First responders visit New York's September 11 Memorial Museum

NEW YORK Sun May 18, 2014 10:59am EDT

Activist John Feal (L) addresses a news conference with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) (2nd R) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (R) about their support for a bill to compensate police, firemen and other first responders who are suffering health problems from their work at ground zero after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington in this file photo from December 21, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files

Activist John Feal (L) addresses a news conference with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) (2nd R) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (R) about their support for a bill to compensate police, firemen and other first responders who are suffering health problems from their work at ground zero after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington in this file photo from December 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Walking out of the new National September 11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan, John Feal, an advocate for first responders with health problems, said reliving that day was like a punch in the gut. But he might have also found a bit of closure.

Feal, who along with other first responders and victims' family members was allowed an advance look at the museum before its formal opening on May 21, found himself sizing up bits of broken and twisted steel for something resembling the piece that had crushed his left foot - changing the direction of his life.

"I was saying, that one's too small, that one didn't do it. That one there, the big one, that one could have done it," Feal said, as he stood flanked by three fellow first responders, who each face an array of health challenges.

Through his Feal Good Foundation, Feal has pushed for funding and health care for first responders, including the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which expires in 2016.

The museum, eight years in the making, was the subject of innumerable disputes over how best to document the day when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.

In the hours before Feal's visit, a stream of family members and first responders had universally positive things to say about the museum. The New York Times wrote that it delivered a "gut-punch experience" and New York Magazine called it a "spectacularly mournful institution."

On display are items large and small - a Hudson River retaining wall that survived the attacks and a pair of shattered eyeglasses. Visitors can listen to telephone messages left to loved ones by those who would die in the towers, and cockpit recordings from the doomed airplanes.

"When I come to this area I smell 9/11," said Carol Paukner, a former New York City Transit police officer, who was trapped in one of the towers when it collapsed. "I was glad to have people around me who care about me."

For Paukner and thousands of other first responders, the legacy of September 11 continues as they battle myriad health problems, some linked to breathing in the dust from the collapsed towers. Paukner has just learned she has cancer.

"I hope that a lot of people come down and get educated on what 9/11 is all about and please vote for the politicians who are going to help us with all of our health effects," she said.

As if on cue, U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a sponsor of the Zadroga bill, passed by. A moment later Maloney and Feal were taking in the moment, arm in arm.

"This is an incredible monument," Maloney said. "It's hard to take. Every time I come back I think, maybe I'm over it. But I always start crying."

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (6)
njglea wrote:
We can never thank the first responders, and those who worked on clean-up enough. Anyone who watched this tragedy unfold on television must be in awe, like me, of the bravery and dedication they showed during and after the terrible destruction. Hopefully they will find some comfort in this tribute to the worst and best of mankind.

May 18, 2014 11:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
dd606 wrote:
mwab wrote: 911 was a fake drama, crafted by CIA. So called flights were all fake, even the one which hit pentagon.”

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Get therapy.

May 18, 2014 12:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Yvo_Kerwar wrote:
How did the museum address WTC Building 7 which also collapsed like a controlled demolition even though it was never hit by a plane and only had small fires? And what about the thermite chips and molten iron? Anything from the first responders who heard explosions in the WTC Towers before they fell? My guess is they ignored those things just like the 9-11 Commission did. We wouldn’t want anything to interfere with the official government conspiracy theory that got us into two wars and stripped us of our civil liberties. It was indeed a sad day. God bless America.

May 18, 2014 2:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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