Please first understand it is not about me but about all New Yorkers and people from around the country. this is Mike’s 911 Story.
We all have one and if you are too young then just try to understand this could happen again.
Below is the story of my day down at Ground Zero on Sept 13, 2001
I want to share a very special day of my life with you regarding the World Trade rescue efforts. I am going to try to attempt this in a story form but please bear with me because as you know I am not a writer.
I am sure there are many feelings that came out of this day from all the people there at the World Trade Center rescue operation. I just wanted to share part of the day with some of my family and friends. But the cause was for all those who might be trapped in the collapsed buildings.
First, for those who don’t know me, I am a former NYPD Detective who retired in 1993. I guess once a cop always a cop. On Sept.11 one of the most cowardly acts or I should say an act of war was launched against the people of the United States. These cowards launched their attack on the New York and Washington areas. History will never forget this day.
From the time I first heard of this I didn’t know what I could do. I felt like most people almost helpless. Calling and making sure all my friends and family were okay. Then seeing the devastation unveiled on television made me cry and feel a sickness in my stomach. Thinking about all the innocent people who died because a group of cowards decided to take their lives.
On Sept 11th I was playing golf with 2 recently retired Firemen and a Friend Vinny who owed a Diner in Queens NY. Like many of us, I thought that the first plane was probably a small plane accident. Then I heard a second plane hit and I knew that this was not an accident.
As we played Golf we talked about the people who were killed and about the building possibly collapsing because of the plane fuel. Well, we all know what happened then.
At that time as some of you know, I was in the Direct Selling Industry and we had a couple from China here in NY Celebrating their new accomplishment. My friend had advised me he put them on a tour bus to visit NYC. I spent the whole afternoon trying to find them. They were very lucky because the bus kept taking wrong turns and they were upset but then the bus pulled up to the area when the 2nd plane hit. They were very lucky that happened or they would have been in the towers.
I then called my old office to find out what I could do to help and was advised they hadn’t made any plans yet.
On Sept. 12th I called again and spoke to my friends Eddie Carlstadt and he told me they have no plans yet for retired guys but would call me and let me know.
On Sept. 13th
After trying to call and see how I could help which was really useless I decided to set out and see how I could get to the location and help. I knew that they would be looking for experienced people and I knew I should be able to help in some fashion.
So off to the scene. I headed into the city by train not knowing what my role in today would be and sometimes thinking why am I going. Well after I got there I knew why.
The city was shut down from 14th street south so I exited the train at 14th and sixth and for those who know the area, it is still a hike to the World Trade Center.
Walking down, as you get closer to the scene you start to see the look of America in all the windows in the form of Flags and signs of support for the people who have lost their lives.
As I was walking I met a young Doctor from Seattle who is here at Bellevue Hospital doing his training. I ask him if he is heading to the Center and we decide to walk together. We talk about the incident a little, but in a very quiet way. We change the subject towards golf in almost a healing way to distract ourselves from what we are about to see. This is something that I have done for 20 yrs in the Police Department in order to have some sort of peace of mind.
We pass all the checkpoints and the closer you get the more you begin to feel the eerie feeling starting to set in.
After the last checkpoint, we get a paper facemask because the dust is all in the air. I pick up a bottle of water to rinse my mouth because it already has that taste of dust which will stay with me even as I am writing this 24 hrs later.
Finally, we reach the scene and we part and head into our own world. He going to the triage group and me heading towards the cops.
I stand in amazement as I survey the area. I realize what I have seen on television is only a part of the scene but what I am seeing looks like a War zone special effects scene for a movie.
The World Trade Center is just a pile of twisted steel and concrete but more it is the burial grounds for thousands of people. Then as I turn my attention to the other buildings it looks like what you see in a WWII movie. Buildings all around have blown out windows. Some of the structure is hanging down from one of the buildings.
It is so unimaginable that this could happen in this country. After a few minutes of just walking around in pure shock and feeling my gut tighten in disgust, I finally stop on top of a steel girder.
Standing there I start to look around to see where am I going to fit in. Standing next to me is a group of Firefighters from Baltimore. One of them a young female says they headed to New York last night.
How ironic because last weekend I was in Baltimore for a business conference celebrating the Free Enterprise system of America.
I look around what has become to be known as Ground Zero and see Men, Women and Search Dogs. They are firefighters, steelworkers, construction workers, telephone workers, doctors, and Nurses, Salvation Army, Red Cross. They are White, Black, Hispanic, Asian; they are all there for one reason to help in some way or another.
You begin to see the American spirit coming alive in the hands and backs of each person wanting to help find people who might be alive under the mounds of debris.
AS I look up on the hill I see a man waving his arms like a bird that is duplicated throughout the site. Everyone becomes quiet, the machines stop their engine and a hush is all around in the area. We wait to hear the results of the listening devices that they are using to hear if there are any survivors.
I begin to pray for all those who are trapped in the ground.
Another yell from the top saying they hear something a roar of cheer comes up from all present and now I know why I am here. The scream for more buckets and an extended line is beginning to form from the top.
I found my niche, this is how I am going to be able to help.
I immediately run to the line and begin to pass buckets of debris from one to another, which is placed in a mound. Some buckets are very light and some are a little heavy. You begin to realize that the survivors will be reached one bucket at a time.
The buckets flow is fast at times and slow at others. We all exchange words of where we are from and our past work lives.
There is one cop who retired and had two knee operations but felt he had to be here. Cops, Firemen, and firewomen from all over the country I could see from the names on their jackets. California, Conn, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, to name a few all saying we need to be here.
The pile is getting higher and higher behind us from the little buckets. I must tell you there is no organized control here just a bunch of men and women doing everything they can do.
Let me explain to give you a sense of what is going on. On a normal job, all your tools are there because you have a plan to follow but in this case, things change as you go.
From the top of the mound, you will hear who has channel locks, I need a saw blade, send up a crowbar, send up a water can for a small fire. There is a lot of small confusion but spirited confusion with no bossy anger just love for the goal of finding a person alive.
About every 15 or so minutes the waving of the hands begin so they can listen then a whistle to start again. Buckets keep pouring down and the mound gets higher and the line extends up the mound. We are all covered in dust.
Now the construction guy says let’s remove some of this rubble. A truck backs in and they start to use the machinery to load the trucks. This goes on all day buckets make small mountains of debris and the trucks take them away.
As I mentioned earlier about the WTC being just a pile of twisted steel, which is now leveled, is surrounded by other buildings, which seem to haunt the volunteers, all day. Will they collapse on us.
About two-three hours of working a frightening horn blows which means that the buildings might be coming down. Hundreds of men and women rush out of the scene and run four or five blocks away.
Waiting the building are checked which I understand all have sensors on them and this is what is being used to clear the area.
About a half-hour passes and slowly everyone just seems to stop taking and we walk back into the area. No orders, no okay about the buildings, its seems almost heavenly walking back.
The lines form again and the bucket line begins to build another mound. The contents of the buckets take on a different smell, the smell of fire. The pieces of steel and other debris seem to have more fire of them. I feel we are getting closer to where the fire has killed.
Then another group of Police emergency service guys come in and begin to start another cave into the wreckage. Another line forms from their position and feeds into the mound. More personnel start showing up some on duty some off duty. It is just amazing to see all these people working together from all backgrounds of life.
Chills run up and down my body all day long thinking about the horror that must of happen on that first day.
The buckets keep coming and there are people coming in asking who needs water, a sandwich, a fresh mask, an apple, an orange.
Nurses come around and wash eyes out. Other nurses are on the bucket line waiting to respond off the line in case they are needed. I remember some of them were from Westchester Medical.
Then another Stop signal from the entrance of one of the cave we are digging.
Looking to the top of the hill we see coming down the line a long bucket with a deceased person and the smell of death is now embedded in our masks. We pass the body along so they can be removed to a temporary morgue. It was so quiet and respectful about what you see.
Now, being a Detective I understand at this point that another family will finally have some closure to their suffering for the past few days. I know it is very hard when a person doesn’t know how or when their loved one dies but the peace of knowing the final episode is a relief in their hearts.
As the body leaves the area a bucket follows behind and we all want to work harder to help find a person alive and bring the joy to a family. As I write this I feel the sadness and the joy but at the scene, I only felt the desire to do the job with a passion not on emotion.
The scene of the buckets of debris repeats itself for another hour. Feeling a little tired I go over to the Burger King on the corner, which was written all over the entrance Temp Police Headquarters in red paint and Temp Morgue. It looks like an entrance from WWII, which you would see in a movie. Inside there is food and drink for the workers and upstairs was used for a temporary morgue, which was moved due to the fear of a building collapse.
The girls behind the counter are working so hard trying to set up sandwiches. I decide to make a quick cheese sandwich and just as I go to grab a roll the whistle blows to get the heck out of the area.
Well it was complete panic and all I remember was yelling don’t trample each other and we sprinted for about five blocks again.
Once again the picture is repeated and we all stop and talk and wait for the word to come back into the area. At this time you can see the quietness of people. Some calling family others trying to reach their buddies in the area.
The fear starts to set in about the buildings coming down but with some strange force, you begin to wander back to the scene. This part was so amazing how we just walked back without saying anything to each other. I Feel Like God just lead us back.
You slowly walk back over to a position on the line and you see new faces. I meet a group of men and women from Westchester County Medical center. One of the guys helps me to adjust my new mask. We all talk in between buckets, the lines seem to be getting shorter due to the fact that people are leaving.
But as soon as one group leaves it seems like a new group arrives with fresh looks and bright uniform which will last for a half-hour then the dust will be part of their attire.
For all those who have been there all day, One Liberty Plaza seems to haunt us with fear. It seems like there are buildings in each area of rescue workers that haunt them. I found myself always looking up at it like it was the devil laughing at me.
After a while, I walk away to see if I can get a bite. As I do a group of people pass with pizza. I grab a slice and take a little break and then head back to the site. Throughout the day I make some calls in between runs to bring a little life back to my soul. The phone systems are really busy but I get through sometimes. I run into some old friends and say hello but there is no real-time to chat. In Fact, one is a Chief Joe Esposito that use to be a cop with us in the 83 Pct in Brooklyn New York. Funny thing he is leading a group of cops from the 83 and they all shake my hands. I felt like I was still one of them. BTW he was working and I guess he still had the heart like I do to be with the 83 guys.
Back on the line and we hear a big cheer from one of the groups. We are hoping that there have found a bunch of people but we find that it was one of the rescuers who got trapped that they got out.
Now night time is falling on the Center or as most people hear Ground Zero. One of the guy’s screams” get me a light”. He thinks he sees some light in another section. Everyone yells for light. Guys begin to climb the structure to look inside. The waving hands begin again and the silence comes over the workers. The sound of begging comes from the workers saying if you are in there please bang on something. More plea’s go out but nothing this time. The call for the dogs goes out again which it has done dozens of time throughout the day.
Now the generators are beginning to light up the entire area. The night time now seemed to hide that building of death, which we looked at all day. Now it seemed like well I can’t see you so everything will be alright. I know this sounds stupid but it is one of those things you needed to be there.
Now many new people have arrived for the night shifts and with a new fresh attitude. I probably have been there for about 10-12 hours now but I don’t feel the time. But as of now after 6-7 dump trucks of debris being removed, we have only found one dead body. But somewhere in there, we hear some tapping and that will keep everyone going until each and every alive and dead person is removed.
It’s now somewhere around 9 PM and we are told to clear the area so the dogs can come in and do a search. I believe this is to help try to find more hot spots.
Throughout the day we are all talking about the storm that is on the way and how it is going to put a damper of the rescue attempts. The water will make the buckets heavier and will create small lakes that the rescue teams will work in.
As I go over to the side I decide that it is time to make my way back home. I figured that I would find a ride heading uptown but it seemed like it was going to be a hike back to 14th street. Walking gave me time to reflect on the day. I didn’t feel tired the whole day until now. While walking up a Red Cross team was parked on the way and I stopped for some water. It seemed like a war zone. As I continued to walk a young man with a bike cart came by and asked me if I would like a ride to Canal Street which was only another 6-8 blocks but I sure was grateful. He told me he wanted to do whatever he could do to help and this was his way of helping. Another hero in his own right just doing his own part to help.
So many heroes were there that day, Cops, Fire, nurses, doctors construction workers, people bringing food, The Burger King employees that Bike guy and so many more that were part of this day God Bless them all.
I started walking again from Canal Street towards 14th street when a fire truck pulled up and guys jumped on. I saw a guy with a jeep and ask him for a ride and he said, of course, get in. Just people helping people the real American spirit.
At 14th Street a friend of mine Det. Eddie Carlstadt from Midtown Town South Pct my lasy command happened to call and said they were at a restaurant several blocks from there to come and have a bite.
As I got to the area of St. Vincent Hospital people were thanking all the cops, firemen, and rescue workers. It was just great to see Americans proud of America again.
When I arrived I met with about five Detectives. One of them, which I didn’t know at the time his brother, is missing. We talked about Ground Zero and how some of them were there and how they were coming back on their day off. One guy who was not down there was encouraged by the other to go because it is an important time to remember, This is going to be a day never forgotten in the eyes of the world.
I wrote this for my own benefit so I never forget this day which I know the things that were embedded into my brain are far beyond what I saw on TV and I am very glad that I could be part of this rescue efforts.
One of the main reasons I went there was because many years ago my father who was a Fireman told me about when he was present at the Empire State Building when it was hit by a plane. He told me that the rescue efforts were horrific and he saw a lot of things that people never get to see or understand. I knew my father would be proud of me and I had to be there.
With my background I fully understand and I know how to handle the situations that will come from this day I spent at Ground Zero. I am just so proud to be an American at this time.
Don’t let this day and feeling ever go back to the days of Americans taking for granted this country. We are a great nation under God and that is what we need to recognize.
I will never forget those who I met on this day………..
PS… 2016 Please pray for me and the thousands who worked down at this scene because many are dying of cancers. I have a cough and thank God I found a way to support my Immune system and pray I stay healthy.
Please pray for our country because sometimes it feels like we forgot 911. Please never forget or they have died in vain.