Growing up presents enough challenges on a day-to-day basis, but when you’re “The 9/11 kid,” it’s that much tougher. That’s pretty much the label Troy and Miles Kirwin had in Scarsdale after their dad, Glenn, was killed in the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001. They were 7 and 10 years old, respectively, attending Quaker Ridge Elementary School at the time, and as young adults 20 years later they have turned public tragedy into personal triumph.
“I am super proud of both of my sons,” mom Joan Kirwin said. “They have turned into terrific young men. They have always been driven to prove that they are worthy of their father and that they want to be as successful or more so than he was. I’m lucky in that, because they could have just as easily gone off the deep end.”
Glenn was on the 105th floor of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 hit at 8:46 a.m. He was 1 of 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees who died that day.
His sons remember him as warm and caring, someone people looked up to, someone they looked up to. They looked forward to “Dad time” after he’d get home from work in the evenings where there would be basketball or a movie, and always tucking them in and reading a story. The same held true on Sept. 10, 2001, and the next day everyone headed to work or school as usual.
Quaker Ridge administration held an assembly in the morning to let the students know something had happened in the city, but did not go into detail. Just before Joan arrived at the school to pick her boys up early, Miles’ music teacher went into some amount of detail. Miles finally realized that something likely had happened to his father.
“I knew exactly where he worked in the World Trade Center on the 105th floor because I had been there,” Miles said. “I remember as a kid going to Take Your Child to Work Day. He had a nice office with a window. I remember putting my head up against the window and looking down. I remember eating at the Windows on the World restaurant. I had very vivid memories of the World Trade Center, but I was kind of in denial at that point. I just couldn’t believe it.
“I just needed somebody to clearly spell it out for me and when she did, that’s when I put my head in my lap and just started to cry. I started making a scene in the classroom. The principal came to get me and brought me to her office and that’s where I met my mom and my brother. I remember constantly crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t even drink water. I was trying to calm down, but it all hit me.”
Miles recalls seeing smoke high in the sky from the Towers when leaving school that day. Troy didn’t comprehend what was going on at the time and asked to go back to class. Even the next day he asked his mom to take him to school, which she did, but he didn’t make it through the day, getting unwanted attention. Late that night, Joan got a call from Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald. It was the call she was waiting for, but had been praying she would not receive.
“He called to tell me nobody above the 90th floor had survived,” Joan said. “That next morning I had to tell Miles and Troy their dad was never coming home. That was really hard. We all got through it. It wasn’t easy being the only family in Scarsdale. You could tell people were looking at you and talking about you.”
The Kirwins officially became “The 9/11 family,” especially when the boys returned to school and other times when they were out in public and people who didn’t know them directly realized who they were.
“It was really difficult, but it was also friends and family and neighbors and people we didn’t know who were incredibly supportive in those days afterwards,” Joan said. “They would come by and bring food. We had so much food we ended up donating it to the Mamaroneck Fire Department.”
Glenn’s parents moved from Connecticut to New Rochelle to help Joan raise the boys. Glenn’s five siblings did their part in helping out.
Prior to the boys’ going back to school full time after about a week, the family attended the Cantor Fitzgerald memorial, at which Joan spoke, with Miles by her side at the podium, and the family also got a dog, which they had talked about the last night they were all together. They named the dog Kirly after their father’s last name.
“I remember there being a shift where there were things I couldn’t get before that my mom was very strict on like a TV in my room and now she was looking to do whatever she could to make us happy and take the pain away,” Miles said. “We got a dog and I wanted a dog forever.”
Returning to school was a different experience for each of the boys and their lives took on paths that were both different and similar.
“I do remember it being very hard to go back to school because I knew that everybody was looking at me and everybody knew who I was now in the school system,” Miles said. “I feel like that’s affected me a lot where growing up I felt branded as ‘The 9/11 kid.’ I felt like that was my brand growing up, what people knew me as. I was hesitant when I first went back to school because I didn’t want all these eyes on me and everybody looking at me and wondering how I was. We were just flooded with attention after 9/11.”
As he got older and talked to others who had lost a parent that day, Miles understood that people just wanted to share in the hardship and show sympathy. The support was overwhelming in both a positive and negative way. The middle school years were tough for Miles, but high school, in particular joining the cross-country and track and field teams coached by Rich Clark, was pivotal for Miles moving on and finding his stride not just athletically, but in life.
“When I joined the cross-country and the track teams, that was really when I had an opportunity to put my energy into something and really be on the team and I think working with Coach Clark was really a turning point in my life where I could just motivate myself a little more and put my energy behind something,” Miles said.
He began turning things around academically and as a runner he followed in his triathlete father’s footsteps. They used to run together.
“I think part of the reason I was so into running as a kid was because it reminded me of being with my dad,” Miles said. “One of the last memories I have of him is playing basketball with him and running with him. And I was a pretty good runner back in Quaker Ridge and in middle school. In high school I got a chance to join the team and compete at a higher lever, so I felt that gave me an opportunity to feel like I was getting closer with my father, but I was also working with the team and I tried to use running as a way into college because my grades weren’t great and my running was something that helped me out.”
Miles turned the depression that followed him for several years into a new outlook as part of Scarsdale’s back-to-back Westchester County champion cross-country teams junior and senior years, the first two titles in school history.
After graduating SHS in 2009, Miles headed to University of Virginia, where his father and several other family members had attended. That was the next place he began to find his calling in life. Sophomore year he decided to join the Army ROTC and enlisted in the Army after college, much to his mother’s dismay as she worried for his safety. But Miles felt it was something he was meant to do and wanted to do his part “to avenge what happened and do my part in preventing these nations from harboring terrorism and keep a 9/11 from happening again.” Miles served domestically until 2017, but was never deployed overseas despite his best efforts to join and train with elite forces. He retired from active duty and upon returning to New York he found “a happy medium” when he joined the 69th Infantry Regiment New York City National Guard unit based at 68 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan, the base closest to Ground Zero. That group had been activated and served at Ground Zero in 2001. Miles, who balances his duty with his work as director of operations for a health-tech startup, has been commanding a company of about 100 soldiers for two years and was active in COVID-19 response setting up testing and food distribution centers. On Jan. 6 of this year he was sent to defend the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., during the insurrection.
Professionally Miles has a similar role to the one his dad had at Cantor Fitzgerald, where he was senior vice president/head of product development.
He found the best of both worlds. “I love that one week of the month I get to put the uniform on and play Army soldier for a couple of days,” Miles said. “It’s a good opportunity to better myself in the business world and make money there and serve my country and feel like I’m doing my part for a larger initiative.”
Miles went to UVA because of his dad, joined the Army and National Guard because of his dad and went into business because of his dad.
“I see 9/11 as my motivation in life for almost everything I do,” Miles said. “Everything I do I can trace back to my dad, to that day and I see that as the pivotal moment in my life. Pretty much every year this week before 9/11 and week after is always a tough time. It’s always tough thinking back to that day and seeing all these flashes of the towers and memories and people reaching out.
“9/11 every year, even though it’s tragic and sad, it does kind of reset me, recharge my batteries, give me a chance to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, what’s the purpose behind everything I’m doing and remotivate me to continue on the path I’m on.”
Troy had a more internal struggle as he was younger and didn’t have the tools to cope.
“I think for most 7-year-olds nobody has really experienced death to that point, certainly not a tragic death and certainly not an event that kind of defines the century in a way,” Troy said. “For my friends who knew about it, and most of the kids in the school did, I think they struggled to understand how to interact with me so as not to upset me. Even at 27 it’s somewhat challenging to know how to deal with someone who is grieving and lost someone. At the age of 7 it was that and more.”
Some kids avoided Troy, which he said “made it more painful” when all he wanted to do was fit in. “For a shy kid like me at the time all of a sudden I was thrown into the spotlight and everyone knew who I was, what my story was before I even met them,” he said.
Troy didn’t hit his stride in life until he got to college, though he said a major turning point was speaking at Scarsdale High School graduation in 2012 as a class officer.
“Over the years it got easier,” Troy said. “I didn’t necessarily find myself in a place where I really enjoyed talking about it really until after leaving Scarsdale and going to college. At that point I was able to define my own image and character rather than letting the story of 9/11 enter the picture before I met people. Once I got to college I was able to use it as more of an inspiration in my life rather than standing in the shadows of a tragedy.”
Troy and Miles overlapped at UVA for one year.
“That was another way to connect with my dad,” Troy said. “I was able to feel a connection on the grounds there. I remember that first year being out of New York and, without all of my family by my side, it was nice to have Miles still there, because it was a different experience to be in another part of the country. Nobody would know I lost my dad until I told them. It was a lot easier to have that conversation on my own terms rather than in Scarsdale when everybody knew it already.
“It was different because most of my friends there were not from the New York area, so they knew of it more as a historical event than something that they felt a personal connection to. Obviously with age at that point it was easier to have a conversation about it with friends who were a little bit more mature.”
Even when Troy was young, his dad recognized an inherited entrepreneurial spirit within him. Troy was always setting up lemonade stands, car washes or putting on puppet shows to make some money.
“That always stuck with me and drove me to want to pursue business and follow in my dad’s footsteps in a way,” Troy said. “I did finance, much like him, and pivoted towards tech and went to start my own startup. A lot of it is, how can I make my dad, who is not there physically, but who I know is watching over me, proud and to live up to the person he was and the person he would want me to be?”
Troy is in charge of corporate development and strategy for startup Unity Technologies, a real-time 3D engine people can use as a platform to build video games or augmented virtual reality experiences.
Troy had been living in California for two years and two Junes ago, knowing he could work remotely during the pandemic, he bounced around to places like the Dominican Republic, Park City, the family’s lake house in Connecticut and other places. He’s preparing to move back to San Francisco this month.
“It’s also inspired me to realize you never know when your world will turn,” he said. “You have to appreciate how little time you have on this Earth. Because of that I’ve always been kind of on the move or looking for the next adventure, life experience, challenge. I love to travel, try new things, see new places. My friends say I never sit still, that I’m always doing things, and that’s the realization you have to make the most out of life while you can.”
The first year of firsts without Glenn/Dad was the toughest for the entire family, especially Joan showing her strength for her children. Every holiday or event or activity was changed forever. After the first anniversary Joan believes “things started to settle down a bit, but every year around this time is difficult, especially the milestone years.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years and sometimes it feels like it was yesterday,” Joan said. “Especially this time of year when you see images on TV and all these specials and everything — it brings it right back. It’s so difficult to have to relive it. Every year is different. The first anniversary was incredibly difficult. The 10th was incredibly difficult. And now the 20th. It’s the big ones where they have so much media attention and specials that I will say I’m looking forward to Sept. 12 for things to again settle down.”
Some members of the family will be at Westchester Reform Temple Friday night, Sept. 10, and then at Ground Zero for the reading of the names the next morning. Miles read names at the 10th anniversary and Troy will read names this time around. Later in the day Cantor Fitzgerald will be holding its own memorial events for families.
“It gives you an opportunity to take stock and have some time for introspection and think about my dad and honor him, but also to process how I think it has affected me and how it has shaped me,” Troy said of the anniversary. “I’ve never wanted it to define me. With each year when 9/11 rolls around life slows down a bit and becomes an opportunity to pause and appreciate where you are in life.”
There is a bench in Glenn’s honor next to the Little School in Scarsdale by the pool, a lasting reminder of his legacy.
“We never want anybody to forget what happened that day, but that being said, it is difficult because most people are able to grieve in private,” Joan said. “This is not private, so it’s difficult, but it’s important that we never forget.”