Return to Transcripts main page


Honoring 9/11 Victims; Hero Recalls Pentagon Tragedy

Aired September 11, 2011 - 06:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning from New York City. Welcome to a special edition of your CNN SUNDAY MORNING on this September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes this morning coming to you from a spot overlooking Ground Zero. We'll have a lot more for you from here.

And this morning, Soledad O'Brien will be joining me throughout the morning. She's at Riverside Park on the upper west side of Manhattan. That is where firefighters are gathering to pay tribute to their fellow firefighters who died in the attacks. We check in with her in just a bit.

Also, as always, on this SUNDAY MORNING, we'd like to say a special good morning to our service men and women who are watching us right now on the American Forces Network. Thank you for being here. Thank you for what you do. And certainly on this day, a day that really changed the course of many of you all's lives.

Today we are going to remember the victims of 9/11, of course in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. I am here at what is just a gorgeous memorial, overlooking Ground Zero here in Manhattan. This is where the families of the victims will gather here in just a bit.

The picture you're seeing of is World Trade Center One, now the tallest building in lower Manhattan. But the work there is not done. People will tell you that the work for this country is not done. The people in the towers, the people on the planes, the first responders, all came to this point. It's amazing to think that 2,753 people died right here.

We're going to be looking ahead this morning to some important times, times to stop and remember. 8:46 will be the first one. 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time. That is the moment American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower. That's when we'll have the first moment of silence this morning. Then we'll hear bells ring out across the city.

Meanwhile, President Obama, he'll be leaving the White House just a few minutes from now. He is on his way here.

Then the next moment of silence this morning will be at 9:03. That will mark the moment the second plane hit the south tower. And throughout the morning, you'll follow with other moments of silence. Now, that second plane, that is when the country knew it wasn't just an accident, that the country was under attack. So we'll be talking about New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, as we remember the victims lost in those attacks. We will bring it all to you live here throughout the morning.

Now, to give you an idea of who we have with us, our correspondents are in place all over the place this morning taking a look at some of the after-effects of those attacks and the impact it had on the country. Our Susan Candiotti is with me here at Ground Zero. Athena Jones is standing by at the mall in Washington. She's keeping an eye on events there.

Also, in just a moment, we'll check in with our Suzanne Malveaux. She is in Afghanistan for us this morning, spending the day with troops whose lives were changed because of what happened on this day 10 years ago. They're having their own ceremony to remember 9/11. They'll be talking about their commitment to this country's security.

But let me begin here at Ground Zero, site of the attacks on the twin towers. Now it is just an impressive and gorgeous memorial. Footprints, they call them. The footprints of where the towers once stood. Huge memorial pools back there now. And CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti joins me now.

Susan, good morning to you. Help us set the scene for what we are seeing this morning and what we will see throughout the day.


Well, of course, because of that ongoing terror threat, there is still very tight security around the city through various checkpoints and the like. But security is extra tight directly around here, around the memorial, around Ground Zero, as people are gathering outside around road blocks and the like to make their way here for the ceremony, which will begin, as you indicated, at about 8:30 in the morning Eastern Time with iconic bagpipes and drummers, followed by a moment of silence introduced by the mayor, and then, as you indicated, at 8:46, to mark the time when the first plane hit the north tower, there will be another moment of silence, followed by a reading by President Obama. Then at 9:03, another moment of silence when the second plane hit the south tower, followed by a reading by former President George Bush. And then after that, families eventually will begin reading the names of everyone who was killed here. Family members, survivors, everyone will be taking place -- taking part in this ceremony.

And then finally, the backdrop for all of this, of course, is that ongoing security threat. Investigators tell me this morning there is no change in the status. They are still working very hard to try to confirm whether that plot exists.


HOLMES: All right, Susan Candiotti, thank you. We'll check in with you again shortly. And so many of you, so many of us familiar with the story of the firefighters. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters died in the attacks at the World Trade Center. They are also, of course, being remembered today at a special ceremony. Other Soledad O'Brien is at Riverside Park for that special ceremony.

Soledad, good morning to you.

The ceremony also comes with a bit of controversy this morning with the firefighters. Explain it all for us.


We're about eight miles north of Ground Zero. And that matters because, of course, the firefighters were not invited to the events at Ground Zero. For some people, that has made them very angry, others just disappointed or frustrated.

This is the firefighters memorial. And every year since 9/11, they've really brought a memorial service here. It's very quiet. No politicians. No speeches. They're expecting this year for the tenth anniversary that many people, hundreds, maybe thousands will gather here at 100th Street and Riverside Drive, which is this beautiful memorial. It's actually one of the nicest in the city. And it's a memorial that was built in the 1900s for firefighters, showing sacrifice and duty.

They've always tried to keep it very low key. Don't really even like the media here. This year, though, because they're not being invited to the Ground Zero ceremonies, they're expecting that it's going to actually be quite busy here.

They want to focus on three things, they say. Number one, they want to remember the 343 firefighters who lost their lives, who were running into those buildings, the towers, as the flames were coming out, and eventually as they fell. They also want to make sure that people understand how challenging the health issues have been for many of these firefighters. There are lots of terrible statistics, really, about the health of the firefighters. And many people have told us the number of funerals that they continue to go to where people are dying of cancer. We'll talk a little bit about that later this morning. And then, lastly, they want to remember the widows of those firefighters. They want to make sure that people understand that there are people who left their families behind and they want to show support for those widows.

So they're going to begin the official event of Ground Zero here, eight miles north, when the fire commissioner comes to lay a wreath right here and then he'll head downtown. And we're expecting to see many first responders right here this morning because they cannot attend the events of Ground Zero where you are today.


HOLMES: All right, Soledad O'Brien. Soledad, good to have you with us this morning. We'll check in with you plenty throughout the morning.

We want to turn now to Washington, D.C. Ceremonies there, of course, to honor the victims at the Pentagon. Our Athena Jones is there.

Athena, people are stopping to remember today, but also they're being asked to do it and also be extra vigilant and they're seeing extra security. Good morning.


Well, you know, after the president and first lady traveled to New York and then to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, for ceremonies there, they're coming back to Washington. They'll be heading over to the Pentagon for a wreath laying. That's this afternoon around 3:35. But, of course, all across Washington, D.C., for the last several days, law enforcement and security personnel have been on high alert. There are more police on the street. D.C. Metro Police are working 12-hour overlapping shifts. All police departments have more officers out and about, whether it's Capital Police, the park police or the transit police. All out there keeping alert and on patrol.

I had a chance to speak with an FBI agent who was the first FBI commander on the scene at the Pentagon 10 years ago. Christopher Combs told me what this day means for him and for the FBI. Let's take a listen.


CHRISTOPHER COMBS, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Even before 9/11, we had a very aggressive counterterrorism posture here in Washington. But obviously after 9/11, we've tripled, quadrupled our efforts here. And, for us, that we're on the Joint Terrorism Task Force that day, 9/11 is the reason that we work so hard and why, for these special events, we're out in force.


JONES: And so as Agent Combs told me, every day for the FBI is 9/11. And so they're always ready. But, of course, even more so today, T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Athena Jones in D.C. for us. Thank you.

I mentioned a moment ago that President Obama will be leaving Washington, D.C., shortly, heading here to be a part of the ceremony at Ground Zero. And then after New York, the president will head to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to honor the victims of United Flight 93. There will be a moment of silence there, 10:03 Eastern Time. That is when the plane crashed there. The new memorial in Shanksville, though, was dedicated yesterday.

The bells tolled for all 40 victims who brought down the plane before it could reach its intended target.

Also, here is a look at the memorial wall there. Just the first part of the permanent memorial has been completed. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were there to help honor the heroes.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: For generations, people will study the flight, the story of Flight 93. They will learn that individual choices make a difference. That love and sacrifice can triumph over evil and hate. And that what happened above this Pennsylvania field ranks among the most courageous acts in American history.


HOLMES: I want to take a moment now, draw your attention to the ticker we're going to have at the bottom of your TV screen. Throughout the morning we'll be showing the names of the victims from all of the 9/11 attacks.

Also this morning, the war on terror in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks took tens of thousands of American troops to Afghanistan. Today they are also remembering the victims of the attacks and the fallen soldiers who fought for the security of this country. Our Suzanne Malveaux is at Camp Agrus (ph) in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she has been visiting for the past several days.

Suzanne, good morning to you. And what are the troops going to be doing to mark this anniversary today?


T.J., it's been kind of a quiet Sunday here. A very sunny, very quiet, very reflective. People here have been rehearsing. And you can see behind me, they're actually rehearsing. The soldiers take this day very seriously. They're also going to be taking this ceremony very seriously.

There are about 35 flags that are raised here. It represents all of the countries that are part of this international coalition who are here in Afghanistan. Also we're going to be seeing, it's going to start at 5:00, that is local time, in the evening. It's eight and half hours later, ahead of Eastern Time. And then 5:16, that is when they're going to recognize the moment of silence. That is when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

So they're going to have a couple of soldiers who are going to be talking about their own experiences, what it was like to be inside of the Pentagon on that day during at tacks. There's going to be a bagpipe playing of "Amazing Grace." There's going to be moments of silence.

And this is going to be something that's a time that is reflective for a lot of these soldiers. I had a chance to talk with them, T.J., and it's really interesting. Some of them, the memories, very raw, very emotional. They think about that all the time. Others, they say that's why they're here today. You have to remember, it was the 9/11 attacks that brought the men and women here to Afghanistan. This is a very special and a very personal day for many of them, T.J. HOLMES: Suzanne, can you also give us details about this Taliban attack that took place in eastern Afghanistan?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, there was a lot of anticipation, anxiety, if you will, whether or not there was going to be some sort of attack commemorating this anniversary. Well, it was just on the eve of 9/11, it was last night about 5:30 in the evening local time, Afghan time, that there was an explosion outside of a Wardak Compound, a military compound there.

We are told that there are two Afghan civilians who were killed. This was a car bomb, if you will. A lot of injuries, T.J. We're talking about at least 77 from the international coalition, 25 Afghan civilians also injured as well. We're told that they are relatively minor injuries, but this was a rather significant development.

We got a chance to talk to General John Allen. He is the head of the U.S. and NATO command here in Afghanistan. And he explained what he thought the threat was.


GEN. JOHN ALLEN, CMDR., U.S. AND NATO FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: This attack was a high-profile attack. It was a pretty significant suicide vehicle bomb. But they have been ejected from the population in so many places around the country that their only ability to influence the battlefield in many cases -- on many occasions is simply high- profile attack.


MALVEAUX: And T.J., General Allen also said that he thought this was an act of desperation. That many of the Afghan people against the Taliban do not support this type of thing. That this is something that they wanted to do that was dramatic and significant. But, nevertheless, it certainly underscores the dangers still that these men and women face here in Afghanistan. The challenges they have ahead. A lot of people who I talked to, T.J., simply said they are trying as hard as possible, as quickly as possible, to train the Afghans so they can get up to speed, they can protect themselves and their country when U.S., as well as NATO troops, combat troops, are expected to go home by the end of 2014.


HOLMES: All right, Suzanne Malveaux for us in Kabul. We'll check in with you again. Thanks so much.

So, stay with us on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Again, we'll take you all around the country this morning for the memorials as the country pauses on this tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Coming up next, Soledad O'Brien at the Fireman's Memorial at Riverside Park. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: And at 16 minutes past the hour, good morning and welcome back to this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING, coming to you on this tenth anniversary of 9/11 from Ground Zero.

Want to say good morning, once again, to our Soledad O'Brien, who is standing by for a special ceremony today. The Firefighter's Memorial.

And, Soledad, it is still remarkable to hear, we see you have a guest there, but still always remarkable to think of the stories of those firefighters running in to save other lives and the 343 of them that were killed on this day 10 years ago.

O'BRIEN: And that is really the focus of the memorial today and has been, T.J., the focus of the memorial for the last 10 years.

Lieutenant Ken Durante is one of the event organizers.

You've been doing this memorial here eight miles north of Ground Zero, which I think some people might find very surprising. Why here?

LT. KEN DURANTE, NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER: Well, this is the site of the FDNY, the official memorial, which is directly behind us. It was dedicated in 1913 to honor the memory of all New York City firefighters who had given their lives in the line of duty.

O'BRIEN: After 9/11, so 10 years ago --

DURANTE: No, no, no.

O'BRIEN: No, no, I realize it was built in 1913.

DURANTE: Yes. Yes.

O'BRIEN: For a long, long time it's been here. But after 9/11, there were five firefighters who realized that there was not going to be a particular service or memorial that focused on the 343 firefighters who lost their lives and so they created really what will be part of today.

DURANTE: That's correct. Five firefighters from the fire companies in my firehouse, Engine 45 and Ladder 58, were sitting around the kitchen table on that first -- as they approached the first anniversary of 9/11, realizing that the department was still rebuilding. Was still, you know, in a state of great flux. And there was no dedicated ceremony for our 343 members. So they decided to pull their resources, these five firefighters, and put together a very nice, very solemn service that you'll see here today. It really hasn't changed much since that first year.

O'BRIEN: You've told me there will be no politicians. There will be no speeches.

DURANTE: Nope. Nope. No, it's not a media event. Today, you know, with all the attention of the 10 year anniversary, though, you know, you guys are here. And that's fine. You know, we're here to tell our little story and to remember the number one goal, our only goal, it's not about us. This is an event put on by firefighters for firefighters to remember 343 members who heroically gave their lives on 9/11.

O'BRIEN: You're not allowed to attend the Ground Zero ceremony. Are you mad about that?

DURANTE: You know what, I'm not going to really address the political issues and all that. I know what we do here and I've been here every year. Either here or working in the firehouse. You know, there are many people who feel they need to go to Ground Zero. And I understand that. You know, for many families, especially our families, that is their loved one's final resting place. So I fully understand the anger and the reason, you know, that they want to be there and the members of the companies that want to go there and help support those families and pay their respects. But many families choose to come to this venue, because it's a solemn place to the New York City Fire Department. And, again, it's a nice service. You'll see the service. We'll read the names of all 343 of our members. We'll stop at the significant moments, for a moment of silence throughout the morning. And then we'll read the names of all of the members.

O'BRIEN: Lieutenant Ken Durante, thank you very much for your time. I know this morning you're really busy, so we appreciate you carving out a --

DURANTE: Yes. Yes, the boys are -- they boys are going to start setting up right now.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they are, so we're going to move out of the way so we don't hamper their efforts.

DURANTE: OK. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for your time this morning.

So, as you can see, T.J., a little bit of controversy with that. But they say it's not a competitive event, it's an alternative for people who can't go down to Ground Zero, are welcome to come here. They expect, since they've blocked off 15 blocks in either direction, they're expecting a lot of people.


HOLMES: All right. Still, unfortunate to hear there's any controversy, really, on this day. But, still, they remember in their own way. Soledad, thank you. We'll talk to you again.

And to our viewers, a reminder here, a special report from Soledad O'Brien, talking about the women of 9/11. You can catch that, "Beyond Bravery," a Soledad O'Brien special report, tonight, 10:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

And now it's 6:21 this morning. Coming up next, I'm going to be talking to a man who, as other people were running out of the Pentagon, he was running in. And he kept running in. And you know what? He didn't leave there for three days. He joins me with his story and his reflection on this tenth anniversary. Stay with me on this CNN SUNDAY MORNING.


HOLMES: Well, at 23 minutes past the hour now, we are getting a live picture right now of Air Force One. President Obama will be boarding the plane and leaving D.C., heading to New York to be a part of the ceremonies, which are scheduled to start here at Ground Zero at around 8:00 Eastern Time. Really around 8:30 Eastern Time as we start those moments of silence. Those moments today will be at 8:46, 9:03, 9:37 and then 10:03. Those are the four times when those four planes crashed on this day 10 years ago.

Now, we want to turn to Washington, D.C., now and the Pentagon. That is where 184 people died when the plane crashed into that building. A lot of stories, a lot of memories, a lot of pictures of that day that many of you will remember.

A story I want to tell you now is of retired Army Sergeant First Class Chris Braman. He was there, running in while many people were running out of the building. He's the former airborne ranger. Spent 60 straight hours digging through that smoldering debris. Says he was just running on adrenaline. He often times was the one who found the bodies in that rubble. He has now, over the years, formed a bond with many of those family members and he joins me this morning.

Sir, thank you so much for being here. I know you have shared your story time and time again. Have been a part of a number of events over the past 10 years. Does it ever get too difficult for you or are you always proud and happy to share your story of that day?

SGT. 1ST CLASS CHRISTOPHER BRAMAN, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Well, you know, first of all, it's an honor to be here and speak with you. But you never get tired of telling the truth. You never get tired of telling the story, because you don't want anybody to forget what actually happened on that horrific day. Because 9/11 is about all of us collectively, not just one individual. And to get out there and speak to the American people is a wonderful honor.

HOLMES: Sir, what -- we've -- 10 years now. Ten of these anniversaries. And I'm sure you've done events or interviews on each of those anniversaries. But on this one, what about are your thoughts, your reflections?

BRAMAN: Well, one, a thought of gratitude to be -- one, to be alive, and, two, to reflect on today's events with the families and other survivors and those who perished on that day, to let the world know that God was there on that horrific day and to know that the world didn't forget. I mean we're -- that's the most important thing that each of these family members would hope that the rest of the world would remember, their family member who sacrificed on that horrific day.

HOLMES: You said the world wouldn't forget. Does it ever get any easier, sir?

BRAMAN: Actually, no. You know, I just pray for (ph) God and talked with people and what happens is, I just, you know, it's never easy to tell a story. I actually go through a series of, I guess, PTSD elements where I actually relive it every time I tell the story.

HOLMES: Sir, how will you spend today?

BRAMAN: With my wife and family, which is most important. Every anniversary, I always try to make sure that I'm with my wife no matter where I'm at in the country, it's always with family, because that's the most important thing in life is the grounding in -- with one's core element, which is your family.

HOLMES: Sir, would you say that is one of a number of ways that you were changed by what you went through on 9/11? You speak of family and the importance of it. And I'm sure it got even more important to you after 9/11. But what other ways has your life changed since then?

BRAMAN: Well, 9/11, I was mentally, spiritually and physically humbled on that day. The amount of death that I had in my hands during the recovery -- the recovery time, it changed me. Mentally, spiritually and physically, I was humbled. And I look at life differently. You know, the little things actually matter. That -- to making sure that, you know, that I tell my life I love her every day, and to actually mean it, you know? And to look at my children -- you know, I look at -- I look at the family differently.

HOLMES: Well, Mr. Braman, I appreciate you taking the time out with us on this anniversary. You enjoy the day with your wife and your family members on this day. But thank you so much.

BRAMAN: Thank you. I appreciate being here.

HOLMES: All right. And as we get a little daylight here at Ground Zero in New York, stay with us on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. The president expected to leave D.C. in just a moment, heading here to New York to be a part of the ceremonies, which start at about 8:30 Eastern Time. And you will see it all right here on CNN. Stay with us.


HOLMES: We're at the bottom of the hour on this CNN SUNDAY MORNING, a special edition. You're seeing a live picture of Marine One, just got to Andrews Air Force Base. The president will be heading to Washington--from Washington, I should say-here to New York City. He's about to board Air Force One. He's expected to be here at ground zero where I am in just about an hour and a half, to arrive here. The ceremony starts in about two hours at 8:30 Eastern Time.

The president, the former president, George W. Bush, the governors of New York and New Jersey.

There you are seeing the president of the United States the First Lady Michelle Obama on this 9/11 anniversary. The president will be delivering remarks here at ground zero, again, being a part of the ceremony today on this day, 10 years after the 9/11 attacks. As we stay with this picture of the president this morning, give you an idea of how the rest of this morning will go.

Ceremonies will take place here at ground zero. Ceremonies happening in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as well as in Washington, D.C. The president as committed to being at them all. He will start here in New York but then he will make his way over to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Shanksville, of course, is where United Flight 93, everyone so familiar with that story, of those 40 passengers and crew who made sure that plane didn't make it to its intended target. Had it not been for those folks on that plane, who knows what would have happened in Washington, D.C.

The president will remember them all here at ground zero, of course, so much focus here and for good reason. 2,753 people were killed here at ground zero on September 11th. Another 184 killed in Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon. CNN will be bringing you coverage all day long of all of the ceremonies taking place.

I'm here, once again, at ground zero. I will, again, give you another shot. Some pictures as we're starting to get daylight at ground zero in New York. It is just a gorgeous site and a fitting tribute and memorial to the victims of that day.

As you see this picture, those two huge reflecting pools that you are seeing, those are the footprints of the Twin Towers. It's hard to imagine now that that is where those two towers stood and that is where they fell. Those huge reflecting pools have the names of every single person who was killed on this day 10 years ago. It also has the names of the victims who were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

But this is where so many people will gather today, including the president. You might be able to see in the bottom left of your screen. That is where the main ceremony is taking place. People are starting to gather this morning. Our Susan Candiotti is here with me to help me set the scene.

Susan, good morning to you once again.


The preparations that have been going on for so long are finally almost complete as the ceremony is getting closer and closer to beginning here. And as you look around, you can see and down on the street even, that some of the family members and invited guests are starting to arrive. I've seen families. I've seen them carrying babies and pushing babies in strollers, as well. The ceremony will be starting at about 8:30 Eastern Time here. It will begin by hearing those melodic bagpipes and drummers as they march down to the platform here. At 8:00, there will be a moment of silence marked by the mayor of the city, and the bells will toll throughout the city of New York.

At 8:46, to mark the time when the first flight, Flight 11, hit the North Tower. There will be another moment of silence. And then President Obama will read something to the crowd here. And then another moment of silence at 9:03 to mark when the second flight, Flight 175 hit the South Tower. Then former President George W. Bush will make a reading as well. There will be additional moments of silence to mark the times when the towers fall.

Yo-yo ma will perform on his cello. We'll hear from James Taylor and Paul Simon as well. They will also perform for those gathered here. Also, there will be many touching moments. The families will be entering the plaza for the very first time, getting to look at the memorial here. They will get to walk under the plaza, look at the reflecting pools, and move up to the edge. Because on those edges, ringing the reflecting pools, are etched in bronze, the names of all of those who died here. They will be able to see them, touch them, photograph them for the very first time, T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Susan Candiotti, thank you.

If we can, keep that picture up for me. The picture there of these huge reflecting pools. It's hard to really tell the story and try to describe what you are seeing. This is simply gorgeous. This is one footprint you're seeing there of one of the towers. But the two footprints, that is where the towers actually stood. Amazing to think. This will open to the public starting tomorrow. They wanted to have it ready for the 10th anniversary and it is ready. It will be dedicated today. The public will be able to make reservations ahead of time, but still it will be open to the public to come down and visit.

As we continue on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING, coming up next, we know we have heard so many stories of survivors but also family members who lost loved ones. We'll check in with Soledad O'Brien. She'll be talking to someone who lost a husband on this day, 10 years ago. Stay with us on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING.


HOLMES: At about 40 minutes past the hour on this CNN SUNDAY MORNING. A special edition coming to you from ground zero in New York City on this 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks; 2,753 people were killed right here behind me at ground zero on this day, 10 years ago. Many of them, are fathers, husbands, a son, a wives, daughters, you name it, a lot of good friends were killed right here. I want to check in once again with Soledad O'Brien. She's at Riverside Park and she is standing by with someone who lost a husband on this day.

Hello to you once again, Soledad.


Jennifer McNamara is the widow of a firefighter. His name was John McNamara. And he did not die on 9/11. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2006. Jennifer joins thus morning to talk a little bit about the path that you've had. He was a firefighter for 10 years, right?


O'BRIEN: Do you believe his colon cancer, a very aggressive form of colon cancer was connected to his work at ground zero?

MCNAMARA: Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mine. You don't find a cancer that aggressive in that young a man with no genetic predisposition otherwise.

O'BRIEN: How many hours did he spend working on the pile?

MCNAMARA: Over 500.

O'BRIEN: When he was diagnosed with colon cancer, what was the first thing you thought of?

MCNAMARA: Our son. I was pregnant at the time, four months pregnant. And our future, and what's going to happen. Is he going to be here to see his son born? Is he going to be here to raise his son?

O'BRIEN: There's the Zadroga bill, which finally passed, dedicated $4.3 billion to survivors of 9/11, and people who are dealing with some issues, but not cancer. Cancer was a main exception in that bill.

MCNAMARA: Correct.

O'BRIEN: I know you've been working very hard to change that. Why?

MCNAMARA: Because it's clear to me by the number of funerals that I have been to, the number of people I have seen die of cancer, that cancer has got to be included. There's no doubt that cancer, that toxic soup that was down there, is causing all these people to die. I have been to 50 funerals in the last two years, all cancer. I don't hear of anybody dying of anything other than cancer.

O'BRIEN: The memorial that's taking place at ground zero today is not open to people like you. It's not open to firefighters and rescue workers down at ground zero. Does that upset you?

MCNAMARA: It does. Not for myself. I don't want to be there. But I think the guys who worked down there, should be there. They have their friends there. They have their family there, their brothers there. It's as much a place for them to grieve and to mourn as it is for the families. I believe they should be allowed there.

O'BRIEN: Since your husband died in 2009 you've taken on a couple of fights on a couple of fronts. I know he left a list of sort of the things he wanted you to do.


O'BRIEN: In his death. What was on that list?

MCNAMARA: There was everything from where he wanted his ashes spread, to taking Jack, my son, to Disney, to his sister moving, to creating a community center in Bluepoint, where we live on Long Island. And we've created a foundation, the Johnny Mack (ph) Foundation and we are working towards building a community center in his name.

O'BRIEN: You're also fighting to try to getting cancer added to that Zadroga bill.

MCNAMARA: Absolutely. Absolutely. I worked with John Feal from the FealGood Foundation. We write letters, we talk, we come on shows like this, and we make sure that people are aware that cancer needs to be included. There are people out there who are sick. They don't have benefits. They need help. The only way they're going to get it is if cancer is included.

O'BRIEN: I see you son running around this morning. He's a little a red head.


O'BRIEN: Four and a half years old.


O'BRIEN: Would you want him to grow up to be a firefighter?

MCNAMARA: If that's what he wanted, absolutely. I think it is the most honorable profession. I can think of no better profession for him to be in, to follow his father's footsteps. There's nothing better. My husband always said it was the best job in the world. He said he would do it again. He would do everything that he did again, no matter what, even knowing he got sick.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for talking with us this morning and good luck with your fight. We appreciate it.

MCNAMARA: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: You know, Jennifer McNamara's story, T.J., is not the exception. We've heard many versions, people saying anecdotally that they have attended funerals, dozens, maybe more, of people, firefighters or rescue workers, who have died of cancer. And they're waiting to see if in fact the Zadroga will be expended to actually cover cancer, not only for compensation, but also for medical care, T.J.

HOLMES: Soledad, thank you so much. We'll check in with you in just a moment. We'll be talking with the fire commissioner there. Thank you so much.

Also, to our viewers, here we are about a quarter to the top of the hour here. You're watching a special edition of this CNN SUNDAY MORNING on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Daylight starting to break in New York City at ground zero. People starting to collect and gather for a ceremony that's taking place at about 8:30 Eastern Time, again, to commemorate all those who lost their lives on this day 10 years ago. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: At about 13 minutes to the top of the hour here on this September 11th, 2011. We can show you something that just happened moments ago at the Pentagon; a huge flag, American flag, being unfurled on the side of the building. There, of course, is where 184 people lost their lives when at 9:37 a.m., 10 years ago today, American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the building. Now we can show you a live picture of it this morning.

Ceremonies taking place there, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and, of course, right here at ground zero in New York City where I am this morning. I want to say good morning once again to Soledad O'Brien. She's at the firefighters memorial; the firefighters played such a role on this day 10 years ago; 343 were killed.

I understand you have the fire commissioner with you now.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. We're about eight miles north of where you are, T.J. About 100th Street and Riverside Drive. We are with the Fire Department's Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.

Thank you for being with us. I know we are the first stop, here, of a very busy day for you. At 7:00 o'clock you'll do the wreath laying ceremony. Tell me a little bit about that.

SALVATORE CASSANO, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT: Sure. On the first anniversary of the attacks of September 11th we thought what would be the best play to start our day. The monument behind us is the Firefighters Monument, 100 years old, a lot of tradition. We thought let's honor everybody that was killed in the line of duty, let's honor everybody that served in this department, active and retired, and pay tribute, homage to their commitment and dedication, and bravery and self-sacrifice. We think this is the perfect spot to start what is a very emotional and long day.

O'BRIEN: You'll be heading then, down to ground zero. But most of the firefighters and police department members are not invited to those ceremonies. Does that annoy you?

CASSANO: No. As far as the Fire Department, we've had a huge -- you'll see 4,000 or 5,000 firefighters here about 9:30. And there are ceremonies throughout all firehouses in the city where most of our people go. It hasn't been -- the World Trade Center hasn't really been a place where the Fire Department has gone as a department. We felt a much stronger bond at the firehouse where our families would go, spend some quiet time together. Not being at the World Trade Center isn't something we did anyway. So we're not upset. It's something that we haven't really done in the past 10 years. After the World Trade Center I have a ceremony at a museum, where you have military come. And then I'll visit a few firehouses where there are ceremonies and finish up my night at Staten Island, at a beautiful memorial post concert (ph).

O'BRIEN: So, a very busy and I'm sure very emotional day for you today. What's changed in the last 10 years? When you read the transcripts of what transpired on 9/11, the communication and lack of it, the radios that didn't work for firefighters heading up into the towers, not understanding what else is happening outside of the towers, not getting good intelligence from the choppers overhead, has all of that been improved for firefighters?

CASSANO: Sure there have been so many things that have changed. We could be here until next September talking about it. But I will tell you, some of the things. People said some of our radios didn't work. Well, inside the buildings our radios worked because we have transcripts where people have said they heard the evacuation order. But looking back at that we have changed. We have a much more powerful radio now. It has three bands, 16 channels, we have interoperability, we can speak to the police department on that radio. We even developed our very, very powerful post-radio, which is what all chiefs carry, 45 watts. We've used it in every high-rise building to see if it works. It works from the lobby up to the top floor. So, our communication has improved tremendously.

Some of the other things? We'll put a battalion chief in a helicopter for a major incident. That gives us the fifth side, that above, aerial view. We can see all four sides and we can see from the roof down.

O'BRIEN: And you've rebuilt the force, as well?

CASSANO: We've hired over 6,000 firefighters, promoted over 3,000 officers. We're better prepared, better equipped, more resilient. Right now we have 100 people Upstate New York, in Binghamton helping them to alleviate their flood condition. We're gone out west, we've fought in wild land fires. We sent 700 firefighters to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. We are much more resilient. And we're paying it forward. We are thanking all the people who have helped us in the last 10 years.

O'BRIEN: Well, thank you for joining us this morning.

CASSANO: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate your time. Good luck with your day. We know it's going to be a tough one.

CASSANO: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

So, T.J., a start of his day. We are going to begin with that wreath laying ceremony that will happen in about seven minutes right here. That will kick off the ground zero events happening where you are later this morning, T.J.

HOLMES: We'll check in with you again, Soledad. We'll be going back to that in a few minutes when it takes place. We have been showing you this morning the 9/11 memorial, officially dedicated today, open to the public tomorrow. Those huge reflecting pools; those pools you see down there. Well, also something else that's not quite ready to open but they're getting it ready, the 9/11 Museum. The director of the museum joins me next. Stay with us for this special edition of this CNN SUNDAY MORNING. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back to this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING, coming to you from ground zero on this 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Special guest with me this morning, a lady with a big responsibility, Alex (sic) Greenwald, who is director of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Thank you for being here. I know it is a busy day.


HOLMES: We've been showing the pictures. Live pictures of the memorial, the reflecting pools that we are showing, but right there in the center, we focused some attention because that is the museum. You're saying it's constructed, for the most part. But right now what are you still working on, collecting things to put in it?

GREENWALD: We're actually working on the interior work, to finish everything on the inside. We've brought some of the larger artifacts in already. And we'll be placing them in the next few months. Plus we're actually fabricating exhibitions right now so we can begin installation in three or four months.

HOLMES: You say artifacts. What kind of things can you expect to see in there?

GREENWALD: Oh, my goodness, it's a range. We have monumental pieces of World Trade Center steel, vehicles, FDNY fire trucks, ambulances. But we also have intimate material, the memorabilia of some of the people who perished. We have wonderful things that come from some of the tributes that people have made in memory of these people.

HOLMES: What is your deadline now? When do you want to be ready?

GREENWALD: We are going to be open September 2012. So everything is on go. We start tomorrow, the 365-day countdown to the opening of the museum.

HOLMES: Why will this one be so important to where we are right now? People will come and they want to stop and reflect and see the names at the pools, but what will that centerpiece now, which is literally right in the center, what is that going to mean to this area?

GREENWALD: I think there's a beautiful balance between a memorial that speaks to absence and a museum that presents the presence of what remains. The museum will be a place of not only commemoration, but education. That's for the generations that were too young to remember what happened on 9/11, or were not born yet, there will be a place to come to learn. HOLMES: Ms. Greenwald, I appreciate you taking the time. I know it's a very busy day for you. We will see you, you said this countdown, this 364-day countdown will begin. It will be ready next year. We'll certainly be here for it. I know it's a labor of love for you, put in a lot of work over the years.

GREENWALD: Thank you so much.

HOLMES: As we get close to the top of the hour here on this CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Stay with us. We'll be checking in with the firefighters memorial ceremony taking place there. We'll take you there live in just a matter of minutes. Stay with us.