STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Each September, the oral history project StoryCorps has marked the anniversary of 9/11 by bringing us voices of people directly affected by the attacks. These interviews come from a partnership between StoryCorps and the September 11 Memorial and Museum. Together, they hope to record at least one interview for each person lost on 9/11. And they've already recorded 1,200.
StoryCorps founder Dave Isay is here to talk about the project. Hi, Dave.
Mr. DAVE ISAY (Founder, StoryCorps): Steve, how are you doing?
INSKEEP: Okay, thanks. It's good to talk with you again. How did this project, this specific project get started?
Mr. ISAY: You know, when StoryCorps started, I expected to see a lot of people come to StoryCorps who were dealing with kind of end-of-life issues. What I didn't expect to see where people coming to memorialize loved ones who were lost. And we saw that from the first days after StoryCorps opened eight years ago.
INSKEEP: So you didn't set out to record 9/11 stories. 9/11 stories came to you.
Mr. ISAY: Well, they did. They came to us a slowly. But after a couple of years, we were approached by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, who asked us if we would be interested in collaborating with them on a project to memorialize lives that were lost on September 11th. So after seeing that StoryCorps had been used so often to memorialize loved ones, it made a great deal of sense. And we knew that it would be, you know, a powerful way to leave a record of these people's lives.
INSKEEP: Well, who were some of the people who've come to talk with you about loved ones they lost on 9/11?
Mr. ISAY: We've had every sort of person. You know, we've had firefighters who've never gone to therapy because they see it as self-indulgent, but come to StoryCorps because realize they're leaving this record for future generations. And they come into the booth and cry for the first time. And, you know, we've heard that it's been a, you know, an important moment in their road to kind of taking in the loss.
One of the people who came to talk at StoryCorps is a retired firefighter named John Vigiano, who came with his wife, Jan, to remember their sons, John, Jr. was a firefighter and Joe was a policeman.
(Soundbite of interview)
Mr. JOHN VIGIANO (Retired Firefighter): My father had been on the fire department, and he was issued Badge Number 3436. And when John decided he wanted to be a firefighter, they reissued it to my son, John. So the badge was only used by two.
Both the boys would call me when they were working. John would always call around 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 called me in the morning and he told me to turn on the television, that a plane just hit the Trade Center. And I just says, be careful. I love you. He said, I love you, too. That was it.
We had the boys for - John for 36 years and Joe for 34 years, ironically, Badge Number 3436. There'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.
INSKEEP: The way he phrases that: We had the boys for 36 and 34 years, very moving.
Mr. ISAY: And the wisdom, the idea which has - ever since I first heard that tape of the saying I love you to his kids, and that being the last words he said to them, you know, it's wisdom that we can all learn from.
INSKEEP: So we heard there from a father talking about his sons. You also have tape here of a grandson remembering his grandfather.
Mr. ISAY: This is Frankie DeVito, who came to the StoryCorps with his mom, Diana. His grandfather, Bill Steckman, died at the World Trade Center. He had worked on the night shift for 35 years for NBC, tending to the transmitter on the roof of Tower One.
(Soundbite of interview)
Ms. DIANA DEVITO: I know you were young when it happened. You were only in kindergarten. Is there a time that you were the most scared, when all that was going on?
Mr. FRANKIE DEVITO: I didn't know that something happened until I came to the living room and you were upset. And you said there was something wrong with papa. That made me scared. I remember that Mikey told me that planes crashed, and he wasn't coming back.
(Soundbite of weeping)
Ms. DEVITO: Is there anything you did that made you feel better to go to sleep at night?
Mr. DEVITO: Sometimes when I'm in my room, I pretended that grandpa was right there and nothing was wrong. That helps me.
Ms. DEVITO: If you could talk to him right now, what would you want to say?
Mr. DEVITO: I love you, and there's no other grandfather I'd rather see than you.
INSKEEP: Another of the voices of people remembering the victims of 9/11, recorded in our StoryCorps project.
David Isay, the power of these is the individual stories, rather than the large numbers. But what happens when you listen, as you must have, too many of these dozens, hundreds of them?
Mr. ISAY: I think what these stories do - for me and for the people I work with - is to make the tragedy real and to make sure that we're always kind of aware of what the families are going through. You know, there's a lot of talk about victims' families finding closure, now that we're hitting the 10th anniversary. And I think that that is a term that I know most victims would like to see banished from the English-language when it comes to dealing with their lives. You know, there is no closure.
I think that the best that we can do is remember.
INSKEEP: David Isay is helping people remember. He's the founder of StoryCorps, which is working with the September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Mr. ISAY: Thanks, Steve.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DAVID GREENE, host:
And I'm David Greene.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.