Memorial Proposals Ignore Sacrifices of Rescue Workers

Here’s the problem with the designs for the WTC Memorial: they follow the Memorial’s Mission Statement and Program. Here’s how the jury and designers can produce a genuine and lasting memorial: ignore its directions.

Without truth, the memorial cannot succeed. However, the Memorial Mission Statement is as much an attempt to satisfy various personal constituencies as it is an effort to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Nowhere in the Mission Statement is the word “sacrifice.” So, what did those 343 firefighters—including my brother, Capt. William F. Burke, Jr. of Engine 21—who died trying to save others at the Trade Center do? What word would you use to describe it? Wasn’t this a major part of Sept. 11? Shouldn’t the memorial “instructions” include it?

We are told in the “Notes from the Memorial Mission Statement Drafting Committee” section of the document that “descriptive words”—such as “sacrifice,” “hero,” “terrorists,” and “murdered, killed, or lost”—“were carefully considered for their meaning and implications[and] raised issues that were debated.” The decisions made “best reflected the intentions of the committee.”

“The draft mission statement,” the document continues, “contrasts the darkest humanity and the bright light of human compassion and bravery.”

Well, no, it doesn’t. And because it doesn’t, [the Memorial] cannot succeed.

The brightest “light of human compassion and bravery” is to lay your life down for another. We’ve all heard it a million times: greater love than this no man hath. It is apparent that somehow the draft committee did not feel that the sacrifice of the uniformed rescue workers at the World Trade Center reflected that, so they neglected it.

The Statement requirements for the Memorial include: “Remember and honor the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by the terrorists;” “Respect this place made sacred by their loss;” and “Recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others.”

“Murdered,” “terrorist,” “lost”: they all made the cut. “Sacrifice” and “hero” were notably left out. The site was made sacred through loss alone, with no mention of the sacrifice. And there is no mention of the courage of those who not only risked their lives, but also gave them. Read the Memorial Mission Statement and you would never know anyone did.

The FDNY has a bumper sticker: “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” This is a sentiment the drafters of the Statement apparently did not fully appreciate.

A memorial that does recognize my brother’s sacrifice does not honor him.

If the jury and designers follow the Statement explicitly, visitors to the Memorial will not be told that over 400 men and women died in the line of duty that day. It will be as if this great sacrifice, which we all witnessed and inspired the country in one of its darkest hours, never happened.

Here’s my advice to the jury and the designers: Go for the Truth. Follow your heart. Ignore the Memorial Mission Statement and Program. Be innovative. History will reward you.

Michael Burke

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