Learning from 9/11: Lesson from Terrorist Attacks - You Can Make a Difference

On Sept. 11, 2001, my son Jonathan Lee Ielpi, 29, a New York City firefighter and the father of two boys, was killed in the collapse of the South Tower during the World Trade Center attack. My mission then—and we all have missions—was to find my son.

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  Capitol Ideas: September / October 2010

About the Author:  Lee Ielpi is a retired New York City Firefighter, co-founder of the Tribute World Trade Center Visitor Center, and President of the September 11th Families' Association.

On Sept. 11, 2001, my son Jonathan Lee Ielpi, 29, a New York City firefighter and the father of two boys, was killed in the collapse of the South Tower during the World Trade Center attack. My mission then—and we all have missions—was to find my son.

It took three months to the day; on Dec. 11, 2001, we were blessed and were able to bring Jonathan home as a whole body. We are but one of the 174 families that were blessed to have recovered a whole body of their loved one. Of the 2,749 people murdered at the World Trade Center, 1,125 are still missing.

My current mission is to keep the stories of Sept. 11 alive, and to educate people about the horror of that day and the overwhelming humanitarian response in the aftermath.

Jennifer Adams and I co-founded a small museum across from the World Trade Center site. We  opened in September 2006 to provide people from all over the world who make a pilgrimage to the site a place to meet people whose lives were profoundly changed by the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001. Some 1.7 million visitors have come to our galleries or taken our tours. After  experiencing the stories of the thousands of people who helped others during and after the  attacks, they have left with an understanding that they, too, can make a difference.

While we are reaching the visitors at the Tribute World Trade Center, we need to go further. I am committed to ensuring every student in the U.S. learns the history of the events that have altered the world’s future in ways we still do not fully comprehend. Although this was a landmark date for today’s generations, not one state in the country mandates the teaching of 9/11 in the classroom, nor is a curriculum in place.

We know the fear and anguish of Sept. 11 are still recent and painful for many teachers, but  today’s students are growing up in a world in which they need to understand and learn from these events. Teachers in the U.S. and around the world have the opportunity to guide our young people to realize local and global avenues for change. To this end, the Tribute staff has created a set of
educational materials that are available free online to any school or family.

Our materials are designed not only to give the correct facts of the day, but to inspire young people to emulate the thousands of volunteers who rushed forward to help people heal and to rebuild the sites in New York City, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Penn.

I am strongly committed to talking about the need for education for as long as it takes to motivate our educational professionals to bring the history and lessons of 9/11 into every one of the nation’s schools.

Tomorrow’s world lies in the hands of today’s youth and we have a sacred obligation to teach our young people so they can be better prepared to create a more tolerant and peaceful future.