Like other Americans and our friends around the world, today the Embassy paused in silence to mourn the loss of the thousands of people murdered in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania eleven years ago today, and to commemorate the courage and selflessness of those who rushed to respond to the attacks, in many cases at the cost of their own lives.
In an annual event of particular significance to us, my colleague Colin Crosby traveled down to Christchurch to participate in a ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial in Firefighters Reserve. The Memorial contains sculpture crafted from World Trade Center girders gifted to Christchurch by the City of New York on the occasion of the 2002 World Firefighters Games, the first multinational gathering of fire and rescue professionals after the terrorist attacks.
Co-sponsored by the American Club of Christchurch and the Firefighters of Christchurch, the ceremony at the Reserve honored the victims and heroes of 9/11, as well as firemen, police, ambulance personnel, and other first responders who work tirelessly on our behalf everyday in Christchurch and across both of our countries.
Up north, our new Consul General, Jim Donegan, represented the Mission at 9/11 memorial events in Auckland. I asked Jim to pen a few notes about his activities today and the meaning of the occasion being commemorated. I share his thoughts below.
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JD: September 11 can be a tough, emotional day for most Americans, particularly for those of us from New York. One thing that makes it easier to get through is to recall the outpouring of support from around the world for the United States in the dark hours and days after the WTC came down. On September 11, 2012 I had the honor to participate in an event in Auckland to remember the 56 New Zealand Fire Service firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and the 343 New York firefighters who were killed on 9-11.
Some 100 firefighters from the Auckland area and other regions of New Zealand held a memorial stair climb in the old BNZ Building on Mills Lane. The climb was preceded by a short ceremony which included a prayer for all firefighters led by Auckland Bishop Ross Bay, himself a firefighter. I read a letter from NY City Fire Department Commissioner Salvatore Cassano expressing appreciation for the event, and recalling the common bond of bravery shared by firefighters worldwide.
9-11 has a special personal resonance for me. I am a New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan and as a boy watched as the Twin Towers rose floor by floor over the downtown skyline. Thirty years later I also watched as they came crashing down as the result of a cowardly terrorist act, ending the lives of over 2600 people, two of them Kiwis, 343 of them firefighters.
Happily, I have also seen the part of the city we referred to as Ground Zero rebuilt and revitalized, and become a thriving business center and home to thousands of New Yorkers. The memorial park at the site of the Towers ensures that the ultimate sacrifice made by New York’s Bravest there will not be forgotten.
Ceremonies and activities such as those carried out by the New Zealand firefighters ensure the sacrifices made in New York in those dark days more than a decade ago will be remembered around the world. And we will always remember and appreciate the support, generosity, and concern of our friends.
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Thanks to Jim and Colin for so ably representing the Mission in Christchurch and Auckland. I’ll leave you with the closing words spoken by President Obama at the memorial service outside the Pentagon:
“[E]ven though we may never be able to fully lift the burden carried by those left behind, we know that somewhere, a son is growing up with his father’s eyes, and a daughter has her mother’s laugh — living reminders that those who died are with us still.
“So as painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are. No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for. Instead, we recommit ourselves to the values that we believe in, holding firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.
“That’s the commitment that we reaffirm today. And that’s why, when the history books are written, the true legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear or hate or division. It will be a safer world; a stronger nation; and a people more united than ever before.
“God bless the memories of those we lost. And God bless these United States of America.”