On Sept 9th, 2001 at 8:58AM my flight from Fort Myers, FL to Newark Airport had just touched down and I grabbed a cab to the Meadowlands to watch the Jets open their 2001 season at home against the Indianapolis Colts. It was a great day, full of excitement. I had moved to Florida in the spring of that year and wanted to fly up to see the Jets home opener with new head coach Herm Edwards at the helm. After a well played first quarter the Colts rang up four TD's in the second quarter en route to a 45-24 drubbing of the Jets.
As I returned to my hotel later that night my wife and youngest son telephoned to see how I was and to tell me they had seen the game. I told them I was fine and had made plans with friends over the next two days and that I'd be home very late the following Tuesday night, September 11th.
Among the things on my social calendar over the next two days was a visit to a lifelong buddy of mine who was a construction worker with whom I had worked with together for the ten years prior to 1995 when the back injury that I sustained forced me to retire from the construction industry and into a less physical kind of work.
I met him that morning at 7:30AM downstairs in his office at One World Trade Center. We were having a cup of coffee after having walked around outside for a while, for those of you who remember it was a pitcure perfect early autumn morning in NYC. About an hour later we were having a cup of coffee in his office when we heard a loud bang and a deep rumbling and both of us immediately went back in our minds to February 26th, 1993. On that day he and I were working in Four world Trade Center, the day a 1500 lb. truck bomb had detonated in the underground parking facility at One World Trade Center in the hopes of toppling the North Tower (Tower #1) into the South Tower (Tower #2).
When we went upstairs on Sept 11th however this was a completely different situation, In 1993 there was fear and uncertainty, on Sept 11th there was fear and an entirely different landscape. Debris was everywhere, many people were lying in the streets injured from the debris of what we were told was a small plane crash into Tower #1. We had just gotten to street level when we heard another noise, this time deafening and horrorfying. We atcually saw ANOTHER plane crash into the South Tower, and it was no small plane, it was a passenger jet liner. NYC was under attack.
After making sure all of his men were safely out of the buildings we were trying to help the injured away from the vicinity of the building because both he and I knew, because of our intricate knowledge of the buildings construction that a collapse was imminent. After a few minutes fire and police ordered us away from the site and we were told to move to a safe location. One of the guys who worked for my buddy had an apartment about 8 blocks from the WTC so we quickly walked to his place on the other side of Broadway. Just as we were walking into his building down came one of the buildings, we didn't know which one it was.
Once inside we were able to turn on the television and saw that the south tower, the last one hit, had been the one that collapsed. Shortly thereafter we lost electricity but saw the other tower go down out the window. At that point none of us had cell phone service but a land line inside his apartment was still working so we were able to call all our families to tell them we were all OK.
We called our union representative in the area and asked him what if anything we could do and he told us to hang tight, that he was putting toghether a team to go down to the site to help out. As steamfitters many of us had certificates to burn and weld in NYC and with those we would be allowed to go down to the site once the OK was given to do exactly that, burn away collapsed steel to dig for survivors.
At 5:30PM we got the OK to depart from a staging area at the St. Johns building about a mile or so north of the site on the West Side Highway. The things we saw defied description, images I will never forget as long as I live. We worked in twelve hour shifts, from 6PM to 6AM, doing what ever we could do to help. Burning, bucket lines, shovels anything we were asked to do we did.
For me this went on for three days, working at the site, always working longer than 12 hours then eating and sleeping wherever and whenever we could. On the third day I remember sitting on a stoop early in the morning with the buddy I had met earlier in the week in his office. He was sleeping, his head against the building. I was just sitting there, hadn't showered for three days, hadn't changed my clothes in almost two days when all of what had been going on around me hit me all of a sudden like a ton of bricks. The city I was born in, the city where both of my sons were born in, had been laid to waste in an instant. The emotions were overpowering and for the first time since I was a little boy I cried like a child.
At that very moment a woman emerged from the apartment building of the stoop we were sitting on outside. She asked us if we were working on the pile and if we could use a bottle of water. After bringing us down two bottles of water she asked us if we were hungry or if there was anything we needed. I asked if I could use her shower and she took us both in, let us shower, she gave us robes to sit in while she washed our clothes, she made us hot coffee and bacon and eggs and let us call home to talk with our families.
A 60ish year old woman, opening her home to two filthy, tired strangers. Even in it's lowest moments NYC always seems to find a way to give you what you need.
When I called home my wife asked me to come home because my sons were worried because I hadn't spoken to them in days. All of what I saw, all of what I had witnessed simply because I wanted to see a football game. I did as my wife had asked, I rented a car and drove 22 hours straight thru to go home. Later on in the day I left to go home President Bush stopped by the pile to encourage all the people working there. I listened to it on the radio on the car ride home.
I'll always love sports, it's been an everyday part of my life for almost fifty years, but somehow a tough loss doesn't ever bother me as much as it used to bother me. When the Colts were wiping the Jets noses in that second quarter I was just miserable sitting there thinking about how much I had spent and how far I had traveled and how early I had gotten up to witness this mess. Now, I'm grateful for having been there.
Unlike so many others who didn't get out unscathed on that day I got out of there with my neck, as did all my friends that day. I stayed there for only three days trying to help, frankly how some of those people who could go down there day after day after day amazes me, but that day of sadness gave me an appreciation for everything I had never known before. Every day has been different since that day.
To those of you who lost loved ones on that day you have my greatest sympathies. I hope you are somehow able to find some peace today on such a day as this.