Wednesday September 11, 2019 it will be the 18th anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy. 2,996 innocent people lost their lives at WTC, Shanksville Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. And just like Pearl Harbor we again went to war. This time against terrorists. Since that day 18 years ago we have lost over 6,967 service men and women. Why? When will it end.
A few years ago I wrote these three small stories on what I did on 9/11 and in the months and years after. I was there that day and returned for many days thereafter. I post these stories every year on Facebook and now on our website. Please read and comment if you like.
On the morning of 9/11/2001 I was on my way to my field office on Rikers Island when the officer at the security booth told me that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I looked over to my left as I drove over the bridge that links Rikers Island to the borough of Queens. I saw a large flume of smoke rising above the north tower and flames spewing from the upper floors. As I reached the second security booth at the other end of the bridge I made the decision not to go to my office and instead go directly to the main telecommunication building and gather my staff to activate our emergency command center. We have a number of offices and inmate facilities near WTC. As soon as I arrived we were barraged with calls that our offices in lower Manhattan were without power and everyone was evacuating the buildings. We installed extra phones, laptops, and two way radios to communicate with our field personnel in our conference room. As we were installing our equipment, we kept an eye on one of the televisions and saw the second plane hit the south tower. A captain I was working with turned to me and we both simultaneously said "This is not an accident". We were being attacked.
We spent the rest of the morning through the early evening coordinating the transportation of hundreds of inmates out of the downtown court pens and the Manhattan Detention Complex safely back to the Rikers Island jails. We put the jails on lockdown and secured the entire island. No one in or out without a security clearance.
Our Emergency Response Units were dispatched along with our K9 unit to the Ground Zero within the hour of the first plane hitting the north tower to help in the rescue efforts. We have very well trained and experienced emergency service units and very few people know that these units are in charge of setting up and operating an onsite morgue during a major disaster.
We, the telecommunications unit, were dispatched that evening to provide the necessary equipment to set up a field command center in a nearby high school south of Ground Zero. We needed to provide generators, computers, printers, fax machines, and more radios. There was no telephone service at Ground Zero sinse the central office which provides telephone service to the World Trade Center and all of Wall Street was damaged and without power. But, there was phone service from another phone company nearby across the West Side Highway in the American Express Complex. So we did what any resourceful expedient New Yorker would do, we borrowed it. We ran a few thousand foot telephone cables on a pedestrian bridge that goes over the highway near our field command center to the Amex Center, busted a hole through a wall and into the building's main telephone room, cut their wires and installed our cables. Within a few hours our field command center was up and running.
I remember vividly that first trip to Ground Zero. We left Rikers Island around 9pm on September 11 in a convoy driving all the way with lights and sirens. Since all the downtown bridges and tunnels were shut down, we had to go north to the Triborough Bridge, the only bridge into and out of the city. We raced west across Harlem then south down the Westside Highway sirens blasting.
As we entered the cordoned off and heavily guarded area around Ground Zero, I noticed a long line of ambulances and emergency vehicles. There had to be over a hundred. But, they weren't ours. They were from all over the east coast, from New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, from big cities, to small towns. They sent their best people and best equipment. There were ambulances in a rainbow of bright colors, polished chrome, all with their lights flashing, and engines running. They were all waiting to give aid and transport the injured to the area hospitals whose emergency rooms were fully staffed and waiting.
When we left the next morning, we passed those same ambulances. They were in the same place. Their engines were not running, their lights not flashing, and it was very quiet. There was no life's to save. There was no one to rescue. There was no one to give aid to. There was no one to transport.
They were all dead.
Months After 9/11
Some of you may know I worked for the New York City Correction Department. We are the largest jail system in the free world, housing up to 20,000 inmates in jails throughout New York City, The most well-known of them being Rikers Island and the popularly referred to jail, "The Tombs”, in lower Manhattan.
What most of you don't know that while the NYPD, EMS and Fire Department were in the headlines on a daily basis with tales of valor, heroism, and sorrow, the Correction Department, was quietly working in the background, out of sight of the press and the public, charged with the ominous task of setting up and maintaining the morgue for the WTC victims. We were responsible for the safeguarding and transportation of the bodies from the on-site morgue to the coroner’s offices. We were responsible for cataloging, photographing, and preserving over 19,000 body parts recovered from the site. This was the grim and gruesome task we performed 24 hours a day for many months. There were 2,823 innocent people killed that day. Less than half, 1,102 were positively identified. There were 1,616 death certificates issued without a body.
There was a building, a hastily erected prefab windowless building, in the back of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, out of sight, fenced off, and padlocked, that contains the thousands of refrigerated human body parts of those 9-11 victims that have yet to be positively identified.
A make shift memorial on the wire fence at the front gate still remains with dried and wilted flowers, small frayed American flags, loving pictures of those who may still be inside. There are faded notes, cards, and mementoes from loved ones, family, friends, and many from total strangers who felt they had to some how express their sorrow.
Every now and then there would be a fresh bouquet of flowers on the fence. Someone remembered. Someone still cares. Someone didn’t forget.
Every time I'm driving down the First Avenue going home from the VA Hospital, I pass right by the medical examiner’s office and always remember that white building in the back, nestled between the loading dock and the storage containers, and I remember what it contains. I remember that in that building there are those that have not been found and there are loved ones without closure in their lives. These are people who are still grieving and these are the people who can't forget.
I also remember that some where out there in Vietnam, there are those that have not been found and somewhere out there are loved ones without closure in their lives. These are people that are still grieving and these are the people who can't forget.
There are 1,948 Americans who are unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.
I hope everyone reading this, will promise me you will not forget.
Delta Raider Vietnam 1969
May 10, 2014
On the granite plaza of the World Trade Center memorial, families of Sept. 11 victims gathered on Saturday morning May 10, 2014 beneath mist-shrouded skyscrapers to watch as the unidentified remains of people killed there more than 12 years ago were moved to what may be their final resting place. A repository that provides a dignified and reverential setting for the remains to repose – temporarily or in perpetuity – as identifications continue to be made.
A slow-moving procession transferred the remains on their short journey across from the Manhattan Medical Examiner’s office on 26th Street, near the East River, to the specially built repository at ground zero, between the footprints of the old Twin Towers.
The convoy, bearing 7,930 remains, stopped after it passed by a line of saluting firefighters. Uniformed bearers stepped up to each flag-draped case and carried it through the white oak trees on the memorial plaza, past watching family members who had gathered to pay their respects, and into the repository, which is in the same building as the National September 11 Memorial Museum, but is separate from the public space. A private space exclusively for 9/11 family members, known as the Reflection Room, is located next to the repository. No portion of these spaces is accessible to the general public.
It has been 18 years and there are still family and loved ones that have not seen closure in their lives.
Pray for them and all those killed when the towers were distroyed, those who perished on Flight 93, the Pentagon, and my Vietnam Brothers and Sisters who are still missing for more than 5 decades. Let us never forget.