President Obama marks opening of September 11 museum: ‘Nothing can change who we are as Americans’

By Edgar Sandoval, Corky Siemaszko New York Daily News

The survivors of Stairway B in the North Tower. Chang W. Lee/Pool/Getty Images

The survivors of Stairway B in the North Tower. Chang W. Lee/Pool/Getty Images

Standing in the footprints of the lost Twin Towers, President Obama told New York and the nation Thursday that “nothing can ever break us, nothing can change who we are as Americans.”

Speaking at the dedication of the new September 11 museum, Obama told the loved ones of those who died that day that “those we lost live on within us.”

“We come together,” Obama said. “We stand at the footprint of two mighty towers. We can look at their names, hear their voices.”

Obama spoke after he and First Lady Michelle Obama took a somber tour of the new National September 11 Memorial & Museum. They viewed the memorial wall with the photos of the nearly 3,000 victims. They viewed a mangled fire truck and chilling videos of the towers crumbling to dust. They viewed the twisted steel beams, the teddy bears and family photos that were found in the wreckage. They bowed their heads beneath the immensity of what happened that dreadful day.

This, Obama said afterward, is a “sacred place of healing and hope.”

Obama gave his brief remarks while standing beside a column recovered from the site covered with tributes to fallen emergency responders.

Painted near the top are three sets of letters and numbers — PAPD 37, NYPD 23 and FDNY 343 — heartbreaking shorthand for number of Port Authority and New York City police officers, as well as the city firefighters, who were killed.

Wrapping up, Obama recounted the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old World Trade Center worker who became known as “the man in the red bandana.”

A volunteer firefighter, Crowther used the cloth as protection against the smoke as he led other workers to safety before the south tower collapsed.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters Michael Bloomberg joined the Obamas and the Clintons to look at the faces of those who died during the 9/11 attacks. Carolyn Kaster/AP President Obama, the first lady, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, and Diana Taylor, tour the Memorial Hall.

“The air was filled with smoke,” Obama said. “It was dark. They could barely see. It seemed as if there was no way out.”

Then, Obama said, “a young man in his 20s emerged from the smoke.”

But there was no escape for Crowther and that bandana was later used to identify his body.

One of Crowther’s red bandanas, however, is now enshrined in the new museum. His mother, Alison, said she hoped it would remind visitors “how people helped each other that day.”

“This is the true legacy of September 11,” she said.

As Alison Crowther spoke, Ling Young, one of the people her son saved, stood by her side.

Timothy A. Clary/Pool/AP Actor Robert De Niro talks with reporters at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York on Thursday.

“It was very hard for me to come here today, but I wanted to do so, so I could say thank you to his parents,” she said.

Mayor de Blasio called the shoes, wallets and 10,000 or so other “ordinary objects” in the museum “powerful keepsakes” that tell the story of what happened on September 11, 2001.

Rudy Giuliani, who was New York’s mayor when the terrorists struck, said what happened remains impossible to comprehend.

“We will never understand how one person escaped and another didn’t … how random it all seemed,” he said, before introducing — to great applause — a group of firefighters and Port Authority officers who got trapped in the wreckage and somehow made it out alive.

One survivor, retired Fire Department Lt. Mickey Cross [sic – Kross], said they immediately joined in the rescue after they were saved. “There was a real sense of caring for each other,” he said.

Ada Dolch, a school principal whose sister Wendy Wakeford was killed, told the gathering she was moved to open a school in Afghanistan to counter the ignorance that fueled Osama Bin Laden’s fanatical followers.

“What a kick in the head to Osama Bin Laden!” she said.

Kayla Bergeron recounted in harrowing detail how she escaped the north tower by walking down 68 flights of stairs. She noted that her final steps were on an outdoor stairway that came to be called the “survivors’ stairs,” and which are now enshrined in the museum.

“Today, when I think about those stairs, what they represent to me is resiliency,” she said.

And there were tears in many eyes when Tony Award-winning actress LaChanze sang “Amazing Grace,” her voice echoing off the foundations of the absent buildings that now house most of the museum.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the memorial foundation’s chairman, likened the museum to the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the battlefield at Gettysburg.

It is a “reminder that freedom carries heavy responsibilities,” he said. “Walking through this museum can be difficult at times, but it is impossible to leave without feeling inspired.”

Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie added, “While this happened in our soil, it happened to all of us.”

When the ceremony was over, some of the relatives of the victims began their tour. They were joined by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“It is astounding to see,” the former president said. “I never imagined when they started this, that the end result would be this. New Yorkers should be very proud of this. I hope every American gets to see it.”

Outside what is still very much a construction site, there was heavy security and New Yorkers heading to their jobs through mist and appropriately somber overcast skies found their paths blocked at times by police officers.

Nobody complained. Everybody seemed to understand.

The World Trade Center towers were brought down by Islamic fanatics in hijacked planes who rammed the birds [sic] into the buildings.

The Al Qaeda terrorists also crashed another commandeered plane into the Pentagon. A fourth plane slammed into a Pennsylvania field after the doomed passengers rose up against the hijackers.

“In doing so, they changed the course of history,” Gov. Cuomo said. “In giving their lives, how many lives did they save?”

Plans for a memorial began taking shape even before Obama dispatched Navy Seals to take out Bin Laden in 2011.

The museum will open its doors to the public next Wednesday.

In the meantime, it will remain open around the clock so 9/11 survivors, victims’ relatives, first responders, recovery workers and Lower Manhattan residents who lived through the attacks can visit.

They will not be required to pay the $24 admission.

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