Image: Wendy Cheung

As gigantic waterfalls cascade down into the footprints of both the North and South Towers, the new World Trade Center Memorial is both simple and breathtaking. Its simplicity lies in its design and layout. Both fountains are surrounded by the names of all those killed during the September 11th terrorist attacks, categorized by where they were. Its breathtaking nature lies simply in the shear size of the waterfalls and the thought that two massive buildings once stood here. Every battle is represented and defined, including those names of the first responders, the majority of which are displayed on the Memorial’s South Tower footprint walls. Inscribed on them are the names and departments of the New York City firefighters, police officers, federal agents and Port Authority police officers (PAPD) that ran towards the danger as they tried to save lives.

As you walk the Memorial grounds, feelings of sadness and honor surpass words. For first responders, September 11th marks the greatest loss of life for both firefighters and law enforcement in a single day. Some of those responders are still buried there. And they displayed great valor, courage and heroism under fire. They have baptized that ground as the ground of heroes.

Medal of Honor
On September 21, another hero graced the sacred ground at the World Trade Center Memorial. Our nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer was invited by the Port Authority, Marine Corps and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Association to visit the Memorial.

As Sgt. Meyer arrived, the Port Authority police bagpipe band greeted him, playing the Marines’ Hymm. As they escorted him into the Memorial, he was flanked by officials from the Port Authority of New York Chairman Samson, Superintendent Fedorko, Joe Daniels and Bill Baroni. Sgt. Meyer’s first stop was the south pool, panels S:29 and S:30, to meet the families of PAPD Officers James W. Parham and Paul W. Jurgens, who died during the attacks and had served as Marines. While there, Sgt. Meyer placed two American flags at their inscribed names while their families looked on. He then stood for a moment, taking in the vastness of the Memorial.

Image: Wendy Cheung

The PAPD then escorted Sgt. Meyer to an area between the north and south pool, where PAPD officers, Marines and veterans were gathered in formation. While walking over, Sgt. Meyer stopped and shook hands with and posed for photos with veterans that were working at the new World Trade Center, part of the “Helmets to Hardhats” program helping veterans adjust from a life in the military to a job in construction. Many of these veterans had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan and are now helping to re-build the site of the nations deadliest attacks.

Once in the area between the Memorial pools, Port Authority officials made brief remarks. Then Sgt. Meyer was presented with awards from New Jersey Marine Corps Reserve Unit Captain Geraldo Silva and PAPD Detective Adil Almontaser—including a USMC award carved out of WTC steel—and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) American Valor Award by FLEOA National President Jon Adler.

Following a brief moment of silence and the playing of God Bless America, Sgt. Meyer was escorted out of the Memorial grounds and into history.

Sgt. Dakota Meyer disobeyed orders, rushed into a potential no-win situation with the odds stacked against him and displayed valiant courage in order to save his fellow Marines’ lives. Sgt. Meyer not only displayed the highest traditions of the Marine Corps, but he also upheld the spirit and dedication of all those who served or died at Ground Zero as well.

Their actions will be forever intertwined, and those Marines that Sgt. Meyer attempted to save are now with the 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers that also “gave all.” They are saying, “Bravo Zulu Marine.”

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