09 September 2021

Subdued September 11 remembrances reflect Boston’s invisible scars

09 September 2021

Tucked in a grove of ginkgo trees, a glass cube at Logan International Airport pays tribute to those lost aboard the two planes that took off from Boston and were hijacked by terrorists who flew them into the World Trade Centre towers.

But it’s mostly silent homage.

The memorial etched with the names of those who perished aboard American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 draws few visitors. And the airport’s other nods to its role in the tragedy — American flags that fly above the gates where the flights departed — go mostly unnoticed and unremarked.

I was held personally accountable for the deaths of thousands... It's been a long road back, and it's nothing compared to what the families have gone through

It’s reflective of the city’s uneasy ties to September 11 2001.

“It still feels surreal in a way, because it was just horrifying beyond anyone’s ability to grasp,” said Virginia Buckingham, who was CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, on 9/11.

Five terrorists smuggled box cutters aboard American Flight 11 at Logan. Five others did the same with United Flight 175 at another terminal.

“None of the checkpoint supervisors recalled the hijackers or reported anything suspicious regarding their screening” the government’s 9/11 Commission said in its report.

On the day of the attacks, Buckingham was preparing to fly to Washington to meet the Federal Aviation Administration about a new runway at Logan when she got a six-word message that still chills her: “Two planes are off the radar.”

Six weeks after the attacks, then-Governor Jane Swift pushed Buckingham to resign. Buckingham, who wrote a haunting 2020 memoir, On My Watch, said it all nearly broke her — and she only recently came around to the idea that it wasn’t her fault.

“I have PTSD, both from the trauma of seeing what unfolded like all of us had to, but also being blamed for it caused terrible trauma, bad dreams, depression,” she said. “I was held personally accountable for the deaths of thousands… It’s been a long road back, and it’s nothing compared to what the families have gone through.”

Subdued 20th anniversary remembrances are planned at the airport on Saturday.

I'm struck by the amnesia that's set in. All we're left with is the mythology of 9/11. I would have expected better of Boston

Twenty years on, there is little to suggest Boston has truly come to terms with its supporting role in the attacks.

Although a monument to victims in Boston Public Garden does have visitors, dozens of the 2,997 memorial flags planted there ahead the anniversary were uprooted by vandals.

Logan’s atmospheric memorial, meanwhile, is rarely visited. On a recent weekday visit, an Associated Press photographer saw only two people enter the cube during a three-hour stay. That’s in sharp contrast to the frequently crowded memorial to victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three spectators, wounded more than 260 others and spawned the slogan “Boston Strong”.

“I’m struck by the amnesia that’s set in,” said James Carroll, a former priest and retired Boston Globe columnist. “All we’re left with is the mythology of 9/11. I would have expected better of Boston.”

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