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Personal observations from Ground Zero

By Staff
FINAL RESPECTS Thousands of firefighters gathered Monday at St. Patrick's Cathedral to pay their final respects to New York City firefighters Michael Boyle and David Arce. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
Nov. 7, 2001
NEW YORK I remember watching television in the days following the terrorist attacks, and I marveled at a first a New York reporter embraced a woman, crying and shaking as she told her story. It was a sign of true compassion, one that sometimes can't be contained.
Never in the history of journalism has the public been so forgiving of emotions displayed by journalists during the course of recent events. We have an ethical responsibility to remain emotionally detached, yet in this latest series, it has become increasingly harder.
Such was the case last weekend when a team of Meridian journalists was dispatched to New York City to cover events at Ground Zero. Normally, we journalists look tragedy in the eye, shrug it off until the job is finished, then have our breakdowns on our own private time. This time, things were a bit different.
The team was made of myself; Joe Norwood of WTOK-TV, a journalist of 23 years; and Ellen Goldberg, a fresh faced reporter from WMDN, who began her television career just five months ago.
We accompanied a delegation of Meridian firefighters Fire Chief Bunky Partridge, firefighter Gerald Mabry and public relations officer Jimmy Hoffer who trekked to New York to deliver nearly $25,000 in donations and gifts to families of firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Norwood is no stranger to documenting horrific events. He's also no stranger to New York, having come to the Big Apple for years to visit his two sisters, who formerly lived here.
I share Norwood's sentiments.
The emotional tug is always present in horrific stories, but never so awkward as in this latest assignment in New York.
We had mentally prepared ourselves for Ground Zero, but nothing could have prepared me for the Monday firefighters' funeral we happened on. I had already packed my camera gear off to Pennsylvania Station and had put a digital camera in my bag just in case.
As we strolled down Fifth Avenue, killing time until the train departed, we noticed fire trucks gathering several blocks away in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The tone of the day changed. Having thought we were free from facing emotional blitzes, this was an unexpected turn, one that couldn't and wouldn't be avoided by the team of firefighters I had followed.
I positioned myself on the steps of the cathedral, and has the huge doors swung open, I took a deep breath. I wasn't prepared for what I was about to see.
Shaking, I snapped one photograph after another, feeling like I was invading the family of nearly 8,000 firefighters who had gathered there. Later they told me I hadn't done that at all, that the photos I snapped of a grieving mother carrying her son's fire helmet in the funeral procession, the mayor sadly clutching his heart, firefighters saluting, one after another, were meant for the world to view.
I cried during that funeral, standing in front of a group of New York reporters who also let tears stream down their faces. Our collective hope is that the images we've captured in recent months will serve to tell a story for generations to come. That we may never forget the horror inflicted on our nation or the love of our fellow Americans as we heal each other's wounds.
Marianne Todd is a writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at mtodd@themeridianstar.com or call her at 693-1551, ext. 3236.

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