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Sept. 11 museum evokes strong emotions

Obama helps dedicate 9/11 museum at Ground Zero; families of Fairfield County victims watch with pain, pride
Stamford Advocate
Updated 4:36 pm, Friday, May 16, 2014

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  • Mary and Frank Fetchet helped establish and lead the Voices of September 11th family advocacy 
group out of their New Canaan home following the terrorist attacks that 
killed their 24-year-old son Brad and nearly 3,000 others. Photo: Tyler Woods
    Mary and Frank Fetchet helped establish and lead the Voices of September 11th family advocacy group out of their New Canaan home following the terrorist attacks that killed their 24-year-old son Brad and nearly 3,000 others. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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Frank Fetchet, of New Canaan, stayed away from the somber ceremony at the new 9/11 Memorial Museum, but his presence is all around the 110,000-square-foot underground gallery that was dedicated Thursday by President Barack Obama as a symbol that says of America: "Nothing can ever break us."

Fetchet, along with his wife Mary, helped establish and lead the Voices of September 11th family advocacy group out of their New Canaan home following the terrorist attacks that killed their 24-year-old son Brad and nearly 3,000 others. The couple along with a team of volunteers have been instrumental in helping families through the often gut-wrenching process of determining how their loved ones will be remembered for generations to come.

"There's a sense of satisfaction that we've done something with some permanence to it," Fetchet said.

Over the past decade, Voices of September 11th has worked with 1,600 families and scanned more than 70,000 images as part of a living memorial project preserving photos, audio, video and other keepsakes in a digital format that will be part of the museum's exhibit on the 2,983 lives lost.

It's a project that Fetchet said served not only the needs of remembering that awful day, but also provided needed therapy to families suffering from the loss of those who went to work one day and never returned.

On a personal level, Fetchet wanted to tell the story of his son Brad who he described as athletic, modest, gifted and full of life.

"We didn't want to focus on his death," Fetchet said. "We wanted to focus on his life and in our case, he was a young man of 24, just a couple of years out of college and when we look back, we looked back at what shaped his character."

A treasured item in Brad Fetchet's remembrance is his personal journal emblazoned in bold letters with the quote: "You can tell the character of a man by what he would offer to someone who could offer him nothing in return."

Brad Fetchet graduated from Bucknell in 1999 and went on to work as an equities trader at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods which was headquartered in the World Trade Center's South Tower at the time of the attacks.

Frank Fetchet, a former IBM executive who now leads business development for Voices of September 11th, hopes that the new museum will inspire all those who pass through it to make a difference and to not let something like 9/11 happen again.

"It's an ugly story that has to be told for current and future generations," Fetchet said. "But it also tells the story of how the world came together and unified as one following the attacks."

It's a story Fetchet knows all too well and is still trying to find the emotional strength to visit the museum himself prior to its opening to the general public on Wednesday.

The museum's artifacts range from the monumental, like two of the huge fork-shaped columns from the World Trade Center's facade, to the intimate: a wedding ring, a victim's voice mail message.

Some relatives found the exhibits both upsetting and inspiring.

After viewing some of the exhibits, including a mangled fire truck and a memorial wall with photos of victims, Obama retold the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old World Trade Center worker who became known as "the man in the red bandana" after he led others to safety from one of the towers. He died in the tower's collapse.

The president said the museum pays tribute to "the true spirit of 9/11 -- love, compassion, sacrifice."

"Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today," Obama said, referring to the way an underground flood wall that withstood the attack, "nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans."

One of the red bandanas Crowther made a habit of carrying is in the museum. Crowther's mother, Alison, said she hoped it would inspire visitors to help other people.

"This is the true legacy of Sept. 11," she said.

Former President George W. Bush was invited, according to the museum. But Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said he was unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict.

Jonathan Best, of Stratford, said Thursday that he's unsure if he'll ever be able to step inside the museum. Back in 2001, he was in charge of Regional Medical Transport, which at the time was one of the largest ambulance companies in New York.

He lost several friends who were first responders trying to help people out of the buildings before they collapsed.

"When our family goes to the memorial site, I can't even get out of the car," he said. "Will I be able to go to the museum? Probably not. That smell of concrete dust on some of the exhibits will take me right back."

Best was no stranger to traumatic events on the day of the attacks; he was the director of emergency services in Bridgeport at the time of the L'Ambiance building collapse in 1987, and he developed some of the rescue and recovery techniques that were later employed in hours and days after the 9/11 attack.

"Our catchment area was the World Trade Center," said Best, who is now director of the Connecticut Department of Public Health Office of Preparedness and Response. "I got the call that a plane had hit the center. I was in the middle of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge when I saw the second tower explode.

"It was an amazing, surreal experience, and many of my friends never made it out," he said. "Jack Fanning, the battalion chief of Special Operations for the New York City Fire Department, was a very close friend of mine -- he had been one of the New York Fire Department responders to L'Ambiance Plaza. He was a friend, and a terrible loss of me."

Another friend, Ray Downey, the chief of special operations for FDNY, had worked with Best in a series of committees on structural collapse.

"I agonized over him because I knew that he had the knowledge to avoid getting caught. Then I was told later -- months later -- was the fact that he went back in to get his guys out. That's when the tower fell. I got some peace from that, but it was still a terrible loss."

There are tissue dispensers throughout the new museum, waiting for the inevitable tears that will flow from the eyes of visitors.

"It's going to evoke very powerful reactions to all who go there," said Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, certified in the field of trauma counseling, who has treated -- and continues to treat -- the close friends and relatives of 9/11 victims at her office in Fairfield.

"I don't think that there's any `moving on' for the families of those hurt by the attacks," she said. "They take steps forward, but this is not something that they'll ever be able to put behind them. For many, it's still September twelfth and the process of recovery and healing has not yet begun. There's no moving on for something this huge."

She said that many of the survivor families have been involved in the creation of the museum, so they'll know what to expect.

"But in spite of what you know about this, the museum will bring you back," she said. "It will be a powerful, significant event in the timeline of what the 9/11 attacks have meant to the world. They will tell the story by bringing the victims to life, and it will be very emotional for anyone to go to."

Brittany Lyte, Jon Lucas, John Burgeson and the Associated Press wire contributed to this report