I feel like I should have metacarpal tunnel syndrome from my constant pressing of the buttons on my remote control while changing the channels on the television since Sept.11, 2001.
Constantly flipping between CNN, MSNBC, Fox and C-Span has become a routine ritual since that tragic day. The major news networks, with the exception of C-Span, have constantly scrolled information at the bottom of the screen during their normal broadcasting. One particular news clip caught my eye one day as it scrolled across the bottom of the screen. It said, "63% of New Yorkers believe the World Trade Center should be rebuilt." For a second, I thought this was outstanding. Let's show the world and the terrorists they cannot stop America. In fact, it should be built higher and bigger. But then I thought, no, this is hallowed and sacred ground to the fire service.
Of course, I do not live in New York. I am not a policy maker in New York. I am not with the New York City Fire Department. I did not lose a loved one. I do not own the land. But I do have an opinion. My opinion is that the area where the World Trade Center once stood is hallowed ground and should be turned into a memorial for those in the fire service and other emergency services who died, and to the innocent civilians who lost their lives when those cancers crawled out of their septic tank and crashed two planes into the World Trade Center towers.
Some of the most hallowed ground in America is the Gettysburg battlefield. Many who have taken courses at the National Fire Academy in nearby Emmitsburg, MD, usually find themselves touring the battlefield on the weekend. During that three-day engagement in 1863, almost 51,000 men from the North and the South were casualties (killed, wounded, captured or missing). One cannot help but be awed at the immensity of the battlefield, or stand in amazement at an open field of approximately one mile across and wonder how any of the 15,000 men in Pickett's charge on the third day survived crossing that field in formation, into a hail of rifle and cannon fire from the Union side.
President Abraham Lincoln arrived four months after the slaughter to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In his famous Gettysburg Address, Lincoln said, "We cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Through the years, American history has been graced by individuals who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and we have created physical memorials to their memories. Many of these memorials are considered sacred or hallowed ground to our American history and the cost associated with our freedom.
Where the World Trade Center towers once stood should be sacred ground to those in the fire service just like Iwo Jima is sacred ground to the United States Marine Corps. Where those 110-story structures were situated should be a memorial to the fire service just like the U.S.S. Arizona is a memorial to those in the Navy. Other American hallowed ground can be found in such places as the Antietam battlefield, the Alamo, the Normandy beaches and Arlington National Cemetery.
However, I can hear the other points of view now. Those memorials I mention are to those lost in wars and included soldiers. I see no difference. This was not Bosnia, where the enemy could not touch our native soil. This was not an attack against us in some faraway land where our way of living was not jeopardized. This was and still is an attack against the American homeland and our freedom that we enjoy. The soldiers who were the first casualties of this war were those who died at the World Trade Center.
This is now a war and those in the fire service who died at the World Trade Center were the equivalent of medics and Navy corpsmen in previous military campaigns who rushed about during the heat of battle to save others and render care.
Just like those soldiers at Gettysburg who experienced a new form of war with the introduction or development of breech-loading rifles, repeating rifles, machine guns, breechloading artillery, electronic transfer of information across the telegraph, and the rapid transfer of troops from one part of the country to the other by rail, those at the World Trade Center are the first victims in a war that we will fight like no other in our American history.
There will be much discussion and debate in the ensuing months with what to do with the property where the World Trade Centers once stood. Some estimate it will take a year to clean up the site. This is prime real estate in Manhattan that would sell for a pretty price. The words that Lincoln used 138 years ago at Gettysburg can be repeated at the base of where the towers once stood. "The brave men (and women), living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract." Rebuild the World Trade Center - just someplace else.
Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the managing director of The Ludwig Group, LLC, a professional consulting firm specializing in fire and EMS issues. He retired as the chief paramedic of the St. Louis Fire Department after serving the City of St. Louis for 24 years. Ludwig has trained and lectured internationally and nationally on fire-based EMS topics. He can be reached at 314-752-1240 or via www.garyludwig.com.