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The coronavirus-shuttered 9/11 Memorial Plaza reopened for a select crowd Saturday after a four-month closure, with a Fourth of July moment of silence honoring those killed by the pandemic.
Mayor de Blasio, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and 9/11 Memorial & Museum CEO and President Alice Greenwald shared a brief Saturday stop at the Lower Manhattan memorial’s Survivor Tree to honor those lost to COVID-19.
“The Fourth of July is about our country’s commitment to its underlying values: freedom, equality, independence, nationhood,” said Greenwald. “9/11 is so much a part of the history of this nation. It was the worst terrorist attack on our soil in our nation’s history. That said, it’s also an emblem, this place, of how we can meet adversity and come through it.”
Accompanied by the mournful sound of three bagpipers on Independence Day, the small group — most wearing masks with the words “United By Hope” — walked in unison ahead of two American flag bearers. A wreath of red, white and blue flowers stood by the tree, with the officials placing small American flags in a fence surrounding the Callery pear tree rescued from the rubble of the Twin Towers.
The plaza, with its twin reflecting pools engraved with the names of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, was closed back on March 13. The hallowed stretch of Lower Manhattan, including the Memorial Glade honoring those killed by 9/11-related illnesses, opened Saturday to members of the 9/11 community.
Dan Noesges, 72, spent seven weeks working 12-to-15 hours shifts at Ground Zero as the search for survivors shifted to locating the remains of those killed in the attack. He was among the first to return when the memorial reopened Saturday.
“I got there on Sept. 12, the day after,” said the Vietnam veteran. “I had no hesitation whatsoever. It’s something that should never be forgotten.”
Martin Nystrom, 54, conducted walking tours with the 9/11 Tribute Museum before the pandemic forced its shutdown. He too worked in the search and rescue operation immediately after the terrorist attack, and said it took him three years before he could return to Ground Zero.
“They told us to expect everything and anything,” recalled Nystrom. “I didn’t want to come back and see an image that would remind me of what I’d seen.”
His emotions were different Saturday as he walked around the site honoring the 2,753 people killed in the terrorist attack: “It warms my heart.”
More than 400 FDNY and NYPD members died over the last 18 years from 9/11-related illnesses, according to officials.