‘Have to make sure America doesn’t forget’ 9/11

A mobile 9/11 exhibit arrives in Grand Rapids. (Sept. 9, 2014)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite a driving rain Wednesday, crowds made their way into the semi-trailer parked outside the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Inside was the 9/11 Never Forget Exhibit.

The traveling museum features artifacts and multimedia presentations on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked three commercial airplanes and crashed them into World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked flight crashed in a field in Pennsylvania as passengers attempted to retake the plane before it reached its target — believed to be either the White House or Capitol Building.

For some who visited the museum Wednesday afternoon, it was a way to remember that tragic day 13 years ago.

For others, it was a history lesson. Maureen Rabaut brought her little sister Joanna, who was born long after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“She’s an American citizen, and this is a very important part of our history,” Rabaut said.

John LaBarbera would like to see more young people learning about Sept. 11 and its affect on our nation.

Inside the traveling 9/11 Never Forget Exhibit, which features artifacts and multimedia presentations on Sept. 11, 2001.
(Inside the traveling 9/11 Never Forget Exhibit.)

He is one of the many emergency workers who ran toward the burning Twin Towers while everyone else ran away. The Fire Department New York battalion chief wasn’t on duty on the morning of Sept. 11, but joined the rescue effort after the second plane crashed into south tower of the World Trade Center.

“It was so surreal,” LaBarbera said.

“When I turned the corner after walking up Manhattan about a quarter of a mile — ’cause you couldn’t see from the tip — as you came around the end, what you saw was this,” he continued, pointing to a photo of the piles of what was once the facade of the towers — one of the many symbols of the day.

LaBarbera’s work with the mobile museum is personal. It’s a way to remember the 343 fellow FDNY members who died that day.

But it’s also brought cause for concern. He said he is finding more and more young people don’t seem to understand the significance of Sept. 11.

“When I ask them questions when they come through the exhibit, they have no information on it as far as numbers . They don’t even remember what happened that day,” LaBarbera said.

It’s a big worry for those who risked and lost so much that day 13 years ago.

“We lost some of the greatest guys in the world, those 343 guys,” LaBarbera said. “All the first responders, the police officers and EMTs. 2,900 civilians. But we have to make sure America doesn’t forget.”

The mobile museum is sponsored by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

Siller was a FDNY firefighter assigned to a firehouse in Brooklyn on Sept. 11. He was off duty that day, but drove to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel trying to get onto Manhattan. When his car was blocked from entering the island, Siller grabbed his gear and ran through the tunnel and to the World Trade Center.

He was killed in one of the collapses.

The foundation named in Siller’s honor holds a fundraising run every September, retracing the path Siller took to get to Ground Zero that day.

The exhibit, which is free to visitors, will be open at the museum through Thursday. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

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On the web:

9/11 Never Forget Exhibit

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