Fifteen years have passed and high school kids are too young to remember 9/11.
It was not only towers and planes that fell from the sky that day. Some 200 people fell.
As newspapers published shocking images from the most photographed and videotaped day in history, some were deemed too awful, too confronting for the public to face. In particular, pictures of those who plunged to their death from the towers; trapped, with nowhere to go.
The above “Falling Man” was deemed most disturbing. After the New York Times ran the photo on page 7 the next day, it was branded “disturbing”, “exploitative” and “voyeuristic”. It disappeared, to be replaced by photos of first responders, police, firemen, flags, heroism and “triumph”. It did not appear again in print until Esquire magazine published it in 2003.
As time passed, there were calls for AP photographer Richard Drew’s image to be investigated; who was the Falling Man and what was his story?
He never was identified for certain and probably never will be.
Two of the men most often linked to Falling Man worked at Windows on the World restaurant as pastry chefs.
I will not use their names. The family of one of them was divided as to whether or not it was him. The family had been harassed on line and on social media by religious fanatics – “he committed suicide and the devil took him straight to hell”. Amazing how cruel religious fanatics can be.
One clue was that the falling man was wearing an orange undershirt. The picture above is one of a series of photos, two of which reveal the orange t-shirt Someone who did regularly wear an orange undershirt also worked at Windows.
He was a light-skinned black man, with a mustache, goatee and short hair. His co-workers believe the Falling Man is him.
His brother, who was tasked to confirm the identity, knew him by his shoes; black high-tops, similar to those pictured.
According to his sister, he had asthma and the billowing smoke would have made it hard for him to breathe.
He wore orange undershirts so often that his brother used to tease him about it.
“When are you going to get rid of those orange shirts, Slim?”
Will we ever positively know who the Falling Man is? It’s unlikely, though we have a good idea.
“But what we do know is the need to confront this picture and acknowledge those souls who had no other choice, who experienced the horror of September 11 in its fullest form, and who need to be remembered, not struck from the record.”
These men, both of whom worked in a restaurant, just two of the tens of millions of the world’s powerless, did nothing to deserve their fate. They were not responsible for the situation in the Middle East or American troops in Saudi Arabia nor was it within their power to remove them. They were not oil barons, members of the political ruling class or members of the 1%. They were not crusaders or CIA agents. The dead paid the price for those who are.
They did not deserve to die that glorious September day in their white chef’s coat or their starched white shirts or their high tops.
They died at the hands of all of the tearless enemies of peace, the intolerant, the irrational, for whom innocence is no excuse. They died at the hands of the wealthy and powerful just as if the world’s 1% brought down the towers themselves. They died at the hands of “statesmen”, playing the “great game”, placing troops here, grabbing oil there. They died at the hands of those who hobnob with Kings, Princes and Presidents.
Rest in Peace Falling Man. If there is a God you are in God’s care. And if not. you are beyond the horrors of this world.