Thursday, September 10, 2015

The girl who can't be forgotten

In some ways, it's hard to believe that tomorrow is 14 years since 9/11. Victims' names will be read aloud at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, as has become a tradition. The business day will carry on, as usual; major events will take place, including New York Fashion Week. The tragedy remains most traumatic, of course, for people who lost family and friends, those who escaped with their lives and the firefighters, police officers, relief workers and others who flocked to the scene to help.

I don't have a personal connection with anyone who died on 9/11, not that I know of. But I have vowed to remember one young woman, Melissa Renee Vincent, 28. Two years ago, still haunted by the sight of the flyers with her face that were plastered all over Hoboken, NJ, where she and I lived, I figured out her identity and promised to never forget her.  

It is still hard to wrap my head around 9/11, the defining tragedy of my lifetime. So I focus on this young woman, a recruiter for a financial company on the 102nd floor of 1 World Trade Center who had, by all accounts, a radiant smile and soul. It seemed like we could have been friends, something other strangers seem to have experienced. Someone recently left this comment on the post I first wrote about her:

I just felt my heart break into a million pieces and heal back together again. In 2001, I was a young professional who had just been transferred to my company's Manhattan office. I moved to Jersey City on Labor Day weekend, and started my new position on Tuesday, September 4th.

I wasn't there long enough to have made friends. Maybe that's a blessing. Melissa Vincent became the face of 9/11 for me, the "friend I never had" is exactly how I described her. Her face on flyers posted around Hoboken that I would see when I would go to Pier A to grieve in the weeks following when my office was shut down. Her father's face of raw pain on my TV screen. 

I recently went to New York for the first time since the memorial opened this summer, and made a rubbing of Melissa's name on the memorial. My daughter asked me if I knew her, and I told her no, but she was just the kind of person I would have been friends with, and just as easily could have been me.

Thank you for sharing this.

And then, last night, someone added this:

Your comments are so beautiful and you articulated exactly how I've felt about Melissa Vincent for the past 14 years. For me, she was the face of 9/11. She was, as you said, the "friend I never had." I remembered her father and his pleas on CNN when he thought she was missing, as well as the fliers around NYC with her picture. I could relate to her and she seemed like someone I would know and like. I also visited the 9/11 Memorial this past Spring and found her name and traced it with my fingers. I am so sorry for her family and friends who have had to deal with this tragic loss. I grieve for someone I never knew.

I haven't yet had an in-depth discussion with the kids about 9/11. When I do, I will tell them about Melissa. When we someday visit the memorial as a family we, too, can do a rubbing of her name. 

I do not want my recall of the victims to grow fuzzier and softer, because Melissa and the 2,976 others who passed deserve to be kept alive in memory. Their family and friends deserve that, too.  

And so, Melissa Renee Vincent, I am once again thinking of are many. 


  1. This was so lovely to read, Ellen. It would be so wonderful if somehow her family could see it. It just goes to show how you never know whose lives you touch, even long after you're gone. What a tribute to Melissa's legacy, may she rest in peace.

  2. I never knew Melissa, but I shall remember her as my friend.

  3. Mine is Melissa Harrington-Hughes. MA native (like me), living in SF at the time (as was I), recently married…I still think of her and her family.

  4. I never knew mellisa either but I to shall remember her.

  5. Mine is 3 year old Dana Falkenberg, the youngest person to die in 9/11. She was born in 1998, just like me. I first learned of Dana when my class visited the Pentagon Memorial on our 8th grade trip to DC, back in 2012. As we were walking to the memorial, the tour guide told us that the youngest victim was born in 1998. I can remember that moment so clearly-everyone went silent. To think that someone our age died in this was crazy. And a real sobering moment for all of us who dont remember 9/11 due to our age.

    1. Your the same age as my brother then, he was born in 1998 too. I was born three years later in 2001.

    2. But I was told that the smallest victim was born in 2000 she was 1 year old at the time of her death. She was on one of the planes.

  6. I had a uncle who died when AA 11 crashed into his office on floor 96 of Tower One of the WTC. We've never forgotten him. I was four years old when 9/11 occurred.


Thanks for sharing!

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