When people walk past Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum on a breezy day, they may hear the jingling of silver garlands — made up of thousands of dog tags — hanging over each set of steps leading up from Fifth Avenue to the building. John McCabe invites people to stand and just listen to the rustling.
“Anyone who gets a chance to spend some time on any day where there’s a slight breeze is lucky,” McCabe said. “If you’re standing on those front steps as the wind blows, they clang together. It’s very moving to hear them, because not only do you see them but it’s almost like they’re talking to you also.”
Soldiers & Sailors strung 7,053 dog tags across the entrance to the building, in an exhibit which started Sept. 2 and will be up through the end of the month. The dog tags represent American lives lost in the past two decades from conflict overseas after the 9/11 attacks.
McCabe, president and CEO of the museum, said the team at Soldiers & Sailors chose dog tags because of their association with the military. Every member receives dog tags at the beginning of their training that always stay with them during their service.
“You see a dog tag and you immediately think of the military,” McCabe said. “It was a way that we felt was somewhat inexpensive. We use dog tags in our memorial in our museum. We sell dog tags already and we have a dog tag machine from the 1950s that we can print on them. We can sell a dog tag that has been specifically printed with something on it. So these won’t go to waste.”
Ally Colgan, a sophomore emergency medicine major, said seeing so many dog tags made her realize the true magnitude of the lives lost during the wars that followed 9/11.
“I think it’s special that they chose dog tags,” Colgan said. “I think it makes it clear who they’re honoring and just how many people gave their lives to protect ours. That number is hard to wrap your head around, but seeing all of them shows just how thankful we need to be.”
According to McCabe, planning for the memorial started less than a month ago when Soldiers & Sailors decided on dog tags. Soldiers & Sailors printed each dog tag onsite with a Department of Defense number on them, which are used to identify soldiers.
“There’s 7,053 dog tags that each one stands for each service member, according to the numbers from the Department of Defense,” McCabe said. “Each that had lost their lives [giving] the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq in those 7,053 includes 300 specific dog tags with an American flag on them. And those are the 300 Pennsylvania veterans who were killed in Afghanistan or Iraq.”
While the memorial is out for all of September, there was a sounding of “Taps” at dusk on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last Saturday. The musical arrangement is played during military memorials and funeral services, and Marine Corps veteran John Weinheimer played it this year.
Emma Isenberg, an undeclared first-year engineer, said she heard “Taps” from her room in Nordenberg Hall and was moved by the rendition.
“Even though I wasn’t alive for 9/11, I still think it’s one of those things you have to commemorate,” Isenberg said. “I heard them from my room and I was really touched. With the sun coming down it was a beautiful atmosphere.”
McCabe said the memorial remembers those who have lost their lives in the wars since 9/11, this choice was made because it was reflective of the mission of Soldiers & Sailors — “honor them with your presence.”
“We wanted to find a way to honor it and do it in a way that is reflective of what we do,” McCabe said. “We decided on the exhibit, reflecting and honoring those service members. We want to show this exhibit as a way to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This was a very finite example of how we could identify and recognize all of our service members who have fought for our country following 9/11, but specifically for those sacrifices.”
Isenberg said leaving the dog tags up for the whole month has a greater lasting effect on community members than if it was just for one day.
“When people walk past it everyday for a while, not just a day it creates more of an ambience,” Isenberg said. “I think it makes a more thankful atmosphere for students. Because what happened and the response to it is much more than any of us can understand.”
Colgan said she likes that the memorial is a month long rather than just being one day, because these people gave their whole lives up for others and feels that they need more than one day of commemoration.
“I really love that it’s the whole month,” Colgan said. “I think honoring these people shouldn’t be something you do once a year, it should be more often or for longer.”
She said she thinks it’s very important to have the memorial up as a reminder of 9/11 and the lives lost since.
“I think it’s really important. We’re getting to an age where a lot of students are too young to remember 9/11,” Colgan said. “So having a memorial so close to campus that people see every day helps us to not forget those who we lost, at home and overseas.”