One of the most difficult things for the families of loved ones lost at Ground Zero on 9/11 has been the fact that so many bodies of victims were never recovered. There are approximately 1,200 victims whose remains could be stored at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island here in New York. The families went to court yesterday to start their battle against the City of New York, hoping to move over a million tons of debris to a proper burial site.
My sister is one of this determined group of people; they believe that a decent burial is something that is not only expected but is each person’s right. Since Steve’s body was never recovered, she was forced to have a memorial service but has always hoped that something tangible could be found in order to have the more definitive funeral service, ultimately providing a final resting place for interment with dignity.
There was a rally at Ground Zero on Sunday, and many of the people echoed the same lament: “We don’t have a grave to place flowers on, to go to visit, and reflect and pray.” One thing is very clear to all the family members: a garbage dump on Staten Island is not in any way the proper place for their loved ones’ remains. As one still grieving mother put it, “They are not garbage; they don’t belong in a dump.”
Yesterday the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial and city officials agreed to try to end this emotional dispute at a hearing for the federal suit filed by the group. Unfortunately, the city still wants to leave the material at Fresh Kills and would like a memorial to be built there. Families obviously detest the landfill, for it was here that World Trade Center debris was brought after 9/11 and has remained all this time. To them it is nothing but a garbage dump; it is unacceptable emotionally and it is not an aesthetically appropriate place for a memorial.
Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is hearing the case, likened the unidentified victims’ remains to those of “unknown soldiers” who in the past have been given final resting places of honor and dignity. While this may sound as if it does not bode well for the city’s case, this issue will not be resolved so easily. Many of the families would like the debris to be returned to lower Manhattan to be included as part of a memorial there, but that is unlikely to be approved by city officials who doubt that the remains can be effectively and completely removed from the landfill site.
So, while the city and families have agreed to disagree for now and attempt to resolve the matter later (both sides are due back in court on December 8), the battle for a proper memorial goes on.
I believe that lower Manhattan is the proper place for the remains of those lost. The more I reflect on the matter, the more I see that space where the Twin Towers once stood gracefully and magnificently as symbols of our city is indeed a sacred place. Too many ideas are discussed about “what to do” with this area; instead, the obvious answer is either passed over or ignored.
My solution is simple: dedicate the entire 16 acre site to 9/11 and its victims. This defies profit, it ignores size and scope (such as the despicable goal of a new giant tower to be another terrorist target), and it sends a message that New Yorkers are able to focus on what matters most: dignity for victims’ families and honor for those lost. Beyond those essential things, nothing else matters.
It is time for New Yorkers, and all Americans, to demand that those 16 acres in lower Manhattan are designated as hallowed ground. In doing so, we will defy all those who think we Americans are materialistic and pompous, showing the world that we can put human dignity essentially before anything else and be proud of doing so for our lost countrymen and women and their families.
Copyright © Victor Lana 2005