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Keeping victims of 9/11 in our memories: ‘They’re all part of Michigan’

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Patrick Anderson felt the building shudder when the first airplane hit the Twin Towers. By the time he finished getting dressed on the 13th floor of the Marriott World Trade Center, he could see bodies on the ground.

He was blessed, he'll tell you, to make it out and make it home to Michigan. And he is determined to make sure any Michiganian who didn't survive the day is remembered as vividly as he remembers that morning.

Patrick Anderson, co-founder of the Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund, uprights an American flag that was placed at the 9/11 Remembrance Memorial in Lansing on Thursday, Sept.10, 2020. Anderson, 61, was actually in the World Trace Center that morning and counts himself blessed to have escaped.

As the 19th anniversary of 9/11 dawns, it's been a successful year for the Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund, the nonprofit memorial registry Anderson co-founded in 2007.

That means it's also been something of a melancholy year: 23 new names on the virtual wall, along with the 19 already there.

Among them: Kirsten Lail Christophe, a lawyer on the 104th floor of the South Tower, was an alumna of Michigan State. Peter Edward Mardikian, born in Kalamazoo, had only been married for six weeks when he attended a conference on the top floors of the North Tower. 

"They're all part of Michigan," says Anderson, whether they were born here or spent some formative years here or walked the banks of the Red Cedar at MSU and then went to law school in Chicago, the way Christophe did. "But we didn't really have a good listing of who passed away."

Every name, Anderson says, is a reminder that "I was given a chance to escape," and that he has an obligation to those who didn't.

Lately, he says, he has realized that he also has an obligation to the truth. At the airport in Ankara, Turkey, of all places, he was peppered with two competing conspiracy theories about the attacks, and now it feels even more vital to tell how 42 victims lived and died.

Marsha D. Ratchford, a native Detroiter, worked in information technology for the Navy at the Pentagon. Laurence Polatsch, a University of Michigan grad who traded equities for Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower, crashed the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

"There are probably some people that we haven't recognized," concedes Anderson, 61, who lives northwest of East Lansing in Bath Township. "We continue to get messages — 'What about this person?'"

Anyone they can verify, he says, they will salute. It's a process made easier as databases like the Pentagon Memorial or the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum fill out or become more searchable.

Legacy.com has a Sept. 11 section, and the Michigan Remembers team keeps an eye out for articles, generally near the anniversary. The memorial is a labor of love and duty, not a full-time job.

By profession, Anderson owns Anderson Economic Group, a consultancy focusing on public policy, business valuation, and market and industry analysis.

He was in New York on business in September 2001, staying at the 22-story Marriott angled between the two 110-story skyscrapers.

Patrick Anderson, co-founder of the Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund, uprights an American flag that was placed at the 9/11 Remembrance Memorial in Lansing on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Anderson, 61, was actually in the World Trade Center that morning and counts himself blessed to have escaped.

The first impact came at 8:46 a.m., followed not long after by an announcement that guests should stay in their rooms.

"That was an instruction I thought was rational for about 10 minutes," Anderson says. There was no history, after all, of buildings tumbling. But as mayhem unfolded outside, "at some point, I felt a tap on the shoulder."

Call it an angel, he says. "You can think what you want." What he thought was, "leave now or be buried here."

Downstairs, he found chaos: hotel guests, workers from the towers, commuters, all packed into the lobby, waiting to race across the street. His turn came and he fled, the first steps toward home and the three kids he's been able to watch grow up.

"There truly is something about the fog of war. You don't know what's happening," Anderson says.

Eventually, everyone did. The death toll approached 3,000 all told in Manhattan and at the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed. That unwitting missile was bound for the White House or the U.S. Capitol before passengers fought hijackers for control, after Todd Beamer — born in Flint — famously said, "Let's roll."

Robert Ploger III, a Michigan State grad whose parents were born in Owosso, was bound for Hawaii on his honeymoon. Suzanne Kondratenko hailed from Romeo and lived in Chicago; she was on the 92nd floor of the North Tower for a meeting at Aon Insurance.

Pamela Hammel, a forensic dentist from Grosse Pointe and a teacher at the University of Detroit Mercy dental school, spent weeks in New York as the smoke cleared, helping to identify bodies.

Toiling in a sub-basement at Bellevue Hospital, "I wasn't thinking of their roots," Hammel says. There were skulls and there were X-rays and the pace was hectic, and there was no time.

The exceptions, she says, were when a voice from the door called out, "Member of service!" Everyone would stop what they were doing and stand at attention, and somebody would drape a U.S. flag over a firefighter or a police officer in what was left of a uniform and the remains would be carried in.

Then, she says, she would wonder who they were and who missed them.

"There's a lifelong trauma for the families," says Hammel, and as she considers Michigan Remembers 9-11, she says it's largely the same whether someone died in a uniform or a Brooks Brothers suit.

Anderson says his original plan was to honor the Michiganians with a physical memorial. At least two have been erected, one in Pontiac and the other in Lansing with a twisted H-beam from the World Trade Center.

His group doesn't see a need to build another. Deliberately low-key and small budget, with its low-five-figure annual expenditure coming from the trustees and a few sponsors, it will continue to emphasize telling victims' stories.

The Associated Press did heroic work, he says, crafting short profiles of nearly 3,000 people, but it didn't have the time in many cases to dig deeper than where a passenger was living when a flight took off or an office burst into flame.

He wants people to know that Lt. Col. Kip Taylor was from Marquette and had basketball and ROTC scholarships to Northern Michigan University, and UM graduate Meta Fuller Waller was the granddaughter of America's first Black psychiatrist.

He wants people to know, also, the attacks of 9/11 were carried out by 19 men affiliated with al-Qaida, 15 of them from Saudi Arabia.

At the airport in Ankara, he says, a kindly Saudi with a doctorate insisted covert Israelis had brought down the towers with explosives planted in the buildings. No, no, said a Turk; the culprits were Saudis or New Yorkers, or maybe both.

"Don't believe those guys," said a woman from New York, and Anderson didn't.

He was there, and he knows what he can't forget.

To provide a name of a 9/11 casualty with a Michigan connection, or to share a story with Michigan Remembers 9-11 about the impact of the day on you or someone you know, email michiganremembers@gmail.com.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

Michigan's 9/11 victims

The Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund knows of the following 42 people with Michigan ties who died in the attacks of 9/11. Those added to the list in 2020 are marked with an asterisk.

  1. Terence (Ted) Adderley, 22
  2. David Alger, 57
  3. Todd Beamer, 32*
  4. Eric Bennett, 29
  5. Yeneneh Betru, 35*
  6. Kirsten Christophe, 39*
  7. Brian Dale, 43*
  8. Frank Doyle, 39
  9. Barbara Edwards, 58
  10. Paul Friedman, 45*
  11. James Gartenberg, 34*
  12. Steven Goldstein, 35*
  13. Elaine Greenberg, 56
  14. Bradley Hoorn, 22
  15. Suzanne Kondratenko, 27
  16. Darya Lin, 32
  17. Peter Mardikian, 29*
  18. Margaret Mattic, 51
  19. Kathleen Nicosia, 54
  20. Albert Ogletree, 49*
  21. Todd Ouida, 25*
  22. Manish Patel, 29*
  23. Robert Ploger III, 59
  24. Laurence Polatsch, 32*
  25. Stephen Poulos, 45*
  26. David Pruim, 52
  27. Marsha Ratchford, 34*
  28. Gregory Richards 30*
  29. Joshua A. Rosenthal, 44
  30. Christina Sunga Ryook, 25*
  31. Brock J. Safronoff, 26
  32. Lt. Col. Kip Taylor, 38
  33. Brian Terrenzi, 28*
  34. Lisa Marie Terry, 42
  35. Eric (Rick) Thorpe, 35*
  36. Alicia Titus, 28
  37. Meta Fuller Waller, 60*
  38. Scott Weingard, 29*
  39. Meredith Lynn Whalen, 23
  40. Marvin Woods, 57*
  41. Sandra Lee Wright, 57*
  42. Marc Zeplin, 33*