Remembering September 11, 2001

Their faces shadowed by the tragedy that struck the US last year on September 11, those who experienced the terrible events in New York and Washington at first hand, the relatives of the 3,029 people who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania – the latter on board a hijacked aircraft that had been heading for the Capitol, not the White House as first thought – all met to honor the deceased. Economic and military power and democracy are the targets of terrorism. It might wear the face of Osama Bin Laden, but its roots go much deeper. Also present at these memorial ceremonies around the world were the authorities, presidents, governments, opposition party members and diplomats who honored the dead in a number of ceremonies. Peter Critsomilios, a Greek-American firefighter in New York, was on duty that fateful morning and among the first who reached the first tower with his brigade. They got to the 89th floor, helping office workers vacate the building. They were the last to leave, looking behind them as firefighters are supposed to. In the line of duty, 343 firefighters lost their lives in the towers, where «the high temperatures melted our boots if you stayed on the same spot more than a few seconds,» as Critsomilios said in his speech at a US Embassy memorial service at the ambassador’s residence in Athens this week. «I am proud, as a person of Greek origin, as a Christian Orthodox, a US citizen and a resident of New York, that I did my duty. I am proud to be a firefighter,» he said, to a standing ovation. Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece embraced him, with tears in his eyes. US Ambassador Thomas Miller also made a speech that was powerful, rational and moving. In attendance were Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos and main opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis, whom Miller thanked for his own statement. Prime Minister Costas Simitis was in Crete on a scheduled tour of Olympic towns, while Foreign Minister George Papandreou was in New York for the UN General Assembly. Honorary ND President Constantine Mitsotakis and Dora Bakoyianni were there, as were Miltiades Evert, Giorgos Alogoskoufis, Anna Benaki, Fani Palli-Petralia, Press Minister Christos Protopappas and mayoral candidate Christos Papoutsis. President Costis Stephanopoulos was absent as he was welcoming the president of Malta, who had just arrived in Athens on an official visit, but he sent a simple but substantial message condemning terrorism wherever it strikes. The charged atmosphere of the ambassador’s garden echoed with the voices of the Harlem Gospel Singers, led by Queen Esther Marrow. The ceremony began with the national anthems of both Greece and the US, both of which mourned victims on September 11, 2001. A ceremony held by the Foreign Ministry at the Athens Concert Hall that night, hosted by Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Magriotis, was addressed by National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis. Awards were presented to the mother of the heroic firefighter Peter Brennan, schoolteacher Kate Christodoulou Brennan, and civil engineer Manolis Velivasakis, head of the the teams that removed the smoldering wreckage from Ground Zero. One aspect of the catastrophe which received no mention in live reports from New York this week was the destruction of the Greek Orthodox Church of Aghios Nikolaos, which was buried under the wreckage of the Twin Towers. Yet for millions of Greek Americans of the Orthodox Church who vote for their president and who are taxpaying US citizens, the church was and is a symbol. Funds are being raised to rebuild it. Will a place be found for it, as is proper? Perhaps the president of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), Andrew Athens, can pull the right strings, along with Archbishop of America Demetrios. «There was a string of reasons today, first among them gloomy international markets. The bourse broke strong support levels and people automatically turn into sellers when this happens and we had OTE sliding,» said head analyst at EFG Eurobank Securities Chris Elafros.

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