Confusing. Chaotic. Unforgettable.
John Martorana, a battalion chief with the Fire Department of New York, used those words Monday to describe the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Brooklyn resident was at home when he heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Off duty at the time, he never reported to Ground Zero, but spent that night calling families of fallen first responders and friends from his firehouse.
This week, Martorana will help lead tours through the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit on the Rock Island riverfront to educate, inform and honor the legacy of those who served and lost their lives almost 15 years ago.
"Everybody lost people they knew — not just firemen," Martorana stressed. "Bringing this to people here who can't make it to New York to see the museum keeps it alive in their memory."
As part of the company's Be an Everyday Hero project, Modern Woodmen of America arranged for the exhibit's five-day stay at Schwiebert Riverfront Park, and is sponsoring free tours Tuesday through Saturday.
In September 2013, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation dedicated the built-to-travel museum, a high tech, 53-foot tractor-trailer that unfolds into a 1,000-square-foot memorial. It was created to honor Stephen Siller, one of 343 New York firefighters who gave their lives to evacuate thousands of people from the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed.
Leah White, marketing manager for Modern Woodmen, led the volunteer effort. In 2001, she was a 21-year-old college student at the University of Iowa.
"I know we weren't there, but it's important to remember the people we lost," said White, whose father served as a volunteer firefighter in LeClaire for 32 years. "What they do every day matters."
The exhibit includes a timeline and explanation of when and how the Twin Towers were built.
Other sections detail all of the 9/11 attacks (including the attack on the Pentagon and the hijacked flight that crashed in Pennsylvania); the recovery of the last 15 years; artifacts, including actual steel beams from the Towers; documentary video; and recordings of first responder transmissions.
Chris Carlson, one of several dozen Modern Woodmen volunteers who helped set up the display Monday, fought back tears when she first saw pieces of the collection.
"It just makes you cry when you look at this stuff," she said. "It was just senseless."