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A Mother Remembers Her Son, A Muslim-American First Responder Who Died On Sept. 11

Sep 8, 2017
Originally published on September 8, 2017 8:40 am

Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old Muslim-American on Sept. 11, 2001. He was an emergency medical technician and police cadet, and that morning as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City, he rushed to the scene to help.

Like thousands of others, Salman never came home that night.

"We went searching for him in different hospitals and his name was not there," says his mother, Talat Hamdani.

In the weeks after Sept. 11, Salman was wrongfully linked as an accomplice to the attacks.

"I remember there was a flyer circulating about Salman," Talat recalls. "It said 'Wanted by Terrorist Task Force.' Reporters printed his picture and published an article that said 'Missing or Hiding?' "

Talat says her son was proud to be an American all his life.

"As a child he grew up with the Star Wars saga, and one day I asked him, 'Salman, what is Star Wars?' " Talat says. "And he goes, 'Mama?! You don't know Star Wars? You are not an American!' "

She also says her son was caring from a young age.

"He was just a different soul," Talat says. "I remember there was this sparrow and its wing was damaged or something, so we tried to nurse it. Then he went to school and when he came back he asked me 'What happened to the bird?' I said, 'The bird died. I threw it in the trash bin.' "

Talat says her son was upset by this, so he went to the backyard and buried the bird.

"That was him — helpful, loving," she says. "He probably saw the towers burning and then ran to help that day."

Salman's remains were found near the North Tower.

"They gave us a bag, with his jeans and his belt," Talat says. "They said his body parts were in 34 pieces."

A couple weeks after Salman's remains were found, he finally had a hero's burial in April 2002. His casket was draped in an American flag and hundreds of people attended his funeral, including the city commissioner and then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"There's a vacuum in life when you lose a child," Talat says. "It's a sense of incompleteness and you always feel it. He gave me the joys of motherhood and the pains of motherhood."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Monday is the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. And this morning, we remember 23-year-old Salman Hamdani. He was an emergency medical technician who rushed to the World Trade Center that morning to help. Like thousands of others, Salman never came home. But in the weeks that followed, he was wrongfully linked as an accomplice in the attacks. His mother, Talat Hamdani, came to StoryCorps to remember when her son went missing.

TALAT HAMDANI: We went searching for him in different hospitals, and his name was not there. And I remember, there was a flyer circulating about Salman. It said wanted by terrorist task force. And reporters printed his picture and published an article that said, "Missing Or Hiding?" But he was so proud to be an American.

As a child, he grew up with the "Star Wars" saga. And one day, I asked him - Salman, what is "Star Wars"? And he goes, Mama, you don't know "Star Wars"? You are not an American.

He was just a different soul. I remember there was this sparrow, and its wing was damaged or something. So we tried to nurse it. And then he went to school. And when he came back, he asked me, what happened to the bird? I said, the bird died. I threw it in the trash bin. He was very upset at me. So he went back out, and he buried the bird in the backyard. That was him - helpful, loving.

He probably saw the towers burning and then ran to help that day. His remains were found by the North Tower. They gave us a bag with his jeans and his belt. And they said his body parts were in 34 pieces.

There's a vacuum in life when you lose a child. It's a sense of incompleteness, and you always feel it. He gave me the joys of motherhood and the pains of motherhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "THAT KID IN FOURTH GRADE WHO REALLY LIKED THE DENVER BRONCOS")

KELLY: That was Talat Hamdani remembering her son Salman who died on September 11, 2001. In 2002, Salman was given a hero's burial, with his casket draped in an American flag. Hundreds of people attended that funeral, including then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Talat's interview will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "THAT KID IN FOURTH GRADE WHO REALLY LIKED THE DENVER BRONCOS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.