A New York City teacher, Talat Hamdani is a widow and mother of three. One of her children, Mohammed Salman Hamdani, was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. He was a New York Police Department cadet and a certified emergency medical technician who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center on the way to his job as a lab technician.
Twenty-five days after 9/11 we decided to go to Mecca to pray to find Salman. Before we left I said I was going to call the morgue, because they were telling people on television to come and identify their loved ones. It took a lot of courage for me to make the decision to go and look at the dead bodies, but I said, “If I am going over to Mecca to get an answer whether he is alive or dead, let’s look at the dead bodies; if he’s among them, then I don’t need to make the trip.” Just for my own satisfaction I called the number the armory had given me. I don’t know if I misdialed, but they asked, “How did you get this number? Why are you calling here?” I explained that I had been given this number by the armory for information if I needed to investigate my missing son’s case. I gave him Salman’s name, and he said, “Oh, he is a Pakistani?” I said, “Yes, he was born there, but he is an American.”
On Saturday, when my husband, Salmeen, and I were going into Manhattan to the morgue, that detective kept calling us: “Where are you now? Are you going there? What are you doing?” But when we arrived there, it was the Red Cross; there was no morgue; there were no bodies to be identified. So why did they send me there? I don’t understand. I wanted to see the bodies. And all the hospitals I called gave me the same statement: “We have fifteen victims; fifteen patients came in. We cannot give you their names, but your son’s name is not on our list. And you are not allowed to see anybody to identify.” No other parents had to go through what we had to go through. It was horrible. Such a great injustice. You give your life, try to save your fellow Americans, and then this nation goes after you, calling you a terrorist.
I want people of all nations to remember my son Salman as an American, and as a hero who gave his life saving his fellow Americans…He and the other people who died that day were killed not because of their faith or race or ethnicity, but because they were Americans.
Ann MacRae and her husband, Cameron, created a foundation that improves the lives of young people, the Cat MacRae Memorial Fund. Their daughter Catherine-Cat-was working as a financial analyst on the ninety-third floor of the North Tower at Fred Alger Management.
We had called Cat, but there was no answer-I think the call just didn’t go through. We went into total shock. Of course we did. Our best friends came over. And a lot of Cat’s friends, Princeton girls, came over. I remember going to the dining room window, and fighter jets went over all those little town houses down on the street, and I said, “Oh my God,” because when it happens to you, you’re not fully aware that it’s an international incident. Fighter jets-you can’t take it all in. But we knew the government was involved. There were a lot of young people here in our home, and every time the phone rang we thought, It might be Cat. I won’t use the profanity, but I said, If I don’t hear from her by four o’clock … I’m not sure I said it would mean she was dead, but it would be bad. And then at four I said, “Oh, it’s four o’clock.” And then the kids went to work and started calling hospitals.
Toni Ann Carroll lost her husband on 9/11. He was a firefighter assigned to Squad Company 1 in Brooklyn, and he responded early to the attacks on the World Trade Center. It was a late marriage for both, and Toni Ann was grateful that she had finally found the love of her life. After losing her husband, she went through years of suffering, both physically and emotionally.
Pete wasn’t originally supposed to work on the eleventh. He switched his tour with someone at his firehouse, one of his best friends. We were very good friends with this fireman from the squad and his wife. After 9/11, I would go out to dinner with them, and he would never look me in the face. I couldn’t understand why. Finally, after three years, he looked at me and said, “I have to say something.” He was crying. He told me, “Pete came to me in a dream, and it was so real, and Pete said, ‘I want you to grab her, and I want you to look her right in the eyes and tell her everything is going to be okay.’?” And that’s what this fireman did. A grown man crying. And his wife was hysterical. She said, “I’m so glad he finally did it. He couldn’t face you.” He then gave me this big kiss, and I guess it helped him come to terms with it.
Debra Burlingame, an attorney and 9/11 activist, is the sister of Charles Frank “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77. On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked his aircraft and crashed it into the Pentagon, where he worked as a Navy reservist.
There was a point when I remember feeling very grateful, if you can believe it, and lucky that Chic’s plane had hit the Pentagon and not the World Trade Center. At least we knew where he was that day, somewhere in that mess at the Pentagon. We didn’t know what we would get back in terms of remains, if anything, but we knew where he was. To this day, when I see people holding up flyers with descriptions of missing family members, with their wedding pictures, smiling faces, and vital statistics, I understand how harrowing it was for them, not knowing. [Over 1,300 lost that day have still not been found]. I understand the denial and the hope in their hearts on 9/11. When the husband didn’t come home that night, and the next night, and the next night, and the next day, they had to hope that he was still alive somewhere-maybe unconscious, maybe not knowing who he was. You hold out hope until there is confirmation.
I started out as a grieving sister, and I then underwent an extreme education. I’ve got a room in my house which has a big wall that is filled with nothing but primary source material. I stay up late at night doing this research. Since 9/11, thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or maimed in terrorist attacks…The Department of Homeland Security says that there have been forty-three homegrown terrorist plots to attack America since 9/11. When I think about walking away from this, I remember that the enemy is still plotting. They never sleep…Freedom of speech is the battleground now. As it is said, not to speak is to speak, and not to act is to act…Americans know who they are, and they know what this country stands for.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from A Decade of Hope by Dennis Smith. Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Smith.