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Teens Who Grew Up After Sept. 11 Give Tours At Memorial Museum


You probably know exactly where you were when the September 11 attacks happened if you're old enough to remember. We're about to hear from a group of New Yorkers who barely can. They were toddlers in 2001. Now, 14 years later, they're about to study what happened that day for the first time at the National September 11 Memorial Museum. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has our story.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: What they know about that Tuesday morning in New York City is often mixed up with stories from their parents.

GABRIELLA PERALLON: My mom always tells me the stories of what she did that day. She took me out and I was stand - we were standing in Jersey right across.

BEN DIFILIPPI: The way she described it to me she said, like, it felt like the sky was falling.

WANG: That was 15-year-old Gabriella Perallon and 16-year-old Ben DiFilippi. Ben's mother escaped the World Trade Center on September 11. Some of his earliest memories as a 2-year-old that day include evacuating his apartment building in Brooklyn with his babysitter.

BEN: I remember going to the Promenade, which overlooks the Manhattan skyline, and seeing another babysitter crying. I remember that moment. I remember just the tears on her face.

WANG: But Gabriella, who was only 1, says she doesn't remember anything about 9/11, like many high schoolers today.

GABRIELLA: We were alive when it happened. The only thing that was we don't have the memories. But we have the memories of the aftermath, basically.

WANG: An aftermath in which almost a quarter of Americans alive today were too young to understand or not even born yet when the U.S. was hit by the deadliest terrorist attacks ever on its soil.

ALICE GREENWALD: 9/11 is already ancient history on some level.

WANG: This is Alice Greenwald. She's director of the National September 11 Memorial Museum where Gabriella and Ben are part of a group of high schoolers about to start eight months of training after school to become ambassadors of the museum. They'll help lead workshops for young children and give a tour of the museum to family and friends, though not to the public. Still, Greenwald says she hopes these ambassadors will help keep the history of 9/11 alive outside the museum after they learn about how life was transformed after that day.

GREENWALD: They begin to understand that, no, people didn't always have their shoes taken off at the airport. No, you didn't always go into a, you know, large public facility and have to open your purse or backpack.

WANG: They also learn about the plot by Al Qaeda, the hijacked planes, the falling buildings, all the things that 17-year-old David Rothblatt says he and his parents rarely talked about when he was younger.

DAVID ROTHBLATT: My parents didn't want me to know anything about what was going on. They didn't want to scare me. They didn't turn on the TV. They put headphones in my ears while we walked down the street.

WANG: David was part of the first class of the museum ambassador program. On 9/11, a close friend of his family suffered third-degree burns across his face, hands, arms and legs. The mask he wore during his recovery is on display at the museum. David says he's learned about other stories of survival and death through the program.

ROTHBLATT: And over the course of the year, I started to realize that you had to laugh. You had to try to look at things in a positive way or else I don't know how you could get through a lot of this stuff 'cause it is very heavy stuff.

MADISON FERNANDEZ: So here, we're standing at the ramp overlook which is right above bedrock, which is exactly where Ground Zero was.

WANG: This like the foundation of those buildings?

MADISON: Yes, yes.

WANG: Sixteen-year-old Madison Fernandez takes me on a tour underground at the September 11 Museum. She joined the ambassador program earlier this year.

MADISON: So on this tour, an important thing to remember is that September 11 was just like any other day. However, complete destruction occurred in just 102 minutes.

WANG: Madison says 9/11 used to be something she always heard about but most adults never really wanted to talk about in detail when she had questions.

MADISON: You're starting off with this new slate. The younger generation is the new slate, so you have to teach them about it before it's gone and forgotten and just something in the textbooks. Like, it's not. It's still apparent.

WANG: Still apparent for Madison, especially when she's at the museum sharing what she's learned about the terrorist attacks with children less than half her age, children who weren't even alive the day the towers fell. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
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