Recent commentary on the newly opened National September 11 Memorial and Museum has complained about the museum's gift shop, some of the "keepsakes," and plans for a café.
I have a different perspective. Commerce has an important place. Separate from the crucial financial support commerce contributes; these pieces of memorabilia will help remind people to "Never Forget."
In 2006, I visited the then-World Trade Center construction site. My dad gave me a "cheap" lapel pin that represents the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania field. The lapel pin, even now, invites comments about 9/11 from strangers. For those of us who did not suffer the loss of a friend or family member, these small keepsakes help foster our memories of this terrible event.
To illustrate this point about commerce, I would like to offer the following about my recent visit to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Historic Site, aka Pearl Harbor.
First, I did not lose a family member or friend in any one of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, so I do not claim to know what it is like to live on with this terrible burden. I can only imagine the pain they endure every day, and I certainly respect their point of view. Also, only one member of my family has served in the military, but I am a United States citizen. Thus, I felt it was my responsibility to visit Pearl Harbor during my first trip to Hawaii.
Pearl Harbor hosts a gift shop with T-shirts, magnets, books, and other memorabilia. A World War II veteran sits at a small table, chatting with visitors and receiving donations in support of other veterans. You can even have your photograph taken with him. There is a small snack shop serving paper cups of coffee, and larger café area replete with hotdogs, chips, and soup.
Some might call these things or activities crass, cheap, tacky or disrespectful of the hallowed ground and the dead. I drank a paper cup of coffee, and bought a bottle of water. I was thirsty, and there was much to absorb, and still to experience. I rested on a bench, drank my water and reflected on the magnitude of the exhibits I'd toured. I tried to imagine the scene that morning, explosions, bullets, aircraft screaming overhead, the fear, and the confusion.
I bought a T-shirt and some magnets at the gift shop. One has a photo of the USS Arizona on fire surrounded by billowing black smoke, and the other a photo of the iconic memorial itself. I see the photos every time I open my refrigerator and briefly recall my visit to Pearl Harbor. I wear the T-shirt. Nearly every time I've worn my T-shirt with USS Arizona emblazoned on the front, someone comments about the place or event.
"I visited the memorial," "My father served...," "I remember..." are examples of the comments made to me. That hokey, cheap souvenir T-shirt is serving a purpose, perpetuating the memory of that fateful day, helping people to "Never Forget."
Similar to the Twin Towers, the USS Arizona is also a living tomb for over 1,000 sailors and marines who gave their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their numbers are fewer than the losses at the Twin Towers, but their deaths no less significant or horrific. Survivors and former crew members of the USS Arizona who since have passed away are honored as well by being given the privilege of being interred with their shipmates if they wish.
Every day people visit the USS Arizona, paying their respects and learning about the tragic events that transpired. They drink paper cups of coffee, they purchase and eat hotdogs, they rest on benches, (some cry while they sit), they have their pictures taken with a veteran, they buy T-shirts and refrigerator magnets, and they "Never Forget."
Theresa Philbrick lives in Anchorage, has purchased keepsakes from numerous national memorials in the United States and abroad.
By THERESA PHILBRICK