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On 9/11, a Tree Offers Hope

A tree and its seedlings are living memorials to those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

By Judy Dick

The only pear tree on the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, the Survivor Tree is surrounded by more than 400 swamp white oak trees. Jin Lee / 911 Memorial.

A couple of years ago, a truck with very special cargo pulled up at John Bowne High School in Flushing, New York. It carried 450 seedlings (very young plants). They grew from the seeds of a tree that had been hauled out of the rubble at Ground Zero in New York City 12 years before. The tree miraculously survived the terrorist attacks that had taken place there on September 11, 2001.

Reduced to little more than a stump, the Survivor Tree, as it is called, was nursed back to health in a city park. In 2010, it was replanted on the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in lower Manhattan. Now agriculture (farming) students at the high school are caring for the tree’s seedlings.

“[The Survivor Tree] teaches us that there’s a little bit of hope even if something horrible happens,” says Klaudia Czarnocka, a former student project leader in the 9/11 Survivor Tree Seedling Program. Klaudia was speaking to the makers of The Trees, a documentary film about the trees on the Memorial Plaza.

As part of the seedling program, saplings (young trees) that grow from the Survivor Tree’s seeds are donated to other communities that have suffered a tragedy. Last year, for example, some went to Gulfport, Mississippi, in honor of those who died there during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A TRAGIC TIME

The United States suffered a horrific attack on September 11, 2001. On that day, 19 terrorists hijacked, or took control of, four American planes. They flew two of those planes into the tallest buildings in New York City, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Less than two hours later, the towers collapsed. The terrorists flew a third plane into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. military, in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks.

The world soon learned that the hijackers were part of a group called Al Qaeda (ahl KAY-dah), led by a man named Osama bin Laden. In October 2001, the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based. Since then, many members of Al Qaeda have been captured or killed. Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. forces in the neighboring country of Pakistan in May 2011.

STANDING TALL

Today, a new skyscraper stands near where the Twin Towers once stood. It is One World Trade Center, which overlooks the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Every year on 9/11, moments of silence are observed at the Memorial. Communities nationwide also hold special ceremonies. Millions participate in a National Day of Service.

And in a few days, an announcement will be made about where some of the Survivor Tree’s saplings will go this year. In The Trees, Julio Macias, another student project leader, shared what he has learned from the seedling program. No matter what you've been through, he said, “you just need a little bit of strength to survive.”

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