A New Yorker reflects on the World Trade Center

Geneseo Republic

As a native New Yorker, the World Trade Towers were a constant companion throughout much of my life. The towers were completed April 4, 1973. I was 14 years of age. However, they took 11 years to complete. The early years were all underground construction. Nothing to see. But from the time they reached ground level, my Norwegian grandfather and I visited the construction site in lower Manhattan every summer. The towers were growing and so was I.

In my teens and twenties, the observation deck of the Trade Towers became my standard first date. There were few more romantic sights than the view from that outdoor platform. One of the most memorable moments I have was my last visit to that Observation Deck. My cousins Torgny and Arild Palm were visiting from Norway. I took them to see Les Miserables on Broadway. We road a limo to the World Trade Towers and I had the joy of showing them the best view of my home city.

Six weeks before that infamous day 20 years ago, I accepted the call to a church in Sarasota, Florida. I was in my church office when the Associate Pastor ran into my office and invited me to watch the TV coverage on his TV in a parsonage next door to the church. I stared in stunned disbelief as I watched the burning North Tower. I thought it was a horrible accident. But when the south tower was hit less than 15 minutes later, I knew it was terrorism. Together with millions of Americans I wept as the South Tower collapsed, and then the North Tower as well. Later I learned that one of the brave heroes lost that day was the Trustee of my church in Staten Island, NY, John Hohmann – a NYC Fireman. A few weeks earlier, John gave up a promotion because he missed the hands-on work of his firehouse. John left behind 2 sons and a wife. His remains were never found but a grave marker and flagpole are located on the front lawn of the church. I felt incredibly guilty that I was not there to guide my congregation of 12 years through that horrible season.

The day after the attack on the World Trade Center I received two calls. My second cousin, Torgny called from Kristiansand, Norway to talk about the horrible events of the week. He said, “I am looking at that picture of us on the Observation Deck. I had no idea were were standing in such history!” The second call was from my Aunt Esther, informing me that my Uncle died. He was a NYC Dock-builder, like my grandfather, and worked on the foundation of the World Trade Center complex. My Uncle Norman saw the planes hit and the towers collapse. He said, “What did they do to my buildings?” These were the last words he spoke before slipping out of consciousness. I couldn’t attend his funeral. New York airspace was closed.

Uncle Norman’s dying words capture the feeling of all native New Yorkers. The Trade Towers were a bit too modern… truth be told a bit ugly compared to the more ornate buildings dotting the New York Skyline. But they were our buildings, and they were gone with 2753 irreplaceable people who began their day marveling at the beautiful clear skies that September morning which has become a day of mourning for all Americans.

Rev. Stephen E. Palm

Geneseo Evangelical Free Church