Tag Archive | "9/11"

Compassion From Grief: Doris Gronlund Reflects on 10 Years

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By Annette Hinkle

We will always recall exactly where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. That was the day the world bore witness to the terror attacks that took place in New York, Washington and in the nation’s skies.

Most of us learned of the attacks from news accounts or phone calls from acquaintances in the city. But for many in Sag Harbor, the gravity of the day’s events really hit home when Doris Gronlund arrived on Main Street to inform friends and neighbors that her daughter, Linda K. Gronlund, had been aboard United Flight 93, which was bound for San Francisco from Newark.

Linda, a lawyer, grew up in Sag Harbor, and on 9/11 was working for BMW. She was on a business trip, and planned to stay on in California with her boyfriend, Joe DeLuca, who was traveling with her, to celebrate her 47th birthday.

Her flight was one of four hijacked by terrorists that day. The other three, of course, found their mark at the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. But Flight 93, the last hijacked plane in the air, was brought down short of its mark — possibly the U.S. Capitol —in Shanksville, Pennsylvania by 40 passengers and crew who learned the fate of the other planes via cell phone calls to loved ones. The group ensured the plane would never reach its intended target by overwhelming the hijackers in the air and it ultimately crashed in a remote field.

That was 10 years ago, and while much has changed — both for the world and for Doris — it’s obvious that at times it still feels like yesterday — particularly when she recounts the details in the transcript of Linda’s final phone call made from the plane to her sister, Elsa, in which she outlines where her important documents are stored.

“They [the passengers and crew] were amazing and I’m grateful people are aware of how brave they were,” says Doris. “I was able to listen to the flight recorder … when you’re in the plane and here comes that cart rolling down the aisle. You think of that cart going 10 mph toward the cockpit door and ….”

Then she trails off, the tears coming again.

This week, Doris will travel with Elsa to Pennsylvania for memorial services, as she has done on previous 9/11 anniversaries. This year’s commemoration, has special meaning — not just because it’s been 10 years, but because the National Park Service will officially dedicate the first part of the permanent Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville. Doris will be there for ribbon cutting ceremonies on Friday and will stay on through Sunday for the 9/11 commemoration.

“They have this marvelous bell and they want a member of the family to come up and ring the bell and say the name of the person on the flight,” says Doris who notes that doing the honors in Linda’s memory will be her cousin, Tove Johnsen, who traveled from Oslo, Norway for the commemoration – a city that ironically was devastated by its own terrorist attack just two months ago.

“She and Linda were close,” notes Doris.

If there’s a positive side to any tragedy, Doris will find it. She refuses to devote energy to the negative aspects of 9/11 and in the years since the attack, she has fought her own battle with ovarian cancer. She credits the people of Sag Harbor for getting her through it by lending an ear or offering a hug when she needed it. And out of tragedy she has also forged strong new bonds, not only with her relatives in Norway, but with family members of other Flight 93 passengers.

Doris has also grown close to actress Lorna Dallas, who played Linda in “United 93,” the Paul Greengrass film that recounts the events aboard the plane. Dallas and her husband will be in Shanksville this weekend as well. (This Sunday at 8 p.m., Bay Street Theatre will offer a free screening of “Flight 93” the 2006 television film based on the event).

But when it comes to Linda’s legacy, nothing pleases Doris more than the scholarship BMW set up in her daughter’s memory which is awarded annually to a female engineering student at MIT.

“Now, I have met eight absolutely beautiful women,” smiles Doris. “Four are already out there cleaning the air, land, and water.”

When asked what it’s been like to mourn her daughter along with so many others who experienced loss that day, Doris says, “I think the whole 9/11 experience affected so many people. We happened to get to know a large portion of the people involved and that makes it more personal. So many of them are aching — I think of all the ones lost in the towers.”

“One thing Elsa said at the end of ‘United 93’ was, ‘We didn’t have to go around with a picture saying, ‘Did you see her?’” says Doris quietly. “We knew she was dead. That’s something. My heart aches so much for them.”

When asked if it ever gets easier, Doris becomes reflective.

“One morning I woke up really crying, I mean screaming her name,” she says. “It was so startling. I didn’t know what was going on. It was so unnerving. What was that for?”

“These days, the main crying spells are very few,” she adds. “I can tear up when I remember things. But the moments of real aching hurt are very few.”

“I’ve had such a magnificent life,” she smiles. “I’ve really, really lived. The valleys have only made the mountains more beautiful.”

Chaos and Pathos Captured in Images

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By Emily J. Weitz

We all remember where we were the moment the towers were hit. John Jonas Gruen was in the heart of Manhattan, and when he saw the black smoke filling the sky, he ran with his camera around his neck right to Ground Zero, which wasn’t called Ground Zero back then. He began to snap images, as if in a trance. He captured the chaos and the heroism of that day, as firefighters poured into the buildings before they collapsed.

In the days and weeks that followed, he continued to take photos of the desperate searches for loved ones, of the humanity that shone through the chaos. Then, he took those images — about a hundred in all — and he put them in a box and left them there. They’ve been sitting there for ten years, and they are about to go up on the walls of East Hampton’s Guild Hall in honor of the lives lost and irreversibly changed.

The potency of these images required that Gruen be very careful with when, where and how they would be shown.

“I knew this was not something I just wanted to send out into the world,” Gruen says. “It had to be a real occasion.”

The ten year anniversary seemed like the right time, and because of his love for Guild Hall, Gruen thought it would be the right place. Christina Mossaides Strassfield, curator at Guild Hall, took one look at his images and agreed. She selected 24 images from the 100, and this exhibit will be the first time they’ll be on display.

Gruen is a photographer who has gained attention predominantly for his portraits, which were on display at the Whitney last year. Art historian Justin Spring noted that “John Jonas Gruen has made it his business to be in the right place at the right time.”

In this way he has taken photographs of contemporary cultural figures from dancers to playwrights, poets to painters. Being in the right place at the right time is a complicated way to think of Gruen’s presence in downtown Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. But because of it, the public will have the opportunity to look at the raw snapshots of that time with well rested eyes.

An exhibit like this requires great sensitivity. Even though Gruen is the person who took these photos, in a way they belong to all of us, and they mean something different to everyone. Everyone owns a piece of this tragedy, in that everyone was affected by it. When Gruen discusses the process of taking these pictures, it’s different than speaking to an artist about his or her daily work in the studio. This is art but it’s also something else. Gruen understands that.

“I want to tell you,” he says, his voice near desperate with emotion, “I was so moved and upset by the idea of nearly 3,000 perishing in both of those buildings. It broke my heart. These photos of what happened and what happened after: posters of families looking for their relatives. Images of posters written by children with crayons saying ‘We’re looking for my daddy. He’s got blonde hair and blue eyes. Has anybody seen him?’ That’s in the show.”

Gruen speaks of the tragedies, but also the extreme bravery he saw in those days. He took photos of “the unbelievable fire fighters who went to save people, many of whom perished. All over New York there were the fire and ladder companies with memorials set up, showing the guys who died with flowers and notes. You have to see the pictures.”

It is because of Gruen’s presence of mind and his empathy that these images are so powerful. He wasn’t an observer trying to document something. He was in it.

“When I took these photos, I was really moved,” he says. “There was a kind of numbness in my heart. There’s one image of a prayer center they set up in Central Park where people could just come and stand and pray and look into themselves and go deep into their emotions about this terrible event.”

Even though these images will make you cry, there is an underlying current of hope in them, as can be heard in Gruen’s voice when he speaks.

“That morning people got up to go to work in these beautiful, glamorous buildings which were a part of the New York skyline,” he says sadly, “and all of a sudden they found themselves trapped… Who knows what is going to happen in life? I thought this exhibition might make people realize the one fundamental thing that we all have in common is our humanity. When we are faced with this kind of tragedy what we must do is get closer to one another and love each other more.”

The Twin Towers Tragedy Exhibition will be on display at Guild Hall from Saturday, September 3 through Sunday, October 9 in the Boots Lamb Education Center. The opening reception will be held on Saturday, September 3 from 4 to 6 p.m.

A Day in September

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It’s that time of year again. The kids are back in school, the crowds have largely headed back to the city and the temperatures are cooling down a bit. HarborFest is once again upon us, and, as usual, this weekend promises to be full of food and fun for all, young and old alike.

But there’s another emotion to HarborFest that can be found lying just under the surface — that sense of underlying sadness of something lost that is inexorably linked to this time of year.

Just as we will never again be able to look at crystal clear blue skies in September in the same way again, so, too, will HarborFest always remind us in one way or another of that horrific day in 2001 when our lives forever changed. It was a day the unthinkable happened and we all grew wiser about the darker ways of the world. Emotions and memories may fade or change with time, but they’re always there. The psyche has a way of linking incongruent ideas like that. The second weekend in September – it’s hard to avoid.

But it’s very appropriate that our own Doris Gronlund has been selected as grand marshal for the HarborFest parade on Saturday. Many of us recall that in the days after the 9/11 attacks, there was much debate over whether or not the village should proceed with a festival in the face of such disaster. But it was Doris who insisted that HarborFest go on as planned. That nothing, not even this, should interfere with our time honored traditions. All the more poignant, of course, because Doris’ own daughter, Linda, died aboard the hijacked United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania that day.

On that HarborFest weekend, we learned that even as we took part in the spirited activities that define small town life, we were still able to grieve and express our profound sense of loss, not only to Doris who personally suffered such tragedy, but to all those around us who weren’t sure what to do with the emotions. That’s how it should be. In times of trouble, getting together to share the experience, through laughter and tears is a cathartic experience.

It’s been eight years now, but 9/11 is still a difficult anniversary for many. So in addition to the whale boat races, walking tours and the lobsterbake, there are also opportunities to reflect on that fateful day back in 2001. On Friday, September 11, at 5 p.m. Cormaria Retreat House commemorates the 8th anniversary of the attack with a ceremony in a garden dedicated to Erica Van Acker, a Sag Harbor resident who died in the World Trade Center. And that evening, Bay Street Theatre will offer a staged reading of a play written just months after 9/11 called “The Guys” about a firefighter who must write eulogies for several of his men killed in the Trade Center and the writer who helps him get his words, and emotions, on paper.

Of course, we’re also expecting everyone to turn out to wave to Doris Gronlund as she passes by in Saturday’s parade at 9:30 a.m. And at the end of the day, those looking to quietly observe this anniversary can do no better than taking a solitary walk on Barcelona Neck in what, since Saturday, September 11, 2004, has been officially known as the Linda Gronlund Memorial Nature Preserve.

A perfect way to spend a September day.


Remembering 9-11

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Rejoice in Memories

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The crisp clear weather, the endless blue skies, the first hints of fall. These are the signs that once heralded the changing of the seasons from summer to fall.

But now, these are also the signs of something more — a day that is indelibly etched in our minds and virtually impossible to erase from our psyche — 9/11/01. It was a day that changed everything, not only for us as Americans, but for the world as a whole. Individually, none of us was untouched by friends, family, acquaintances who lost loved ones on that day.

As the years pass, in some ways it becomes harder to put the events of that tragic day in perspective. They say that time has a way of healing all wounds, but somehow, when it comes to 9/11, that just doesn’t seem to ring entirely true. A pointless war started as the result of our grief has only spun out of control and spread the sorrow. Meanwhile, there are still those who feel we are on the right track and all is right with the world.

So once again, we watch those images of the World Trade Center being struck and tumbling to the ground. Somehow they never lose their impact, their shock value still manages to send us to that other place. But try as we might, those videos are limited in what they can offer today.

Seven years later, the details have been disected, yet still we search for answers in those clips to explain to us about the hatred that led to these acts and the resulting fear that has brought us to where we are on September 11, 2008. But in the end there is nothing there for us. Just a two dimensional replay of the defining moment of our lives — one that has become just that, yet has ceased to move us beyond that point like it once did. Like a parent rewatching a video of a lost child, the sorrow never wanes — only the ability to revisit it fully does.

Here in Sag Harbor, we lost two — Linda Gronlund, who was aboard United Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Erica Van Acker, who was working on an upper floor of the trade center that day. Today, let us not forget what clear blue skies on September 11 have come to represent — and let us rejoice in the memories of those wonderful people who we will never forget because of it.

Dan Salsedo

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A Conversation With Daniel Salsedo, a retired New York City fire fighter and current owner of Vincenzo’s Pizza and The Ice Cream Club on Main Street, Sag Harbor. On August 23, Salsedo, who was deployed to the World Trade Center site the morning of September 11, 2001, rode in the Iron and Steel Bike Run from New York City to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The motorcycle ride, led by the NYC Fire Riders Club and organized by the Fire Family Transport Foundation, brought along a steel cross from the World Trade Center site to place at the site in Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed.

When did you retire from the New York City Fire Department?

I retired in 2006. I retired because of what happened at the World Trade Center. Since September 11, I have had problems with my lungs, which is typical of a lot of the stories you read about for the guys that were down there. We have a lot of lung issues.

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

I was in the Bronx working at Engine 71. I was actually supposed to get off. I had just worked a 24-hour shift and was suppose to leave around 9 a.m., but they told everyone none of us could leave — we might be going down to the World Trade Center. So I stayed, and one of our chiefs commandeered a bus. The passengers got off and a bunch of us went down to the trade center site just after the first tower collapsed. I got there just after the second tower had fallen. We weren’t really sure what was going on and looking back, I guess it was good that we got there when we did because otherwise we would have been in the mix. Three hundred and forty three of our guys were killed, and that is just the fire department, let alone the thousands of citizens who died.

Basically, once we were there, we just did our work. I was there until 2 a.m. that day and everyday after I went back. I didn’t come home [to East Hampton] until the Friday after, and Saturday, I was back in the city.

 You were already living on the East End and commuting to the city?

I am originally from Queens, but I had moved out here by the time I got the call for the fire department. I wound up staying here and doing the commute, which wasn’t too bad because we generally worked in 24-hour shifts. Although they were babies at the time, I wanted my kids to go to school out here. I didn’t want them to go to the same high school I did in Hillcrest. I didn’t really mind anyway. Working in the fire department is the greatest job in the world.

 What was the World Trade Center site like that morning?

It was a mess … a completely chaotic pile. It was really, really bad. Nothing was recognizable. Everything was burning. We were there when building seven fell down. It was a complete, fiery mess — like hell. Everything was pretty much pulverized. You think about the hundreds of thousands of computers in the World Trade Center and it was all dust. Nothing was recovered. Of course, there were bodies, parts. We collected everything we could for weeks on end. Some could handle it more than others. It was terrible

 Certainly there were other guys there in far deeper than I was. Sometimes we have problems expressing how we feel about all of this because we don’t want to belittle what anyone else went through, which could have been a lot worse. I consider myself pretty lucky.

I am out of the job, and I do wish I was back in it, but I didn’t have a choice. It was up to the fire department and after I was tested I was told I had to retire. It is all kind of bittersweet. It’s great that I am okay and I have my pension, but it’s sad because I miss the job, I miss my friends. I think it feels especially strange for guys like me who were prematurely out of the job. I had nine years under my belt instead of 20 — I am still raring to go.

It’s all been pretty tough to deal with actually. The fire department has offered everyone a lot of counseling, which I have gone through. It helps to talk about it with other guys who went through it. We need it. I start again on Monday.

 How did the Iron and Steel Bike Run come about?

I can’t take any credit for it honestly. Other people had everything to do with it. I am a member of the Fire Riders, a New York City based fireman’s motorcycle club. We have a lot of members and try to do as many motorcycle runs, and of course, anything that has to do with donating and helping out causes like this. So this came up and we were told we would be leading the procession because we are all firemen and most us were at Ground Zero. I was thrilled to be able to do this in honor of the people at Ground Zero and in honor of the people on Flight 93, who gave up their lives that day too.

The trip was really awesome. It was a beautiful day and the escort we received was incredible. Every bridge we passed under there were fire trucks and people waving and saluting. It was nice to see that people still remember what happened.

We had a great turnout too. Hundreds and hundreds of bikes traveled that day.

How does it feel now that seven years have passed? Do you have anything you do each year to commemorate the anniversary?

It is still a very, very difficult day. Every 9/11, I go back to the Bronx and back to my old engine company. My company was actually in Queens, but the fire department rotates companies, so in 2001, I was in the Bronx, so that is where I go every year. I think I missed one — the year right after. I think it might have been too much. So, I’ll be in the Bronx and they put out a spread of food and I get to see all the guys I was down there with … I feel my place every year is there. I don’t even go to the trade center — it’s just too chaotic.

In photo at top, Dan Salsedo is in the center. Photo by Brenda Lang.