Turning Sept. 11 Into a Day of Service and Remembrance

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

NEW YORK -- The taxi is blowing down FDR Drive, heading south, Ground Zero a mile or so ahead. Jay Winuk is letting a humid breeze blow in through an open window as he considers his dead brother's legacy and the meaning of 9/11.

For eight years, he and fellow public-relations executive David Paine have worked to make the anniversary of the terrorist attacks a national moment of something other than sorrow, something other than the day, amid thousands of other tragedies, Winuk's brother Glenn died while trying to rescue people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Now on the cusp of a huge success, with congressional and presidential approval officially recognizing Sept. 11 as a day for people to do a good deed -- any good deed -- Winuk is adamant about what he doesn't want this day to become.

"We do not want this to become a federal holiday," he says in his soft voice. "Holidays tend to become three-day weekends, barbecues, going to the beach and white sales. We never use the word 'holiday' for this. It's not about taking a day off and doing something fun. It's a day for reflection and for action."

And: "It's an extraordinary moment we're at now."

In April, President Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which gave federal authorization to establish Sept. 11 as the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at Friday night's official ceremony in New York. More than 200 organizations, working through Paine and Winuk's group, My Good Deed, and through ServiceNation, another volunteer-based group, are overseeing thousands of individual and corporate projects across the country, all designed to honor the memory of those who died on Sept. 11.

Winuk and Paine say they hope to re-create the spirit of the days and weeks that followed 9/11, when it was said all irony was lost, strangers reached out to help one another and, as President Abraham Lincoln once put it, "the better angels of our nature" appeared.

"There was something different about the country in the days after the attacks," Paine says, standing with Winuk on Liberty Street, between the gaping hole of Ground Zero and the front entrance of FDNY's Ladder Company 10 and Engine Company 10, which lost so many firefighters that day. "It provided a glimpse of what the country could be, all those people coming down to help at Ground Zero, expecting nothing in return."

He pauses.

"It was a better place to live."

* * *

Glenn Winuk was a lawyer at Holland & Knight, working just across from the Trade Center. He was also a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in his home town of Jericho, out on Long Island. He had close-cropped brown hair, a friendly smile. A family photo shows Winuk in his dress uniform, beaming at the camera.

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