Library exhibit honors 9/11 victims

September 17, 2012

Lourdes LeBron holds a photograph of her sister, Waleska Martinez. Lourdes LeBron talks about the 9/11 display she set up in the HCC library.

The images don't need much explanation, if any.

There are pictures of the Pentagon, a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the twin towers of the World Trade Center; pictures of the devastation that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; and pictures of the memorials built in tribute to the 2,973 people who died in the attacks that day.  

The exhibit in the HCC Library has no banner proclaiming its subject, no title summarizing its point of view. The largest text inside the four glass cases is printed on an 8½- by-11-inch sheet of paper. It says, simply, "Never Forget."

"I think it's very clear," said HCC student Lourdes LeBron, who put together the 9/11 exhibit both to honor the victims of the attacks and remind people about what happened. "You don't need to read much to understand."

For LeBron, the exhibit is deeply personal. Her younger sister, Waleska Martinez, was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, the "Flight of the Heroes," as it is known, because the passengers on that flight were the only ones to fight back against the terrorists who hijacked the four doomed planes.

"It's not just because I love my sister," said LeBron, who lives in Northampton. "I think it's a beautiful way to honor all the victims. I want to give people the opportunity to see what is new, what we did, because we stood up and built everything again. A lot of people were affected. This is the day that changed the history of the United States."

Flight 93 crashed into the field in Shanksville, killing all 43 people on board, including LeBron's sister. Waleska Martinez was a computer specialist with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. She lived in Jersey City and worked in lower Manhattan and was on her way to a conference in San Francisco. She was 37 years old.

For 11 years, LeBron has represented her family at 9/11 events, attending memorial services and tributes in the United States and in her native Puerto Rico, where she and her sister grew up, and collecting artifacts, memorabilia and photographs related to the events of 9/11.

What's in the display cases represents but a small portion of everything LeBron has gathered. Along with the photographs there are programs from 9/11 ceremonies, medals and pins, uniform patches from the New York City fire and police departments, a vial of soil and a piece of rock from Shanksville, a brochure explaining the planned 9/11 Museum at the World Trade Center site, a framed photograph of her sister. Much of what she has collected she is donating to the Sept. 11 museum at the World Trade Center.

She is on a mission to educate people about Sept. 11 and keep the memory of the victims alive.

"This is important for everybody to understand because, for me, every day is Sept. 11," said LeBron. "I'm focusing on the next generation. They have to see this in order to understand."

She is herself a walking tribute to 9/11. She wears a pin on her lapel in memory of Flight 93 and wristbands commemorating the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 and another she had made in memory of her sister: "We remember 9/11 - Waleska Martinez."

She has tried to maintain awareness of Sept. 11 in other ways, donating money for traveling sports teams in Puerto Rico, helping to build a 9/11 memorial in Puerto Rico and starting a scholarship fund in western Massachusetts with other families of 9/11 victims called the September 11th Remembrance Scholarship.

LeBron's very presence at HCC is another tribute to her sister. She had started college many years ago at the University of Puerto Rico but never finished. Her sister had always encouraged her to get her degree. LeBron enrolled for classes beginning in the fall of 2011.

"Being here is a way to honor my sister because she always wanted me to go back to school," said LeBron, 50, who is studying communications so she can improve her public speaking skills and become a more vocal advocate about the events of Sept. 11.

"I have a plan to start a foundation, when I am ready, to keep those memories alive," said LeBron. "I want to promote education about Sept. 11 and prepare myself for that. I want to be able to talk to the next generation."

LeBron's 9/11 exhibit will be on display in the HCC Library through the end of September.

Photos: (Left) Lourdes LeBron holds a photograph of her sister, Waleska Martinez. (Right) LeBron talks about the 9/11 exhibit she set up in the HCC library.


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