Twenty years on: 11 September 2001

By Eleni Holloway Assistant Curator, Military Heraldry & Technology, Australian War Memorial (AWM)

Where were you when it happened? Anyone old enough to remember the 11 September 2001 attacks has asked, or been asked this question. Like President Kennedy’s assassination for an earlier generation, these events define a moment in time.

Captain David Bergman, an Australian Army engineer, was in Canada undertaking training in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and hazards when the attacks occurred.

In early November, Bergman was seconded to the New York Police Department (NYPD) where he investigated more than 30 anthrax attacks that were thought to be the work of Al-Qaeda. Given his background in CBRN hazards, Bergman was then seconded to the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) to assist in the continuing recovery and clearance of rubble and debris at Ground Zero.

Twenty years on, Captain Bergman considers his time with the NYPD and PAPD as having been ‘in the right place at the right time’ to assist in recovery efforts. This experience shaped and informed his subsequent service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nineteen photographs, a NYPD mourning armband, a piece of glass and marble from the World Trade Center, and Captain Bergman’s protective uniform and equipment, are now held in the AWM’s national collection. These allow us to share his experience of the events which set the course for Australia’s longest war.

Of the 39,000 Australians who deployed to Afghanistan, the Roll of Honour records the names of those who paid the highest price for that service. Gallery development planned for the AWM will include new exhibition space to tell their stories.

‘The Memorial has the responsibility to ensure women and men who have served in Afghanistan – indeed the 100,000 veterans we have created over the past 30 years – are honoured appropriately for their courage and service,’ AWM Director Matt Anderson says. ‘Their service is worthy of the same level of recognition as we offer to those who came before them.’

To learn more about the Australian War Memorial’s Development Project, visit the AWM website.