Glimpses of tributes, grief, resolve, mourning, and dissent on the third anniversary of the day
Sunny Buttercup is standing on a tower with Pyrrha Valentino, looking down. Sunny says she didn't know anyone who perished in the towers, but "a lot from the county I live in lost their lives."
"All I can think of [is] where I was when it happened," Pyrrha tells us. "I was in the Army at the time in Colorado, coming home from Physical Training." She falters. "Geez I'm about to cry... because I came home to change into uniform, but now I just found out that my husband is going to Iraq. In either November or January."
Some months ago, Sexy built a scale recreation of the World Trade Center (and I'm grateful to Second Life Magazine, for Roxy Marten's original profile of him), but when the third anniversary neared, he was too busy at his job, to recreate it. Casanova is a postal carrier in New York, and the upcoming elections have consumed his time. "Every candidate sends out their flyers before the election, so... we have more and more mail to deliver. I had a thirteen hour day today, [but] I wont go to sleep 'til this is done." His tribute is based on the beams of light that were cast into the sky, emanating from Ground Zero.
"You start to get over it," Casanova tells me, "and the events of the past come rushing back. The people no longer on the route that I used to deliver mail to that passed away on 9/11...
"I had two friends who were firemen that died on 9/11," Casanova continues. "I think of them a lot recently. They were in Tower One.
"Shortly after the attack, they towed a fire engine that was damaged in the rubble from the attack back to its firehouse in Midtown. It was still covered in the dust from the explosions. People began to write their farewell messages and sign their names in the dust as a tribute. I signed my name and left a message, and the image of that truck is always in my mind.
"When the attacks happened," he says, "while everyone was told to leave the city, we still went out to deliver the mail. The mail never stops, and I think it was good for people to see us outside like everything was normal. We joke in the Post Office that even if it were the end of the world, the mail still gets delivered."
While we talk, we're visited briefly by Ark Gullwing, just recently on leave. Gullwing serves on a ship with the US Navy, but he saw the attacks live on a television in his high school. "It makes me want to cry just thinking about it," he tells me. "I'm gonna build a little memorial in fact, here on my island." It was after the attack that Gullwing joined the armed services. "A lot of people did," he notes. "My dad was a recruiter at the time. You shoulda seen the people that came into the office."
Casanova has over a hundred images of that day in his inventory-- a woman covered in dust, shadowy figures stumbling through cloudy debris, and so on-- and he's trying to find a particular one for me.
"I visited the site for weeks afterwards. It was the worst I've ever felt..." He finally gets the image he's looking for, and he displays it at the base of his tribute.
"The Coke truck to me is what life was like. And the background is what it's now. I hope you understand what I mean."
"I know exactly what you mean," I say. Then I ask him if it helps, to look at these images.
"Not really," he answers, "but it does help me not to forget."
"Gemini Restored" by Skunken Gascoigne, was built for a 9/11 memorial contest sponsored on the land of billy Madison.
"Many people that should be honored are not!" Madison tells me, explaining why he devoted his land in Jaffee to 9/11 tribute builds. "I figured this would be a good way to bring out the creativity of Second Life residents, and let me see how people really feel."
Madison is also a member of the military. "The first time I saluted an American flag," he says, "I almost cried. The sense of pride was so much. When I got my Airmen's coin... I did cry. I feel honored to serve my country. I feel that way every day." He signed up for the Air Force on the date of September 11, 2003.
"Kinda my way of saying, 'I did this for you'."
Skunken Gascoigne is a cyborg with skunk-like features (or a humanoid skunk in a cyborg suit, it's not entirely clear.) Billy Madison and several residents gather around, as he explains the inspirations behind his site.
"One of the biggest is, of course, the famous photo of the firefighters raising a flag above the rubble," he says. "Bit of a myth has grown about that one, in fact. The myth came about as such-- it was claimed by a few that the flag was found amidst the rubble at Ground Zero. In actual fact, the flag came from a ship docked nearby, and was raised in tribute from a flagpole sticking up from the rubble. Whether it's all true or not, it's still a fascinating... and touching... story. Oh, there are a lot of secrets buried within the tragedy."
"I miss the way that most Americans had more pride and we pulled together and dropped our things," a purple-haired girl named DragonChiq Thereian muses, as she stands there at his site. "It slowly faded as the days went by."
"Ah, such is the world," Gascoigne replies. "Americans are bound by tragedy but by little else. But I won't stop believing that there is still some good left in America. For all of the tragedies we've endured, all the hate that's arisen, all of the struggle... We still have our hope."
Gascoigne pauses, reflecting over his work. "It's strange how... striking...a lot of memorials can be. They try to reflect a part of the tragedy, and yet also try to capture the glory and essence, the HUMAN aspects, behind that tragedy. And certainly, memorials can even be rather... immaterial. Take these two towers of light-- I based them off the first-year anniversary tribute at Ground Zero. Two giant banks of light, shooting their beams high into the night skies. But... Somehow... This memorial doesn't seem complete... there's something missing."
"Debris?" DragonChiq Thereian suggests. "People helping one another?"
"No," says Gascoigne. "Something simpler, in a way."
"A whistle? Tags?"
"No," Skunken Gascoigne decides. "A rose. Ah yes." And he lays a rose on the top of the rubble.
"It fades along as it begins to fade in our memory," Ming explains. He points to his first copy of the towers, pristine. "The first one is before." He points to the second, with a jet plane just about to pierce it.
"Second is during."
He points to the rubble. "Third is after."
"The table is round," the note card explains, "to show our everlasting concern for our missing men and women. The tablecloth is white-- symbolizing the purity of their motives. The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers. The vase is tied with a bow, a symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing. A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land. A shaker of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers. The glass is inverted-- they can not toast with us this night.
"The chair is empty-- they are not here. Remember."
"[N]on-Americans see 9/11 as a tragedy of a different kind," she says. "As well as an evil act of despicable brutality, it made America overreact and make the rest of the world less safe for everyone... We [Australians] view 9/11, Bali, and Beslan as part of the same phenomenon: fundamentalist death-obsessed cult terrorism. We're having an election in about a month, so this year has been full of debate about terrorism, the war, and how those are related. For example, whether Iraq made terrorism against Australia more likely or less. So far, the evidence seems to indicate more, unfortunately." She frowns. "So you can see it's a hot issue here too."
I ask her if she had a similar response, after the Bali bombing that massacred so many Australians.
"[T]he same people had exploded a bomb outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta on Thursday," she points out. "I felt mad as hell and wanted the bastards to pay. (The bomb on Thursday killed nine people and injured one hundred)...
"It was a human reaction, but that [desire] to rise above it all is also a human reaction."
"Quench now on earth the flames of strife; from passion's heat preserve our life; and while you keep our body whole, pour healing peace upon our soul... I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth..."
While Vindaloo continues preaching, someone in the crowd sends me a discrete Instant Message.
"God bless America," he tells me, without preamble. Then later, "I lost three co-workers. And had another who was there, but lived, basically became crippled mentally, because he ran and left the others behind."
"Behold," continues Vindaloo, "The Lord himself watched over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand, so that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe..."
When he finishes the reading, he begins a recording which calls out the names of all the people who died that day. The gathered crowd at the service sits in silence, as the names continue across the screen.
... Luis Morales, 46, New York, N.Y.
John Moran, 43, Rockaway, N.Y.
John Christopher Moran, 38, Haslemere, Surrey, England
Kathleen Moran, 42, New York, N.Y.
Lindsay S. Morehouse, 24, New York, N.Y.
George Morell, 47, Mount. Kisco, N.Y.
Steven P. Morello, 52, Bayonne, N.J.
When the list is finished, Rusty Vindaloo looks up. "Lord, I ask that you watch over these people. That they may live amongst you in your great heaven." He returns to scripture.
"A reading from the Book of John:
The prayer service continues, and when it's finished, someone I'll call Anne comes up to Rusty Vindaloo.
"Thank you again, Rusty," Anne says. "I lost an uncle in 9/11. You have made it good today. [He] worked maintenance in the tower." Anne hadn't planned to tell Vindaloo this, she tells me later, but her father-- who never cared for her being on the computer so much-- happened to be in the room, during the service for all the dead and the fallen, including his brother. And when he saw this service, he joined her, as much as possible, viewing the rest of the service from over her shoulder.
"My dad was watching too," she says, "and it brought tears to his eyes. And he wants me to thank you for this. Thank you again."
The American pilot pictured in Delvecchio's tribute had four days before his tour in Afghanistan was up. He was planning to have a bigger wedding ceremony when he got home, to make up for the rushed matrimony he had with his fiance, just before he shipped out. On that day, four days to homecoming, he flew his chopper to pick up two Afghan children with life-threatening injuries, and spirit them to life-saving medical treatment in Kandahar. Before he could reach them, however, a storm sent the chopper tumbling, and he perished in the crash.
“JH was a dear friend of mine and fellow serviceman," Delvecchio's tribute reads. "And I would do anything to have him back... but when the nation asked him for a favor... J was there.”
Justin Delvecchio built it in honor of his friend, and inspired by 9/11, provoking "[T]he thoughts of why we are in Afghanistan. Brought it all back to me."
Also, he adds, "I'm heading over [to Afghanistan] in about two months."
(When I point out Delvecchio's tribute to Peredur Vindaloo, creator of the peace tower, she says, "If I ever start disrespecting soldiers, I hope someone punches me in the face before it's too late." Peredur smiles. "Thanks.")
After posting this, I met Justin in-world, and asked him to tell me more about his late friend JH. He told me this:
"I was his sponsor when he came to Iceland, my first assignment. That meant that I helped him get situated here... [We'd] go out to the bars, drink, drink, and drink. And work. Work was fun. Chased women, just did the young guy thing. Oh my fucking God, [Icelandic women] are the most beautiful women you will ever see, all of them like 5'10", blonde and blue eyes. I mean holy shit, if you ever get a chance, go there! He was a [ladies man], better than me, and that's sayin' something.
"We went camping and hiking a lot on the glaciers. That was fun. Use[d] to play 'Dark Age of Camelot' in Iceland together-- [he played] a Necromancer. He liked working out, and playing softball on the squadron team. He loved the Air Force, and serving. He had a high image of his country and high morals when it came to that. He just believed in being a part of a whole that would protect this great nation.
"I was there one and a half years, he was there one year, about... then he got orders to Japan. [We stayed in contact by] e-mail...
"Not sure [how old he was] at the time of his death, but he was 22 when I met him. I was 20. We were helicopter crewchiefs, but he cross-trained to [be] a flight engineer-- not a pilot, but it's cool. When the helos are broke, we fix 'em, no matter what... and we always had to keep one bird fully mission-capable for rescue. One alert bird, always.
"A few days after [September 2001's terrorist attack, we communicated] through e-mail. We were still shell-shocked, didn't believe [it], but we both were ready to do whatever and go wherever. We wanted to be in it.
Did he stay in touch with you in Afghanistan?
"No, not really. Word of mouth: buddies would e-mail me and say this and that, he was ready to leave, he said what's up, [that] he loves being a Flight Engineer... and that he is doing good. Nothing in-depth.
"[In Afghanistan, he did everything], from inserting Special Ops, to rescue, to aid work... But he what he did when he died, [he] was a flight engineer.
"Lemme tell you what a flight engineer does: Referred to as 'FE', a flight engineer manages the nav waypoints, the 'minus one' (pre-flight check of the helo), fuel load, weight, operates the .50 cal and 7.62 miniguns, operates the hoist for rescue ops, manages radios, lifting capabilities-- everything but flying.
"There are times amputations are done on the helicopters during exfiltration operations... I mean, they are picking up casualties and what not... pretty sobering, washin' blood off your helicopter. People die over there everyday, but you don't know about it, CNN don't know...
"There was one [Afghan] with appendicitis they air-lifted to a hospital. I'm not sure [where], some shit city to a hospital, I'm sure. A middle-aged Afgan guy. Friends told me it was his first real mission... they [the Afghans] need [our] help.
How you find out he died?
"A phone call... from buddies. 'Hey, did you hear about J?' I [already] knew, inside, when I heard [on the news the day before] we lost a Pavelow (the helicopter).
"I said, 'Yeah, I know, I had a feeling.'
"[I] swallowed deep, tried not to think, then got home that night and cried to my wife. There was [a service] in [the state] where he was based.
"I lit a candle and put it on my doorstep last night, and said a prayer."
What would you say to him now, if you could?
"Nothing... I'd just hug him.
"But if I could only talk, I'd say 'I'm so proud of you, and I would do anything to be in your shoes.'
"Because I believe there is nothing better than to give your life for your country. Just the way I feel. I would love to have the chance to even come close to dying for my country. People think I'm weird for saying it, but oh well. I don't think a lot of [service members] at least put it this way. If I have my way, I will do my best to put myself in harm's way a lot before I get out [of the service], one way or another. And if God picks me, then so be it. I have no fear when it comes to protecting my rights and the rights of others.
"I won't sit on [this] base much longer, I'm going to do the 'shit.' [In Afghanistan, I'll be] a crewchief. I won't be in it as much as I want.
"I wanna fly full time, and I will, just like J."