9/11 Still Resonates for Uncle Joel’s Nephew … and for All of Us

Joel Miller died Sept. 11, 2001, a week shy of his 56th birthday. 

So much has happened to this country and to our world in the past half-century that it is impossible to fairly summarize it. So I will focus only on the event that affected all of us and its singular effect on me. 

On Sept. 11, 2001, I lost my Uncle Joel, my mother’s youngest brother. He was just seven years older than me and more like an older brother. We grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and we graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School. Joel graduated from New York University after majoring in what was then a relatively new area called computer science. I can remember a tour of the computer lab one Saturday where I saw computers the size of today’s rental storage facilities, and I was introduced to a new language called Fortran. 

Joel had a two-year stint in the Army, part of which was spent in South Korea, courtesy of the then-existing draft. He married fellow NYU student Yvonne David at a wedding in which I served as best man at the age of 18. They had one child Adam, before Yvonne’s too-early passing. 

Joel taught me sports: baseball, football and basketball. He was a New York Mets fan, but I never held that against him. We attended a Mets game at the old Polo Grounds while Shea Stadium was still being constructed, and several Yankees games at the old Yankee Stadium. Joel settled in Long Island with his family, including second wife Margie and her two sons. 

Joel was employed by Marsh & McLennan, a large insurance concern based at the World Trade Center. Ironically, he was in charge of their disaster recovery. He worked on the 97th  floor of the North Tower, the first of the two buildings struck that day by hijacked airliners. 

We waited for word on whether he had arrived for work, hoping that he was late this one time. He wasn’t. We learned within a few weeks that a small piece of shinbone was matched by DNA to a hairbrush, a comb and a razor belonging to Joel. Those items were part of an exhibit at the  9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City that described how victims were identified and that used Joel as an example. 

The words 9-11 and World Trade Center have become a shorthand for the attacks 20 years ago. Those words mean different things to people and bring forth different memories. There are families among the 2,983 killed that day who still wait for word on whether their loved one will be identified. New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner continues to work to provide certainty to these families when possible.