Remains of the day

Relatives of victims of 9/11 recount how they honored their dead with relics from the attacks.

A heavily dented and damaged mass hardly recognizable as the helmet it once was. Thinking about how powerful the destructive force must have been still makes her lose her breath. “George was such a tall, strong man’,’ says Nancy Nee. And yet looking at the black relic brings her a certain measure of peace. Her brother George Cain was a firefighter to the core and the helmet was an integral part of his life. On Sept. 11, George helped evacuate hundreds of guests from the Marriott Hotel, close to the World Trade Center. When the towers collapsed, he did not stand a chance. The hotel was destroyed, but most of the guests survived. To this day, her children miss their uncle very much, says Nancy. She still hasn’t shown her two youngest the helmet.

Captions by Giuseppe di Grazia and Martin Knobbe / stern Magazine
Translation by Anuschka Tomat Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
Maybe he did manage to get out of the South Tower after all. Maybe he is wandering around not knowing who he is. For years, these thoughts haunted Myrta Gschaar. She did not abandon hope, until the day authorities informed her that her husband’s wallet had been recovered. When she went to the police station to pick it up, she saw the two-dollar bill. Myrta Gschaar felt dizzy and the policemen needed to keep her from falling. It was one of the two-dollar bills with which Robert had proposed to Myrta. They had promised each other to always carry theirs with them. When Myrta had recovered, she placed the slightly charred note next to her undamaged one. She moved them toward each other as if they were about to kiss for the last time. Or the first. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
The poem’s words are still clearly legible: “Don’t stand at my grave crying. I am not here. I did not die.” This sentence was printed on the reverse side of the funeral card for Patricia Burlingame. Her son Charles always carried it with him, just as he did on the day that terrorists hijacked the plane he was flying. Flight AA 77 crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., at 9:37 am. Sixty-four people on the plane and 125 more inside the building died. Knowing that his brother had the funeral card on him is a comforting thought for Brad Burlingame. Just as comforting, that he likely died a hero. The flight data analysis showed that 30 minutes after takeoff, the air carrier suddenly started an erratic flight pattern. For Brad, it indicates a struggle in the cockpit. “Charles was a former Navy pilot. He defended his plane and his passengers until the very end.” Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
Lorraine Bay was supposed to be back home from her United Airlines flight on Wednesday night. On the evening of Sept. 12th, the flight attendant planned to celebrate her husband's birthday. Half a year later in their house, Erich found the presents Lorraine had bought for him: two shirts and two belts. It took Erich a long time before he mustered the strength to enter Lorraine’s room. And it took him even longer before he was able to open the box that contained her belongings that had been recovered from the area where her plane crashed in Pennsylvania. In it, he found a pair of sandals Lorraine had packed for the late summer weather. Her wedding band was slightly melted and it was missing a stone. The ring remains Erich’s most important memento of his wife. He gave Lorraine’s earrings to one of his nieces, but he will keep the wedding band until he dies. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
Three frequent flyer cards and a debit card are all that remained of their son. Recovery workers at Ground Zero found neither his body nor any parts of it Thus, the parents placed the four cards along with a photo of their son in a niche in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles. The plastic is the only remembrance of the last day of Waleed Iskandar's life. The youngest of three children, he was born in Lebanon and raised in Kuwait. He graduated from Stanford and Harvard. In his job as a consultant and in his leisure time with his girlfriend, Nicolette, he flew more than 400,000 miles a year. He was sitting in the window seat in row 34 when the plane crashed into the North tower. His parents, Joseph and Samia Iskandar, hope that maybe “he did not exactly know what was going on in the cockpit.” Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
Alexander Braginsky had immediately accepted an invitation by his employer, the news agency Reuters, to an 8:30 am business breakfast at Windows on the World on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. Fifteen minutes later, a Boeing 767 crashed into the North Tower. “If he had only stayed in his office, if he had only been less keen on learning new things,” says his mother. Braginsky, however, wanted to know everything and he happily shared his knowledge. On the evening of the day he died, he was scheduled to hold a lecture in front of immigrants. He himself was an immigrant, who came to the U.S. from Odessa, Ukraine, when he was 15 years old. Ever since, he had helped others navigate the exciting metropolis of New York. For a long time, the wallet had been the only memory of her son that Nelly Braginsky could hold in her hands. Just this past April, she learned that a bone fragment had been found. Finally, she was able to bury Alexander. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
To his sister, he was the man who wrote letters. He sent her a greeting card when she graduated from High School. He sent her encouraging words when she left for England to pursue her studies and later when she traveled Europe. Writing letters was his way of showing his affection. Thus, Betzy Parks knew immediately that she had found the perfect gift for her brother Robert when she spotted a silvery letter opener in a bazaar in Mexico in 1991. He had kept it on his desk ever since and he took it with him when he started working as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. There, the father of two teenagers was known as a wizard with numbers. He knew almost every movement of the stock market since 1929 by heart, as well as every home run the New York Yankees ever made. On Sept. 11th, 2001, Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 of the 1,000 employees in its York headquarters. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
When Sonia Tita Puopolo received a call almost one year after the attacks on 9/11, informing her that rescue workers had recovered her mother’s left hand with the wedding ring still on it, she did not know whether to laugh or cry. The ring, of all things! It was the symbol of the great love between Sonia Morales Puopolo and her husband, Dominic. It remained almost intact. Every diamond was in its right place. “For me it is a symbol of hope despite all the sadness,” says her daughter. Today, Sonia Tita Puopolo wears the ring just as her father wished. She even wrote a book about the ring. The Puopolos were a generous couple. They made donations to a number of causes: the Democratic Party, gay rights groups, AIDS and cancer programs. On Sept. 11, the mother of three children was on her way to visit her son Mark Anthony. She was on the first plane that slammed into the towers. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
In April 2002, recovery workers found the first body parts belonging to Maynard Spence, pieces of organs and fragments of his bones. His wife, Barbara, didn't want to see them. Together with Maynard’s daughters from his first marriage, Barbara decided to cremate everything. She spread Maynard's ashes over his favorite mountain in North Carolina. Barbara wanted to remember Maynard as this tall man with a vibrant laugh, as the man who penned her short love letters. Yet, today the most important love note is the one she herself wrote, scribbled on one of those notepads lying around in hotels. Maynard, from Atlanta, had this note on him when he visited the New York branch of the insurance company he worked for. “Hey Lover Boy – hope you have a wonderful day! I’ll be thinking of you! Love Babs.” Four years ago, she got a tattoo above her heart. It features a yellow rose, a hummingbird and the date 9/11, and will forever connect her to Maynard. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
He was the man with the red bandanna, an accessory he had adopted from his grandfather. He wore the bandanna on this morning at the Trade Center, high above the southern tip of Manhattan. Welles Crowther survived the initial impact of the plane. Shortly thereafter, he called his father. It was the last that was heard from him. Months later, his mother, Alison, read an article in which witnesses recounted how they were rescued from a smoky stairwell by a man whose nose and mouth were covered by a red bandanna. Six months after the attack, rescue workers found Welles’ body under a shattered staircase. The time on his wristwatch, a Citizen Chronograph WR 200, had stopped at 2:25. The red bandanna was not recovered.

Captions by Giuseppe di Grazia and Martin Knobbe / stern Magazine
Translation by Anuschka Tomat Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine