9/11 memorial excludes first responders, survivors on 20th anniversary

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This memorial went from never forget to forget about the heroes of 9/11.

A ceremony next month to honor those killed 20 years ago on Sept. 11 will be limited to family members of the fallen, after organizers decided first responders, survivors and others wouldn’t be invited to the milestone commemoration.

The solemn gathering at the World Trade Center site will serve as the city’s featured memorial on a day that devastated New Yorkers and shook the nation.

In years past, the reading of the names of 2,983 deceased has been attended by Presidents Bush and Obama, US senators, governors and other dignitaries. 

Thousands have flocked to Ground Zero to pay homage on previous anniversaries, including firefighters, cops, EMS workers and other first responders, all joining family members in the audience.

This year, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum sent the usual invitations to the relatives of the victims saying, “The ceremony will be exclusively for 9/11 family members.”

The invitations will serve as the “credential for admittance to the ceremony on the memorial plaza,” the letters say, and attendees will cluster near the two memorial pools rimmed with the inscribed names of those who perished.

From left, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Vice President Mike Pence stand during the national anthem at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, in 2020.
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Only family members are invited,” said memorial spokeswoman Lee Cochran. “The invited family members can bring as many additional family-member guests as they’d like.”

Cochran insisted that nothing is new year.

But the rules have been selectively enforced.

Jim Riches, a retired firefighter whose firefighter son, Jimmy, was killed in the attacks,  has attended every 9/11 ceremony and said many first-responders were admitted without passes.

“They turn a blind eye and let them in,” he said. “I know some in full uniform have gotten in and also seen others turned away.”

Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son, Christian, was killed on 9/11, said responders and survivors should all be welcomed.

“I think that 9/11 happened to a lot of people, and we can’t forget the survivors. It didn’t happen exclusively to people who were massacred on that day. It profoundly affected other people, who were physically or emotionally injured,” Regenhard said.

 “People in the uniformed services consider the people they work with as brothers and sisters — they’re a family. They should make an effort to have every single first responder who would like to attend, go. It should be open to all of them, especially those who answered the call of duty on 9/11,” she said.

Tim Frolich, a Fuji Bank employee whose foot was crushed while escaping the dust cloud when the South Tower collapsed, credits two Port Authority cops and a firefighter with bringing him to safety.

Sally Regenhard who lost her son Christian Michael Otto Regenhard
Sally Regenhard thinks all first responders should be welcome at the memorial.
Paul Martinka

He believes such heroes should be invited to the 9/11 ceremony.

 “They’re the people we turned to in a moment of sheer chaos to help us,” Frolich said.

Frank Siller, CEO of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, whose firefighter brother, Stephen Siller, was killed on 9/11, said first-responders and survivors should not be turned away.

“Just because it’s 20 years later doesn’t mean you‘re completely healed,” he said. “They want to pay their respects and honor their heroes. I think they should be allowed down there.”

The tradition to come together and read the names of the lost began on Sept. 11, 2002, when dignitaries and family members gathered at Ground Zero, then still a gaping hole in Lower Manhattan. 

Law enforcement officials lay flowers in tribute to slain New York Police Department officer Randolph Holder at National September 11th Memorial in 2015.
Law enforcement officials lay flowers in tribute to slain New York Police Department officer Randolph Holder at National September 11th Memorial in 2015.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor on 9/11, started the name recitation that year, followed by then Secretary of State Colin Powell; Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton; and actor Robert De Niro. Relatives of those lost also took part in the readings.

George Pataki, then New York governor, recited the Gettysburg Address. Bush arrived several hours later to lay a wreath at the site.

The ceremony has continued every year since, with children of the deceased reading the names on one occasion and parents and grandparents on another. The names include those killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Moments of silence mark when a plane hit each of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, PA, and when each tower fell.

The event has not been without controversy.

Law enforcement official 9/11 memorial
Thousands have flocked to Ground Zero to pay homage on previous anniversaries, including firefighters, cops, EMS workers.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

When the memorial opened in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of the attack, the city said there was no room for firefighters, cops and others at the ceremony attended by Bush and Obama.

Some firefighters fumed in 2016, the 15th anniversary, when they were barred from the ceremony while politicians got in.

“What family member did Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump lose that they were allowed in?” one of the first responders, EMT Terry Canham, griped that year.  

The pandemic scuttled the tradition last year, when memorial officials, bowing to COVID-19 concerns, decided they would not bring together anyone to read the names, using a pre-recorded recitation instead.

That led the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to hold its own ceremony a short distance away with live readings.

“This is not something we wanted to do. It’s something we had to do,” Siller told The Post at the time.

Another furor erupted when the 9/11 memorial said it was also cancelling its annual Tribute in Light to protect workers from COVID while setting up the display of twin blue beams over the WTC site.

The outcry led the foundation to reverse course. This Sept. 11, the lights are expected to shine at sunset, and fade away at dawn on Sept. 12.

The 9/11 ceremony is set to start at 8:30 am and conclude at 1 pm. The plaza will will open to the public at 3 p.m.

The FDNY is holding a special 20th anniversary memorial service at 1:30 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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