As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. approaches, one Inyo County native is doing her part to preserve the stories of heartbreak and heroics that were a result.
From the moment horrific news spread across the nation that Tuesday, Class of 1999 Bishop Union High School graduate Jenny Pachucki was feeling the effects.
At the time of the attacks, Pachucki was in her junior year at U.C. Berekely. As she and her roommate watched the horrors of that day unfold on their television, a personal sense of loss spread through the campus, as one of the planes used by Al Qaeda in the attacks was bound for the Bay Area.
“There was a personal impact for us, because there was an alumni from Berkeley on one of the flights,” Pachucki said.
The Sept. 11 attacks killed more than 2,800 people from 115 different countries. Among the victims were 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York police officers and 37 Port Authority officers. It has been estimated that 20 percent of Americans knew someone who died in the attacks.
After graduating from Berekely, Pachucki moved to New York for a graduate course on Public History. After grad school, she began an internship that would result in a career of preserving the memories of hundreds of people who were involved with or impacted by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Pachucki took the post of oral historian for the official 9/11 Memorial Museum in June of 2007 and, since that time, has met with and interviewed hundreds of people who were affected by the events of Sept. 11, either serving as rescuers, survivors who were in the World Trade Center towers or Pentagon, and family members who lost loved ones.
On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the 9/11 memorial, with the names of all the victims at the site of the World Trade Center towers, will open to the public. The museum is scheduled to open next year.
“Collecting these first-person accounts has been important to the museum from the start,” Pachucki said. “It’s quite a difficult thing to create a museum just 10 years after, when the history is still being written, but we want to feature the perspective of people who where there.”
Though attempting to record history as it happens has its challenges, Pachucki said it is important to the museum, and those who were impacted by the attacks, to record the memories and stories of the World Trade Center and Pentagon while people’s memories are still fresh.
“It’s really emotional work,” Pachucki said, referring to the interviews she records with survivors and rescuers. “At some point in the interview, it always gets emotional, but there are some really uplifting stories there too, like strangers helping strangers or colleagues who maybe didn’t really know each other who ended up looking out for each other. Those stories balance out the hard parts.”
In addition to interviewing people, Pachucki and one other oral historian are responsible for cataloging stories the museum receives via call-in lines that have been set up for just this purpose.
The two oral historians also work closely with Story Corps, a group that works exclusively on collecting all kinds of oral histories. Pachucki said Story Corps sends all histories they gather in regards to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to the museum, where they are cataloged.
Currently, the museum has a website where they have made available a number of the oral histories that have been collected. These may be accessed at www.911memorial.org .
As the 10-year anniversary of the attacks approaches, Pachucki said “it is important, especially for people who are not in New York, to do something to try to understand what happened. The term 9/11 gets tossed around so much that I think people forget the personal side. I’d like to see people try to get to know the stories behind it a little bit.”
Pachucki also pointed out that Sept. 11 has been designated a National Day of Service, and is asking everyone to remember the spirit of community that brought so many people together in the wake of the attacks.
“It’s a day to set aside to do something good,” she said.