Joe Pisciotta is the president of Still Standing-Still Free, an organization which has hosted a free annual exhibit every year since 2010 to commemorate the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. With 2021 marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the exhibit this year is the biggest one yet.
“The reason for this exhibit is so people can remember this event that happened and to recognize our first responders who put themselves in jeopardy every day, but this was a particularly tragic day,” Pisciotta said. “There were not as many deaths in comparison to New York, but it is still important people remember the Pentagon was the center of our national defense and that first responders prevented a lot more damage that could have been done. They searched for bodies, and they did a fantastic job. It is one day that has lasted 20 years, things are coming full circle now as the war in Afghanistan is ending. We want to bring all this attention, so people never forget.”
Pisciotta, a photographer, was on his way to his father’s house, who worked at the Pentagon and lived a walking distance from the site, when he found out the Pentagon had been hit by American Airlines Flight 77. Pisciotta made his way to the Pentagon and had his camera with him to document the tragedy. And as a former history teacher at T.C. Williams High School, Pisciotta is passionate about documenting events and making sure younger generations learn about major historical events like 9/11.
“Young people especially aren’t taught about 9/11, and as a former teacher, history is very important to me. This 20th anniversary and our leaving Afghanistan is vitally important,” Pisciotta said. “People underestimate the daily impact that 9/11 had on firefighters and EMTs, survivors and those going back into the Pentagon and how they suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The slightest noise like the slamming of a door or watching the events unfold on TV can be very emotional. What people can do is learn and reach out to those who were present at the Pentagon and be caring.”
Having captured the aftermath with his camera and armed with a passion for history, Pisciotta put his talent and passion together to remind people how important it is to commemorate the attack. The Still Standing-Still Free exhibit is a free event which is open to the public to view photographs and memorabilia and learn about stories from 9/11. It runs from September 11 to October 11 in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. In addition to Pisciotta’s photographs, fellow photographers Sean Kelley and Bob Pugh also photographed the attack unfolding at the Pentagon that day and have their pictures featured in the exhibit.
“The entire region was impacted by that day. Whole lives have changed since 9/11. Just asking ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ brings out so many stories from people and the impact it had on them,” Pisciotta said. “The exhibit will have photographs and memorabilia like fire hoses, cameras, old newspapers and other items from that day and the days afterwards. People can come learn stories of those who lost their loved ones, stories about real people.”
Witnessing the event and speaking with first responders about September 11 has helped Pisciotta get a better understanding of firemen’s jobs, and in return share with others the risks of their careers. “Interviewing firemen I have learned so much, we take for granted what they do. They put their lives on the line every day for us, be it a cat out of a tree or putting out a fire in a backyard, it is bigger than that,” Pisciotta said. “In the Pentagon they had to worry about toxic fumes from the plane and make sure their air tanks had enough air. So in talking to firemen I learned about the pressure they were under that day. The Pentagon is a very difficult and confusing building to get around. You get a real sense of what it was like for them on that day talking to them and we bring that to life in our exhibit.”
Pisciotta got a preview of the impact the exhibit will have on people when a family accidentally walked in the showroom before they were open. “This family from Georgia came in the other day accidentally, and they had high schoolers, so I let them have a peek. The junior in high school said: ‘I really get it now. I feel the pain of the people that went through this,’ and that to me was very significant,” Pisciotta said. “I am afraid that people after this date in this area are going to not think about it as much. The teacher in me feels the importance of making sure that people keep learning about it.”
The exhibit is within walking distance of the Pentagon Memorial, and this is a crucial part of the exhibit to Pisciotta. “The Pentagon Memorial is a very important piece, I made a display for the memorial in our exhibit and then people can walk from the exhibit to the memorial,” Pisciotta said. “It is a special part of our exhibit to see what the memorial is like.”
Pisciotta also has a request for the community. “Because of the size of the exhibit, we need volunteers. It could be anyone, history buffs, retired teachers, veterans or even a couple. Interested volunteers can contact me (CoachJPisciotta@gmail.com) about hosting and showing a day in the gallery,” Pisciotta said. “They’ll learn so much, and they just have to ask visitors: ‘Where were you on 9/11?’”
The extra money raised for the event after expenses are paid will be going to the D.C. Firefighters Burn Foundation, an organization which helps firemen and victims of fires who have suffered serious burns.
To learn more, visit Still Standing-Still Free’s website: stillstandingstillfree.org