With a slow weekend in both Boxing & MMA and one week till the infamous 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I decided to write a tribute column to three friends I lost that day; one who I used to train with side by side in martial arts.
August is now over and summer is dwindling down. Labor Day is upon us, which means that a dreaded infamous anniversary is on the horizon. September 11th or 9/11 will always live in infamy, but it’s hard to believe that nearly ten years have passed since that fateful day.
Recently, I watched the movie ‘World Trade Center’ and I was moved by the true expression of humanity that was displayed in the rescue efforts following the tragedy that befell upon us that day. However, I am not here to comment on the film as much as I am to discuss how the movie itself stirred some personal emotions within me that are connected to that day. I lost three friends on September 11, 2001. One I could talk to personally, the other two though could only talk to me.
First and foremost, I want to dedicate this column to a personal friend, Alan Merdinger. Alan worked on the 102nd floor of the North Tower, the first tower to be hit. He worked in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, a brokerage company who lost more than 600 employees that day. While Alan was a Native New Yorker, he was a resident of the Lehigh Valley, like myself, who resided in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.
For seven years he would make the daily commute back and forth from Pennsylvania to New York to work at the pinnacle of the New York Skyline. I came to know Alan a couple of years prior to 9/11 through our mutual interest in Martial Arts. We both trained at Lehigh Valley Taekwondo and besides sweating side by side under the daily regimen of martial arts training, we found that we had other common bonds.
I too was originally from New York, but beyond that we both loved The New York Mets. We would constantly discuss the highs and lows of our beloved baseball team and even discussed catching a game together someday. Unfortunately, we never got that chance.
A week prior to 9/11 while training together, I vividly remember one night I had to grapple with Alan; in other words, we were submission wrestling. He hated this part of training while I loved it, so it made for a very interesting encounter. Let me just say, we shared a few laughs while trying to submit each other. It was this encounter that would lead Alan to ask me if I would assist him in his upcoming blue belt test. I told him, “It would be my honor." However, once again I never got the chance.
At 47 years old Alan was determined to accomplish his goal of becoming a black belt. He was well on his way as he was an accomplished martial artist with many years of experience. It was the commute back and forth from New York that delayed the process for him as it cut into his training time.
Yet, it was inevitable he was going to achieve his dream. That is why Master Lee Arnold awarded Alan’s wife with the coveted blue belt he was going to test for the week after 9/11. As is stated on a plaque that now hangs on a wall inside the training academy, “Alan Merdinger was a good father, a good student and most importantly a good friend.”
However, as I stated earlier, I lost three friends that day. The other two were a big part of my life, especially since they were around since my childhood. We were both conceived in 1962, but they weren’t born till 1966. They grew a lot quicker than I did though; so much so that they reached puberty by 1970 and by 1973 they were officially introduced to the World. Who were these friends of mine? The historic Twin Towers of The World Trade Center.
It is hard to explain how a person can feel this way about inanimate objects, but if you lived and grew up in New York City, especially in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, you can relate. These were not just two buildings, these two were a part of my adolescence. As they grew, I grew with them.
The same way we celebrate birthdays and holidays as people, I did the same with my two friends. In 1974, I was there when wirewalker Phillipe Petit walked across a tightrope between the two of them on a crisp August morning. In 1975 when Kong laid in the plaza for days while they filmed the ending scene to the remake of King Kong, I was there; and in 1977 I watched in awe as ‘The Human Fly’ George Willig scaled the South Tower in three hours.
These towers were a personal part of my life and even though their time on this earth wasn’t as long as mine, they left me with memories that will last me a lifetime. All those memories were stirred last week as I watched the movie ‘World Trade Center’ and strange as it may seem, it literally hurt to see the image of my friends who were so tall and strong crumbled down to their very core.
I can still see them from time to time, as they once were, whenever I watch the opening scene to ‘Saturday Night Fever’ or I watch the 1976 version of ‘King Kong’. However, I miss them very much. Thus, even though the old adage is “time heals all,” I am here to tell you that ten years later, the pain still lingers.