KEWASKUM — After 20 years, the sights from September 11th don’t get any easier to process. For a father in Kewaskum, they’re seared into his memory, knowing his daughter experienced those atrocities first hand in New York City.
“What the anniversary does bring back to me, and I think about every night, is what she had to endure after the plane hit and before she was killed,” Gordon Haberman said. “They were all alive on the 92nd floor of the North Tower, desperately trying to get out. The last phone call out of the North Tower, a minute before it collapsed, came from her offices. Those thoughts haunt.”
Haberman’s daughter Andrea flew into New York City for business late on September 10, 2001. The next morning, she got to work early. Haberman says he just saw Andrea just over a week before. She and her fiance were back home for Labor Day, excited about purchasing a new home in Chicago and preparing for a wedding.
“Life was good,” Haberman said. “To have it, for so many families, totally destroyed in one day.”
For his family, every day after 9/11 has felt like 9/11. He never goes a day without thinking about Andrea or what could have been. He and his family will travel to Ground Zero this year, to memorialize Andrea at her final resting place.
The public tends to make a bigger deal on the notable anniversaries; five, ten, 20 years later. Haberman says, yes, those years tend to be more intense with higher interest. But for their family, every year is significant.
“It’s another day for us,” Haberman said. “Our lives have been 9/11 since that day and no day that goes past without some sort of reflection of the loss. What could have been with our family?”
The slogan “never forget” was uttered almost daily in the months and years after 9/11. Twenty years later, a new generation of people have no actual memory other than what they read in textbooks or see replayed on TV and the internet. While the images from that day will never be forgotten, the experience is waning. Estimates show nearly a quarter of the American population was born after 9/11. While it will be impossible for Haberman to forget, he has worked to make sure future generations know what happened that day.
The Official Wisconsin 9/11 Memorial in Kewaskum opened up in June of 2021. At its center, a 2,200 lbs. steel support beam from the North Tower where his daughter was killed. It’s the focal point of the entire memorial, but there is so much more to take away from the plaza.
“This is a reflection of the goodness that came out of this community and communities across the country, when our country came together. That feeling transcended into 20 years later, this being in existence. What I try to carry with me now is not the event of 9/11. To be honest with you, I don’t watch the towers coming down any more. There is no reason for me to do that any longer. However, this is a testament to people’s remembrance, reflection and giving meaning to the words, never forget.”
The memorial hopes to educate in a variety of ways. While the beam itself draws folks in, little intricacies around the memorial stick with you long after you’re gone. For starters, the beam, made up of straight perpendicular lines, is on a tilt. What looks like an artistic gesture has a much deeper meaning.
“It’s directionally pointing towards New York City,” Haberman said. “It’s a form of our connection. And 754 inches from the center of this beam is an oak tree in the back of our here. That represents, in inches, the number of miles between here and New York City.”
Nearly every inch of the memorial has some sort of hidden meaning. A teaching podium sits atop three tridents, reminiscent of a signature architectural element of the Twin Towers.
Two marble slabs on opposite sides will have plaques to teach about the day; educating about flight paths and a timeline of the attacks. A ghostly marble-cut sculpture memorializes the fallen and honors the first responders at the Twin Towers.
Even the beam itself, aside from pointing to New York City, sits atop a five-sided slab of concrete; a pentagon, pointing to the five different educational elements you can find at the memorial.
“How do you turn a negative into a positive for future generations?” Haberman said. “We’re doing that here.”
One thing you’ll be hard-pressed to find is a shrine to Andrea Haberman; a small rock is on the backside of the memorial that was donated from a local middle school.
That’s intentional. Gordon Haberman is the first to acknowledge the loss felt by his family is something felt by 2,977 other families on that day. This memorial is to remember all of the innocent victims, first responders, firefighters, police officers, even the military members who have fought in the ensuing Afghanistan and Iraq war.
“It’s absolutely stunning when you consider the ripple effects of what happened the day after,” Haberman said. “Over 7,500 of those brave servicemen have died. 55,000 injured. The responders, 4,500 have died after 9/11 who were involved in the recovery efforts to find my daughter. That’s incredibly humbling to me. The ripple effects of 9/11, even if society doesn’t have a recollection of it, it’s been huge and continues.”
In August, President Joe Biden announced troops would be leaving Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after 9/11. It’s a decision that worries Haberman.
“Sadness,” Haberman said. “Sadness for the American citizens left behind. Every encounter I have had with members of Al Qaeda or other extremist groups, they are dedicated. They are disciplined. They believe in what their mission and what their god is telling them to do. That’s another part of the Afghanistan exit. I believe this country will have to deal with in the future, sadly.”
Haberman is also still waiting for some sort of justice. In Cuba, five alleged 9/11 plotters still await a trial. Earlier this week, the alleged plotters had a pretrial hearing. Haberman was asked to attend, but he declined.
“We’re 20 years out and no one has been held accountable yet for something that changed our country and that will be ongoing,” Haberman said. “I have no idea. It could be ongoing for another 10 years. That’s upsetting also. I’ve been to Gitmo four times to attend pretrial hearings of the five defendants down there. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, they’ll actually go to trial.”
That’s not Haberman’s focus now. He’s focused on sharing memories of his daughter with the thousands of families he plans to see in New York City.
While in New York, he’ll tour the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It’s going to be closed to everyone except those families who lost a loved one. It’s something Haberman looks forward to sharing.
“You don’t have to ask how everybody is doing,” Haberman said. “It’s, what are you doing? We have a whole New York family that just kind of adopted us after we went to New York. Cops, firefighters, survivors, workers from Ground Zero, all instrumental in helping us.”
That feeling is something Haberman hopes the entire country can capture again. In the days, weeks and months after 9/11, the silver lining of such a tragic incident was the unity seen across the country.
Haberman sees a lot of division in the country now and, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the deadliest attack on American soil, he wants to make sure people remember to never forget that aspect of September 11th.
“The embracement of the compassion that was offered to us on 9/12 and extended throughout this country,” Haberman said. “There was a togetherness in our society that is sorely missing at this point, in my estimation. I’m deeply concerned about that. I don’t see an end to it. But for here, regardless of whatever issues are on your mind, this is a place of reflection and respect.”
The Wisconsin 9/11 Memorial is holding a special ceremony this Saturday, starting at 10:00 a.m. For more information, visit the Wisconsin 9/11 Memorial website.