Remembering Lives Lost On Sept. 11, 2001

President Obama laid a wreath at ground zero Thursday in remembrance of the victims who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. He does not plan to speak, opting instead for a moment of silence. People whose lives were changed that day share their memories in selections from StoryCorps.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

The president laid a wreath at Ground Zero in New York today to remember those killed on 9/11, four days after he announced that U.S. forces killed the principal architect of that atrocity. The president chose not to make any public remarks at Ground Zero. He visited a New York City firehouse and met privately with family members. At the Pentagon, Vice President Biden laid a wreath to remember those killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

Today, we remember those who died in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and those whose lives will never be the same. Let's listen to a few of the conversations from the StoryCorps September 11 initiative. Here, retired firefighter John Vigiano remembers his sons, both of whom died at the World Trade Center.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. JOHN VIGIANO, SR. (Retired Firefighter): There were a couple of days each year you were allowed to take your children to work. And Joe loved it. That was his birthday present, that he would come and spend the night in the firehouse. We'd have a cake. And the guys I work with, they would take a milk container and they'd cut out the facsimile of a building, and they'd put it on the top of the cake and then they would light it up. And they would tell Joe to put it out, and he would throw a pot of water on it. The birthday cake was a little soggy, but this was what he wanted.

Joe started dating a young lady whose father was a police officer. And he come home one day and he says, I'm taking the police test. I says, Joe, you're only 17 years old. He says, no big deal. He passed the test. And when he graduated, they assigned him to East New York, where I started my career.

On the other side of the room, my son John wanted nothing to do with police or emergency service or fire department. He wanted to be the next Donald Trump. He was going to make a million dollars and take care of his mother and father. But in 1984, I came down with throat cancer.

He noticed then how my unit took care of us. And he says, I'm going to become a fireman. I says, you're kidding me. Firemen don't make millions of dollars. How am I going to live like a king? But I was very happy, very proud.

My father had been on the fire department, and he was the first one to be issued badge number 3436. And when John decided he wanted to be a firefighter, they reissued it to my son John. So the badge is only used by two.

Both the boys would call me when they were working. John would always call around 3:30, 4 o'clock. And that particular night, September 10th, we spoke for a few minutes. And I says, I love you, and he says, I love you.

Joe calls me in the morning and told me to turn on the television, that a plane just hit the Trade Center. And he says, I'm heading south on West Street. This is a big one. And I just says, be careful. I love you. He says, I love you too. That was it.

We had the boys for - John for 36 years, Joe for 34 years. Ironically, badge number 3436.

I don't have any could've, should've or would'ves. I wouldn't have changed anything. It's not many people that the last words they said to their son or daughter was I love you. And the last words that they heard was I love you. So that makes me sleep at night.

CONAN: John Vigiano, remembering his two sons. Jessica DeRubbio's father also died at the World Trade Center.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Ms. JESSICA DeRUBBIO: When he died, I was 12. Sometimes it's hard for me to remember him because I was little. But I have to say that his hugs, like, you know, I remember them so much. When I used to hug him, the whole world disappeared, because he just would cover me, and that would be it.

Ever since I could remember, he wanted to be a firefighter. He wanted to be just like his brothers. And I remember he finally did it, and he called me on the phone and he was just ecstatic, like he didn't know what to do. He couldn't believe it. It was his dream.

He never wanted to move up. He never wanted to be a captain. He wanted to stay a firefighter for the rest of his life. No matter how much I want him to be here, I still know that his dream was always to be a firefighter. And I don't think he would have wanted to have died any other way.

CONAN: Jessica DeRubbio, 17 years old at the time of her interview with StoryCorps. John Yates was working at the Pentagon when American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the building.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. JOHN YATES: One of my co-workers asked me if I knew what was going on in New York, so I said no. And she said, well, you got to come see. And there's a crowd of people watching the TV, so I stood there for a few minutes and watched and then I walked back to my desk. I called my wife. She said she knew, and I said, well, I just wanted to let you know I was okay. And she said, do me a favor, for the rest of the day, work from underneath your desk. So I laughed, and I said, yeah, honey, I will. I love you and I'll see you tonight. And I walked back over. And by this time the crowd kind of thinned out a little bit.

And just as I decided to get up and leave, the plane hit the outside of the building. I was blown through the air. And when I landed, I really didn't know where I was. That kind of scared me, because I knew the floor plan of our space better than I knew the floor plan of my own house. The room was just black, and everything I touched burned my hands. I just started crawling on my hands and knees. And I knew I was going in the right direction when it started getting a little bit lighter. And I could feel water on my back from the sprinklers.

Eventually, I stood up and started walking down towards the center courtyard. And at it's at this point that I finally realized how badly I was hurt, because as I was walking, I looked down at my hands, and I remember seeing just strings of skin, which was hanging off my hands from the burns. And I remember sitting on the grass and a medic coming up and cutting all my clothes off of me and a doctor saying, he goes first.

There's a lot of things that I don't remember to this day. But I remember my wife waking me up, and I thought it was still September 11, but it was September 13. And when I went back over the second time to watch what was going on in New York, I was standing in the middle of five people, and I'm the only one that survived.

CONAN: That was John Yates. Ester DiNardo went to the twin towers on September 10 to celebrate her birthday with her family.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Ms. ESTER DiNARDO: The last time I saw my daughter was the night before September 11. It was my birthday. And she asked me if I would like to go spend my birthday at the Window the World, and I said, yes, I'd like that. So we all went there, the whole family. And during the night we stopped by the windows, and I said what a beautiful place. I feel like I'm up in heaven. It's so pretty. And she said to me, mom, I got you on the top of the world.

The next morning, when I saw the plane just hit the North Tower, and that's where she was, I said, I know Marisa is very strong. She's very soft heart and she always help other people. I said, probably she's helping somebody, probably she got down. I could not think that she was not around anymore.

About a year later, a policeman called me and he said, your daughter's name was Marisa DiNardo? I said, yes. I said, why, you found something? He says, well, we found her pocketbook. He told me to go pick it up, and that's when it really felt that she was not here anymore, when I found her pocketbook.

CONAN: Ester DiNardo, remembering her daughter Marisa. Michael Curci worked in the Twin Towers. He helped his co-worker, John Abruzzo, a quadriplegic, travel 69 flights of stairs down to the floor of the North Tower.

In another interview, Richie Pecorella remembered his fianc´┐Że, Karen Juday. She was one of the tens of thousands - one of the thousands killed in New York on 9/11.

And we apologize. We're having technical difficulties, and we're unable to bring you the tape of the people who we're remembering their loved ones, their children, their co-workers and their friends, their daughters who died on 9/11. And we're just having difficulty with our technical system. And this is one of those things that happens, and we do apologize for this. There are stories that day that will remain seared in our memories forever.

This happened, of course, almost 10 years ago, an atrocity. Those who lost a husband or a wife, a child, a parent or a friend that day know that the death of Osama bin Laden will not bring them back. But what happened this past week in Pakistan, early Monday morning, local time, that changes the narrative of their stories. And it also changes history, not just American history, but it changes the way the world will look at what happened that day, and it changes the way that we will think about what happened on that day.

As we mentioned earlier, it was today that President Obama went to the site of the World Trade Center in New York, generally referred to these days as Ground Zero, the site of a new building that is rising to replace the loss of the World Trade Center, a museum, new facilities built to replace the transportation facilities that were lost in that city on that day.

And it was Vice President Joe Biden who went to the Pentagon, where there is another memorial to the hundreds who were killed in the Defense Department building in Northern Virginia, and along with the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, laid a wreath to remember those who were killed at the Pentagon.

There is a memorial also being finalized in a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where another flight crashed into the ground, this one, well, perhaps intended by its hijackers to crash into the Capitol of the United States or perhaps into the White House, a plane brought down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when the passengers heroically resisted the hijackers and the plane spun out of control and went into the ground.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

We're having technical difficulties with the tape we were hoping to play for you earlier today. There's been a problem with our computer system here in the building. And so we're going to try to bring you some news of another sort. There is much else going on in the world today.

This is a day when there is a meeting in Rome, when foreign ministers from NATO countries gathered to discuss the situation in Libya. This is a situation that is caused by the civil war that is underway there. Rebels, of course, are in control in much of the eastern part of the country, headquartered in Benghazi. And Colonel Gadhafi and his forces are still in control in the west. The city of Misrata is still under siege, rebel-controlled, but the only opening to the outside world is through the seaport there.

And there was a dramatic event there earlier, when a ferryboat brought into take out some foreign workers who'd been stranded in the city of Misrata tried to come in to the port to get them out of the city, and there were residents of Misrata who tried to get themselves and their families and their luggage aboard as well. But part of the difficulty was getting that vessel through waters that had been mined by pro-Gadhafi forces, sea mines placed in the way to try to block the supplies that were coming in to the rebels through that seaport. There was also shelling going on at the seaport and the waters around where the vessel was trying to come in. A dramatic scene there in Misrata.

Today, foreign ministers meeting in Rome were debating whether to provide more aid to the rebel government or the government has been recognized by some of the NATO countries, including France. And of course France and Britain are leading the no-fly zone protections that are hovering over all of that country, preventing Colonel Gadhafi's jet aircraft and his helicopters from participating in the conflict against the rebels and damaging civilians. That, of course, is the goal of the United Nations Security Council resolution that was passed to help them to prevent attacks on rebels.

It has become increasingly clearer, though, as a stalemate has set in, that the political goal of those nations - Britain, France, the United States and others in NATO - that Colonel Gadhafi must go, that perhaps no way to protect civilians will exist unless they find a way to remove the regime of Colonel Gadhafi. That is specifically not a goal of the United Nation Security Council resolution.

Nevertheless, it's becoming clear in talks in the meeting in Rome today in terms of how to provide support for the rebels in this conflict - they're running out of money, among other things. They need armaments, they need supplies, they need equipment. All of that is going to be an increasingly difficult factor as they try to come in and change the situation.

Joining us here in Studio 3 is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, always good to have you on the program.

RON ELVING: Glad to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And of course, an important foreign policy achievement for President Obama earlier this week in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the situation in Libya continues to fester, a stalemate, and the goal of protecting civilian lives seemingly getting more and more difficult.

ELVING: More and more difficult because there just seems to be very little more than organized anarchy among the rebels. It's very difficult to support a rebellion when it's very hard to tell who the rebellion consists of and who the leaders are, and of course, also we're dealing here largely through a surrogacy. NATO is really the lead player here. And while we're supportive of NATO, the president has been trying very hard to keep at least one arm's distance, if not two arms' distances, so that he doesn't wind up with a third war.

CONAN: And there has been some - it's interesting, after the events in Pakistan early Monday morning, there were some who are saying, well, this - if the president was looking for a reason to start important, significant withdrawals from Afghanistan in July - and he's pledged to start bringing forces home in that - well, this is an opportunity to say that. Other forces saying, well, if we've been distracted elsewhere, maybe this is a chance to say we are back in the game. In Libya, no sign of that.

ELVING: Not at this point, no. And it's not clear how the president may want to accelerate his timetable with regard to Afghanistan. He has said July was the point of review to decide how many of our troops we could start bringing home. Obviously, they would have liked to have had more success in Afghanistan apart from what was accomplished with bin Laden, but they don't really have much to go on to say that the war has been won in Afghanistan, so it would be perceived more as an opportunity to essentially abandon that mission based on the killing of bin Laden and everything that had been emotionally freighted on that kind of revenge, if you will, in response to 9/11.

CONAN: All right. Ron Elving, thanks very much for coming in to speak with us. NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving with us here in Studio 3A. More on that story later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY and Ira Flatow will be here - TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll see you again on Monday.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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