Soledad O'Brien: An Uptown memorial for New York's bravest
New York firefighters observe a moment of silence Sunday at the city's firefighters memorial at Riverside Park.
September 11th, 2011
02:48 PM ET

Soledad O'Brien: An Uptown memorial for New York's bravest

Among the memorials placed along Riverside Drive in Manhattan's Upper West Side is a massive statue - 12 feet long and 8 feet wide, and easily one of the most beautiful. It was dedicated in 1913 to firefighters who died on the job, but for the past 10 years it's become a focal point for members of the New York Fire Department. It's become a place to carve out a private ceremony where each year after 9/11 they've remembered the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the terror attacks of that day.

"It's not about speeches and it's not about politicians," FDNY Lt. Ken Durante told me. His title is "event organizer," but really he's the guy wrangling the dozen TV crews and cameras that have set up at 100th Street and Riverside Drive, about eight miles north of ground zero. They didn't want the media attention. This memorial was intended to be simple and to focus on the firefighters. But a bit of controversy - when firefighters were not invited to Sunday's ground zero ceremonies - focused more attention on this usually low-key event.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano says not going down to the site of the World Trade Center attacks is no big deal. Firefighters want to remember the day in their own way, with their own colleagues.


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Filed under: New York • September 11 • Terrorism • U.S.
American survivor in Japan has long-distance TV reunion with parents
CNN's Soledad O'Brien and American Paul Fales in Japan.
March 16th, 2011
11:25 AM ET

American survivor in Japan has long-distance TV reunion with parents

Under cold and overcast skies, a ferry pulled into the harbor in Kesennuma, Japan. The captain shouted to people on the shore to grab a rope and help tie down his boat.

With the dock underwater, crushed by Friday's tsunami, this is the only way the ferry has been able to return to service. Dozens of people, wearing masks and carrying bags, load onto the boat for the 20-minute trip to Oshima island. For many, this is the first time to get to their friends and loved ones who have been stuck on Oshima since the earthquake. American Paul Fales was one of the first passengers off the ferry from Oshima. A slight man of 25, he looked pale, cold and anxious as he made his way off.

He'd ridden out the massive earthquake in the elementary school where he was an assistant English teacher. High ground protected the students when the tsunami rushed in, and he was back in Kesennuma to see how his apartment had survived. In spite of the debris around him, he was confident.

"I think it will be fine, really," he said. But that short walk would prove challenging — the streets impassable and filled with water, debris and mud. A roof fell into the center of another street, and we couldn't get around it. We turned back again.

A voice called, "Paul!" A woman in a flannel jacket, with a hat jammed over her ears, ran across the street and hugged him. "You're OK!" she said. She started crying as she hugged him, and started to list their friends that she knew had survived. Rachel Shook is also an assistant teacher.