The following is an address Cdr. Tracie Smith-Yeoman, USN (ret) gave at the 9-11 Memorial Ceremony at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology. Smith-Yeoman is senior Naval Science Instructor at MAST, and retired after 23 years in the US Navy. She is a graduate of Mater Dei High School and the University of South Carolina and served one tour in the Middle East.
We’re at the point where I don’t think any of our cadets were born when 9/11 happened. You’ve read the accounts and heard the stories of that day from your family members, but for many, it may be hard to relate. After all, this happened 18 years ago. Yes, it was tragic – nobody is denying that, but it happened in the past. The ground war in Vietnam started about ten months before I was born and ended when I was around age seven, and even though my uncle was a war correspondent and a good friend of mine lost his older brother in the war, I don’t really remember anything about it. It just didn’t seem relevant to me personally.
But what we need to realize is that for many, many people, 9/11 is an ongoing event, not only today, but for many coming years. And I’m only talking about the physical deaths, not the grief or the broken hearts that people continue to carry. That just can’t even be measured.
We know that almost 3000 people died that day, but we need to add to that number all those who have died since 9/11 because of 9/11: the more than 3500 military members and civilian contractors who died in Afghanistan during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and in the aftermath since his killing; but also the first responders in New York and Washington, DC, who only cared about saving people and recovering the dead -- they didn’t think of their own personal safety. Over a thousand of them have died already, and the numbers will continue to rise. 23 New York City police officers were killed on 9/11, and since then, 241 NYPD members have died of 9/11-related illnesses. That’s ten times the number that died on 9/11.
In the clouds of dust that rained down when the twin towers fell were many toxic substances, including asbestos. We have known for many years that exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma and different types of cancer, like lung cancer. But the diseases don’t appear immediately – the onset of asbestos-caused diseases is between 10 and 50 years. So that means that we are only beginning to see the numbers of those afflicted. And now the experts think there’s a link between exposure at the World Trade Center site. Firefighters who were first on the scene were 44% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than firefighters who arrived the next day, and those who worked on the pile for six months or more were 30% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
How many people are living their lives every day waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for that horrible diagnosis and a sure-to-be long, drawn out, painful death? Around 90,000 people volunteered to dig through the rubble in the weeks and months after the towers fell. It is estimated that within just a few more years, we will be at the point where more people will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than from the attacks themselves.
As we remember those that gave their lives 18 years ago today, let us not forget those that have died since then, and those who live with the grief and fear of the future every day. Please always keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
Commander T. M. Smith-Yeoman, USN (Ret)
Senior Naval Science Instructor
Marine Academy of Science and Technology