Updated: Sep 18
NEW YORK CITY, NY - Under the gentle, dappled sunlight of a September morning in 2023, I found myself in a place where history and memory intertwine seamlessly, where the very air hums with echoes of the past. Here, at Ground Zero, I had the privilege of standing alongside a man whose life has intricately woven into this sacred fabric. Known as Harry John Roland to the world, here, he's simply the "World Trade Center Man."
Harry's story is more than just words; it's a vivid tableau of resilience. As the early morning sun casts long, poetic shadows, I ready my equipment, acutely aware that I'm about to capture something profound. Harry, a former employee who once worked on the 82nd floor of the South Tower, is no official tour guide, nor does he charge for his time; yet he graces this hallowed ground every single day. His dedication remains unwavering, his mission unswerving: to ensure that the events of 9/11 are etched into the collective memory of this nation.
With a voice as soft and textured as aged parchment, he begins, "My name is Harry John Roland. Welcome to New York." With those words, he becomes a maestro, conducting a symphony that takes us back in time when the Twin Towers graced the skyline, colossal giants of steel and glass. "Enormous," he emphasizes, his arms outstretched, his eyes tracing the vanished heights. "One hundred and ten marked floors, 135 stories high," he recites, each number a vibrant stroke on the canvas of memory.
Harry's is a tale of more than statistics; it's an evocative journey through the contours of his own past. In the weathered lines of his face, one can discern the grief of a man who lost his nephew, a South Tower worker like Harry himself was. It's here, amidst the fragments of that fateful day, that he found both solace and purpose. "People need to know," he insists, his voice a steady current in the river of time, his gaze a lighthouse in the sea of collective memory.
For Harry, his work is also about dispelling myths and misconceptions. "I still find people who don't know the facts," he says with a sigh. He's dedicated to enlightening those who may believe in conspiracy theories or incomplete narratives. His tireless efforts are a testament to the resilience of truth and the importance of bearing witness.
On this 22nd anniversary of 9/11, I stand at Ground Zero with Harry. Vice President Kamala Harris is among the assembled crowd. This story is not ours alone; it's a shared odyssey. My fellow reporters Johnny Rhoades and Kayla Royko, who work diligently from Cleveland, have been instrumental in weaving this narrative together, bridging time and space with their dedication.
As I listen to Harry's words, I'm struck by the heartbeat of this story: resilience, unity, and the enduring American spirit. Harry John Roland, the World Trade Center Man, is not merely a guide; he's a sentinel of memories, a guardian of history. As long as he stands here, we stand beside him, ensuring that the unity and selflessness that emerged from the ashes of 9/11 remain etched in our national psyche.
While our nation collectively reflects on the tragic events that transpired two decades ago, we find solace in the enduring spirit of unity and remembrance. In Cleveland's Public Square, where our community stands as a testament to resilience, you'll discover a poignant tribute by "Flags for Honor." This remarkable organization, driven by a deep commitment to honor and preserve the memory of 9/11, graces our city with a display of flags, each one representing a life lost that day.
"Flags for Honor" is more than a display; it's a powerful symbol of our collective memory. It reminds us that while time may pass, our commitment to remembering those who perished remains steadfast. The flags flutter in the breeze, a poignant reminder of the lives, hopes, and dreams that were forever altered. It's a tangible connection to the past, a beacon of hope for the future.
We invite you to visit Cleveland's Public Square, stand among these flags, and pay your respects to the heroes and victims of 9/11. "Flags for Honor" is a testament to the enduring bonds that unite us as a community and a nation. In their quiet presence, we find strength, unity, and a profound sense of remembrance that transcends time and distance.
Let us also remember that small communities around New York, across Cleveland, and indeed throughout the nation, display pieces of the World Trade Center wreckage publicly, so history is not forgotten. These fragments are more than steel and concrete; they are relics of an era that shaped our world. They are reminders that history should never be locked away in dusty archives but should be woven into the very fabric of our communities. As we stand here, where time and memory intertwine, we honor not only the past but also the unbreakable bonds that unite us, no matter how far from Ground Zero we may be.
A Special Thank You to Harry John Roland for speaking with us and sharing his story. Video from news segment was from Cleve-It To Us, David Guersan, CBS, WBNS and the US Army.