Monday, September 11, 2006

Honoring the Victims of 9/11: Robert D. Colin, Age 49

As part of the 2996 Project, the bloggers' memorial to the victims of 9/11, I was assigned Robert D. Colin to memorialize on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy. Over 3,000 bloggers are participating in this memorial so that every person who died on 9/11 will be remembered and honored today.

Robert Dana Colin, Age 49, was killed in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on (WTC No. 2) September 11, 2001.

Bob Colin was born in March of 1952 and attended Chartiers Valley High School in Brigeville, Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor's degree in marine transportation from the U.S. Merchant Academy in Kings Point, New York. He was a maritime insurance executive for Aon Corporation, whose largest retail brokerage offices were located in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Bob lived with his wife Maryann and his two sons Brian (21) and Jeffrey (18) on Americas Avenue in West Babylon, New York.

Aon had offices on the 98th, 99th and 100th floor of WTC Building No. 2. Both towers had a total of 110 floors. Aon is a Gaelic word meaning "oneness" or "coming together," and that's just what the employees of this global insurance company had to do on September 11, 2001. Aon lost 175 employees on this day of infamy.

The tragedy unfolded that morning when American Airlines Flight 11 departed from Boston to Los Angeles, and was hijacked by Muslim terrorists. They flew the plane into the North Tower, or World Trade Center Building One, at 7:59 AM, EDT. The plane struck the building between the 95th and the 103rd floor.

Brian Clark, who worked for Euro Brokers on the 84th floor of the South Tower, describes the event from his perspective, when the plane hit the North Tower:
My immediate thought was there had been an explosion one or two floors above our office. That's what I thought had happened in that first instant. Being one of the fire marshals, I was equipped with a whistle and flashlight in my office. I jumped up, grabbed them, put the whistle around my neck, and more or less yelled, "Get out! Everybody get out!" This all took me five seconds. When I looked behind me out the window, the flames were all gone, and thousands of papers were just fluttering in the air, the edges of which were all on fire. It was like flaming confetti. Very strange.
Robert Colin was on a floor fifteen stories above Brian Clark. Unfortunately, we don't have the details of his last moments. At this point, he would have had time to evacuate the South Tower, along with hundreds of other workers there. But no one realized that the first plane was part of a terrorist attack. It was just assumed to be some bizarre and terrible accident.

To make matters worse, WTC Security announced over the intercom that Building Two was secure and that there was no reason to evacuate. Those still there took comfort in this and remained in the building.

At 9:03 AM, EDT, the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower between the 78th and the 80th floors. Brian Clark said there was a very loud thump and the lights went out. The building swayed noticeably and air conditioning ducts, speakers and cabling fell out of the ceiling. A white fog of construction dust filled the air. Brian relived the moment:
I was looking at Bobby Coll square in the eyes, and we knew in an instant that it was terrorism. I mean, there wasn't for sure terrorism on people's minds when the first building had been hit. Was it pilot error? Was it instrument error? Or just a one-off suicide? Horrible as it was, you didn't know for certain that it was terrorism. But when the second building got hit you instantly calculated the two of them: terrorism.
Brian Clark and some others made a decision to get out, and it was a decision that saved their lives. They were above the point of impact, and several floors below them were engulfed in flame. But they took Staircase A, just at random, and it was furthest from the flames. They descended the stairway with the help of Brian's flashlight and exited minutes before the South Tower collapsed.

Brian and a man he rescued, Stanley, saw the tower fall in a torrent of dust from their safe vantage point at a nearby church. Somewhere in that malestrom Robert Colin was not so lucky.

The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette tells how hard it was for Robert's widow Maryann and their two sons to cope with their overwhelming grief. To make matters even worse, Bob's father died in December of 2001. Just one day after his family held a memorial service for Bob, they attended the burial service for Bob's father. The Colin boys had lost both their father and their grandfather in a space of three months.
This was a loss difficult to endure. The Post-Gazette quotes Maryann: "I found I was very dependent on my husband," she said. "You don't realize how much you depend on somebody until they are not there."

Bob, whose life was a testament to accomplishment and productivity, would be proud of his sons, who somehow coped with the pain and went on with their lives. Brian graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in May 2002, and Jeff went on to attend Columbia University.

Other friends and fellow employees of Robert Colin shared their memories of him at an online memorial. Victor Giuffre of Yardley, PA remembers a drawing of a locomotive that friend Bob drew for him, which he still has on his wall. Thomas Bentley of Brooklyn, NY remembers Bob as a "quiet, classy guy." Laura Leston remembers her fellow high school student as a "sweet, bright, talented boy." Bruce LoBuono of New York, NY remembers his last conversation with Robert, standing at his open office door on September 10, 2001.

Robert Colin was a nice guy, a good husband and father, a good friend who went to work one day and died. Hundreds of other innocent people died that day as well. Their only sin was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Evil struck. Robert and the other victims did not deserve this fate.

In Aon's annual report for 2001, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Patrick G. Ryan lauded the heroism of Aon's employees. He wrote:
Some guided colleagues and strangers to safety, only to return to help more escape. Others gave up their places in crowded elevators during the evacuation, never to be seen again. We honor them for their courage and their ultimate sacrifice. Their acts of bravery in response to unimaginable terror gave us strength when we needed it most. There could be no greater, more immediate, more visible acts, to show the world that goodness and virtue will prevail.
Aon's CEO, Patrick G. Ryan, at the Remembrance Service at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick, New York City, September 24, 2001 said this:
We mourn the tragic loss of 175 Aon colleagues who perished on September 11 along with clients, insurance partners, and thousands more who spent their final moments with our friends. The suffering that we have endured has brought with it profound sadness and pain. As we remember the beloved members of the Aon family, we know that they were first a husband or wife, brother or sister, son or daughter, mom or dad, and certainly, a friend. We cry for our loved ones whose memories we treasure and whose presence we deeply miss. We also remember the courage and bravery of so many, which speaks to the extraordinary strength of the human spirit. It gives us hope that we will persevere. Aon is an ancient Celtic word meaning “coming together.” The name now has a greater meaning for all of us. May we continue to come together to lift each other up and to share the burden of suffering and sorrow. And may we continue to celebrate the lives we remember here.
Today we are doing exactly that, Mr. Ryan. Robert D. Colin, may you rest in peace. We will see you again on the other side.

Postscript: Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the World Trade Center, originally saw his creation as a monument to peace, progress and the greatness of humanity. He wrote:
World trade means peace and consequently the World Trade Center buildings in New York had a bigger purpose than just to provide room for tenants. The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace...beyond the need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his belief in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, to find greatness.
May Yamasaki's vision survive and live again in the new buildings going up at the location of the World Trade Center. We should all remain determined that Evil will not triumph over the human spirit.

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