who died on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in a Shanksville, Pennsylvania field after passengers revolted against the hijackers.  



The new Freedom Tower

The new “Freedom Tower” stands next to the Memorial Plaza.  The Freedom Tower, which stands 1,776 feet tall on the site of the former World Trade Center, is the work of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.   According to the website, the “Freedom Tower” serves as a beacon of freedom, and demonstrates the resolve of the United States, and the people of New York City.


My Personal Reflection

Donna Green-Townsend and Cameron Taylor

All of the photos featured above I took in October, 2013 when I travelled to New York City to attend the National Edward R. Murrow Awards Ceremony.  I was there to accompany Cameron Taylor, one of my Telecommunication students from the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, who was being presented a Murrow for a radio feature he had produced on the oyster collapse in Cedar Key, FL.


It had been 29 years since I had last visited NYC and I was anxious to see the 9/11 Memorial site.  Even though I was in Florida when the terrorist attacks occurred, the tragedy had definite ramifications all over the country.  The day before the attacks I sent one of my feature reporters, Susie Losco, to Jacksonville to cover President George W. Bush’s “Reading” campaign.  Susie came back telling me how excited she was about getting the opportunity to shake the president’s hand.

(AP Photo/Doug Mills)

As everyone now knows, the reading campaign was the reason President Bush next visited the Emma E. Booker elementary school in Sarasota where the now infamous photo was taken of his Chief of Staff Andy Card informing him that the country was under attack.



twin-towersImmediately on that day in 2001 I began to see various emails exploding on my computer from various acquaintances who were concerned about why their flights were forced to land at various airports around the country.  I was particularly interested in talking to the woman who had a cousin who was a flight attendant on one of the flights which ripped through one of the Twin Towers.  Even the mere thought of that was unfathomable.

WTC collapseIt was a very emotional day in the newsroom and around the country as we watched in horror as the towers collapsed on live television.  The University of Florida and other state facilities closed early for security purposes given our current governor, Jeb Bush, was the president’s brother.

There were no guidebooks on how to go about covering such a tragic event that affected American civilians on our home soil.  Most of us just went on autopilot and reached out to talk to not only those who had relatives in NYC, but also to blood centers and others involved in forensic, medical and law enforcement triage.

Donna in front of World Trade Center Twin Towers 1984
Donna in front of World Trade Center Twin Towers 1984

Throughout the day, as additional news reports came through about the flight that crashed into the Pentagon and Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania when the passengers took over the hijackers, I couldn’t help but reflect  back to the day I first saw the Twin Towers in June of 1984 and literally stood on top of the North Tower.  I was visiting with a former colleague who lived in Connecticut, Carmen Bayles and her sister Jane. Carmen had planned a 14-hour walk around Manhattan that began near the Brooklyn Bridge and included a visit to Wall Street.


World Trade Center Observation Deck ticket 1984
1984 WTC Observation Deck ticket

Donna on top of World Trade Center Twin Towers 1984 in New YorkI can still remember how large the elevators were that took us up to the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower to a restaurant called “Windows On The World.”  But the view from the restaurant didn’t compare to how it looked and felt to go out on the very top of the building on the observation deck.  I can still recall how windy it was up there and how spectacular the view of the city was from that vantage point. It’s an eerie feeling knowing that the spot where I stood looking out over the Hudson River and NYC no longer exists.


The events of 9/11 also brought back memories of when I was a young journalist at the University of Missouri in Columbia in the late 1970s.  I had a strong desire to follow in the footsteps of many of my student counterparts who were from the Northeast.  I remember the semester everyone was applying for internships for the summer while attending the School of Journalism at MU.  Many were heading to NYC.  I had never been there and thought such an internship would be great for my resume.  But a certain phone call changed all that.

Donna and Dave Dugan
Donna with “Mr. CBS” Dave Dugan at MU

My advisor just happened to be Dave Dugan, “Mr. CBS” himself.  Dave had worked for more than 25 years for CBS both in radio and television.  I learned through longtime CBS network anchor Dan Rather’s book, “The Camera Never Blinks,” that Dave Dugan actually trained Dan on his first day working for CBS, a day when a plane crashed into Jamaica Bay. That’s another story for another day.  Needless to say, when Dave Dugan talked, I listened.  On this particular morning back in 1978 I received a call from Dave who said I needed to come to his office.  I went right away.  It was then he told me he had a dream about me the night before in which he says I was assaulted in the bus terminal in NYC and he just couldn’t allow me to go there.  My internship desire to go to the “Big Apple” turned into an internship at KWIX-KRES radio in Moberly, MO instead.  I say all that because it adds even more to the emotions I felt when I finally made my first visit to NYC in 1984.  I recently learned that Dave Dugan passed away earlier this year.  Before he died his family told him of my memories of his dream and he still remembered it.

2013-10-14_13-38-57_45In October of 2013, 29 years after my first visit to NYC, the only thing I wanted to do outside of attending the Murrow Awards was visit the 9/11 Memorial.  It’s hard to describe how it felt to touch the names of those engraved around the fountains in the WTC footprints knowing the horror they all must have felt on that day.  I wish the museum had been open that October, but having experienced  9/11 as a reporter in 2001 it isn’t really necessary for me to hear the audio or see the video that’s being shown there because I saw it and heard it on the actual day in the newsroom at WUFT.

2013-10-14_13-31-30_543The tragedy of 9/11 will forever be etched in my memory just as the tragedy of Pearl Harbor was etched in the memory of my parents.  My dad, a former marine, had always wanted to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii when he retired.  Sadly, he died at the young age of 52 before he could make that trip.  I’m glad that I had the opportunity to go back to NYC before my retirement.  It made me think of my dad.

2013-10-14_13-05-45_348I hope the museum and the September 11th Memorial Site will help future generations to realize that “freedom is not free.”




(from left to right) Katiana Krawchenko, Donna Green-Townsend, Cameron Taylor and Miles Doran

One more little personal thought…. after sharing the dream of “Mr. CBS” Dave Dugan earlier in the post, I thought it was a bit ironic that on my last trip to NYC I actually visited the CBS network studios.  Having won an Edward R. Murrow Award myself in 2000, it was great to be standing next to two other Murrow Award winners, Miles Doran and Cameron Taylor, both UF grads.  Miles currently works for CBS as does  UF grad Katiana Krawchenko (pictured to the left).  On that day it felt as if I had come full-circle.  I think that’s a very good thing.