Today marks the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The tragic event in American history is being commemorated with somber ceremonies remembering and honoring the men, women and children killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93.
The coronavirus pandemic changed the way the commemoration event was put together this year while keeping its scope — and spirit — intact. Produced under COVID-19 protocols, today’s ceremony at the World Trade Center in New York features drummers, bagpipers, trumpeters and West Side Story star Shereen Pinentel performing the national anthem.
“I’m directing the Commemoration ‘virtually’ from a high-tech facility AMV (All Mobil Video) on Culver Blvd in Marina del Rey,” said director-producer Don Mischer, sitting next to producer David J. Goldberg. “We have a crew of about 25 on the site at the World Trade Center.”
Mischer has a long history with the event.
“David Goldberg and I have been producing the 9/11 commemorations for 19 years,” he said. “Each year we have marked the six events of that tragic day [in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, PA] with the ringing of a NYFD silver bell, followed by moments of silence. Each year, all 2,983 names of those who perished have been read, often by family members themselves.”
“It has been an emotional journey watching these families, especially the children who were 6 or 7 years old at the very first commemoration. In the beginning they held up drawings/photos of their dads, moms, sisters, brothers. Through time I watched them grow up, start school, reflect on their loved ones’ absence as they matured, and ultimately graduate from college. The families have shown remarkable courage and found a way to persevere moving into the future by coming together.”
To mark the 19th anniversary, ABC tonight will air 9/11 Remembered: The Day We Came Together, an hourlong dedication special filmed on May 15, 2014, marking President Barack Obama’s opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site. It also was produced by Mischer, who directed it, and Goldberg.
“It’s an amazingly positive program that includes stories of courage, compassion and sacrifice, all of which are emotionally embraced in the 9/11 Memorial Museum,” Mischer said. “We’ve are proud to have been able to tell a part of the 9/11 story. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is now taking its place with the battle fields of Gettysburg, waters of Pearl Harbor, and the Vietnam Memorial as a sacred marker of our past.”
For 19 years, 9/11 has been a day for mourning and reflection. Looking back at the events of September 11, 2001 may be more meaningful than ever.
“Not unlike today, it was a time we felt scared, lost people we loved, and faced an uncertain future. But it was also a time when we came together – as neighbors, as friends, as fellow Americans – to be there and look out for one another, and to live up to the best within ourselves,” Mischer said.
To mark the anniversary, Mischer shared an emotional first-person account of the impact 9/11 had on him personally and moments during the commemoration ceremonies he will never forget.
I remember watching the Towers fall with my 9-year-old son on that tremulous day. We were producing the Emmys at that time that were scheduled to air five days later.
I remember being overwhelmed by what I was seeing on the screen. I remember it being difficult to find the words to explain to my 9-year-old son— what was happening and why people would fly planes into the buildings.
Those who have come to do what we do, entertainment specials with various production elements and spectacle, come to understand the importance of storytelling, cultural events and moments of commemoration. Over the years I found out first hand that these type of events can be immensely meaningful to individuals and families. They are our modern rituals for coming together.
The program we put together for the 9/11 commemoration ceremonies had a resonance and heart that made me very proud to be a part of. I felt like we could actually help people deal with their loss.
When we were asked by Michael Bloomberg to help create a tribute to the victims and their families, I knew this type of show had to have both delicacy and depth to it, to be honest to the feelings of everyone there. So many people. That first year started a ritual that has gone on for nearly 20 years. It has helped people, feel, heal and deal with loss and I have come to value this experience immensely.
I remember the very first commemoration in 2002, we held it at the bottom of a pit that went down six stories underground. The city was still cleaning up Ground Zero. The 9/11 family members were allowed to go down a ramp, into a pool of water that we filled at the very bottom where the North tower stood. As we were reading the names, Yo-Yo Ma was playing a Bach concerto and suddenly the wind started to blow ferociously. Dust from the bottom of the site started circling and swirling upwards, what we call in Texas, a dust tornado. Yo-Yo’s music stand blew away. Knowing the music by heart, Yo-yo kept playing, but fought to keep the bow attached to his strings. He had a great deal of difficulty, but continued to finish the piece. During this moment, I remember looking into the eyes of the family members, it was as if their loved ones were trying to communicate in some way. Nineteen years later, I still get goose bumps when I think about that moment. Most of these 9/11 families never recovered their loved ones, they just disappeared — there were no bodies to put in the ground. It was a profound sense of loss without any closure. Now we found ourselves in unusually high winds and thousands of dust particles in the air, a physical touch to an emotional moment: These are the kind of experiences we remember.
The ritual reading of 2,983 names has become a cathartic event, a time and place of healing. Through the years we were able to pick up the pieces and carry on. I saw children that first year in 2002, who would go up to the podium with their parents, holding drawings saying “Mommy, We Love You,” “Daddy, We love you,” “We will see you some day.” As we went through the decades, family members would return each September to Ground Zero to recite the names. These children’s signs turned to emotional anecdotes: “Dad you are a grandfather now, Margaret had two children. You would be so proud.” I ended up growing up with these families. I was witness to their maturity and healing. I started to get the sense that these families were going to make it and preserve.
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