9-11-01 September 11 Memorial Tattoos
One unremarkable day at my former place of employment, I was helping a member pick out furniture for his living room when I noticed a small tattoo on his inner wrist. This gentleman was a very clean cut, suit-and-tie kind of guy, classic style, with nary another tattoo or piercing in sight. The tattoo was a thick, black outline of the number 88--of course I had to inquire. "I never thought I'd get a tattoo," he told me. "I was always pretty against them." When I wondered what changed his mind, he told me that he got the tattoo in honor of his best friend, a woman who had died in the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. She had worked on the 88th floor of Tower One, and was in it when it collapsed to the ground. Last night I was watching a documentary on TLC that explained in detail the events of 9/11 told from the point of view of the air traffic controllers who were at the forefront of the tragedy as they were the first to notice that the planes had been hijacked and were flying off course, then descending sharply at breakneck speeds as they approached the New York City skyline. One story was particularly moving, told by a married couple who lost their son, their daughter-in-law and their infant granddaughter. Their son telephoned them just before the plane his family was traveling on crashed into one of the towers. You watch these shows and you listen to these stories and you think to yourself, My God...how have they survived? There are people who lost everything that day, their lives, their partners, their families. A blink of the eye and it was all gone, needlessly. Since then, I have seen more and more survivors choosing to honor the loved ones they lost by getting tattoos. Tattoos have often been used to memorialize friends or family members who have passed. Some people seek out a portrait artist and have a recreation of a favorite photo tattooed on their skin; others are satisfied with a banner that reads like an epitaph, detailing the person's name, date of birth and death. Some choose a meaningful quote while others prefer simply a first name or initials.
On September 11, 343 firefighters, 23 police department fficers, and 37 Port Authority cops were killed trying to rescue victims who were still stranded in both the North and the South Towers. They were still inside when the towers collapsed down around them. Because of this, many tattoos feature police shields, ladder company numbers, paramedic badges, and other FDNY and NYPD logos. Some 9/11 tattoos are morbid: a skeletal hand gripping a shredded flag, the towers burning, twin planes blazing through the sky. But each one has a meaning and a purpose for the individual who chose it. Other common images that reappear in memorial tattoos are the New York City skyline both as it looked before terrorists took out the World Trade Center and after, along with pictures of the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty, American symbols of freedom.
In the wake of 9/11, patriotic tattoos have surged, paying homage to those that we've lost. Often accompanied by the American flag, 9/11 tattoos are tributes to the mothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, firemen, police officers and rescue workers who gave their lives that day, honoring their remembrance and, as many of the tattoos suggest, reminding those of us who are still living, "Never forget."