FOREVER ALTERED, BUT THE BEAT GOES ON
Cynyc would like to express here our tremendous sense of gratitude to the members (active and retired) of the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD who responded to the World Trade Center Site on September 11, 2001 and have been gracious enough to share their thoughts with us.
We are equally respectful and appreciative to those who lost husbands, wives, fathers, sons and daughters, their friends and relatives at the WTC and those whom have generously and candidly agreed to share their thoughts, open their hearts and answer our questions to make the following Post possible. All of these people who have shared with us did so with the understanding, by their own requests, that their identities would remain private for their own personal reasons. We have promised each of them that they would remain anonymous.At the end of this post the reader will find a partial list of links to some of the FDNY , NYPD and PAPD Memorial Pages for some of those who spoke to us for this post as well as some of the last duty assignments for those they spoke of and for.
(Tuesday, May 3, 2011. New York City) There was not much cheering or celebrating, no buoyant chanting of “USA,USA, USA”, in the Firehouses and Police Precinct Station Houses as word spread that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Most of the cheering, oddly ebullient crowds were out on the streets in places like Times Square, Battery Park and up and down the corridors of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and The Bronx. Most of the celebrants hooting and hollering, wildly waving American flags probably had few real memories of that day in September 2001 when our City, our Country and our World changed.
As the local TV news began to confirm the initial reports, before President Obama addressed the Nation from the East Room of The White House, a certain, distinct silence ensued in apartments and houses across the Tri-State Area, in the residences that had been homes to so many of the thousands who perished on that bright September morning almost ten years ago, victims of that man, so recently killed by United States Navy SEALs half a world away.
The world’s most wanted man did not die the noble death of the warrior he claimed to be. he did not go out in a blaze of glory. Rather, when the SEALs entered the room in which he hide, he grabbed one of his wives and a firearm. Using this particular wife as a human shield he chose not to obey the orders shouted at him to surrender. His death was a cowardly act, perhaps a true reflection of the devious mind and darkened soul who ordered and financed the attacks on America in 2001.
His death came by way of two bullets, as has been reported by the Pentagon. Likely the first shot, the one that pierced one of his eyes before exploding his cranium and brain into a cloud of bloody mist and fragments, killed him instantly. Perhaps, if he had a nanosecond to have a thought, it might have been that the Americans have found me. He chose not to surrender and was summarily killed quickly, cleanly, efficiently in a manner far more merciful than those who perished on 4 hijacked airplanes, at The Pentagon, in an unremarkable field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in our Twin Towers.
Maybe he was welcomed to Paradise by 72 virgins. Maybe he was well received in Hell. Who knows. One beefy FDNY veteran from Ladder 24 commented,”It don’t really matter does it? I mean, okay, the scumbag is gone but, we got a wall full of pictures of guys we lost that day. Engine 1 lost that day. Am I glad he’s dead? Sure. But what does it mean?” As humans we are wired to search for “meaning” in events large and small particularly when they have forever altered our internal conscious landscape.
“I went down there with my guys to do whatever we could. I remembered the bombing in 1993, I was on the job then, in Patrol in the 13th Precinct. September 11 will always be something I can’t get outta my head. No, it doesn’t get in the way or, at least not very often. So, this piece of shit is dead? Good. I believe in hell because I grew up believing in it and I saw it on that day. I hope Bin Laden is there”, said a 28 year veteran of NYPD who assisted in the evacuation of the South Tower.
There is a story for every person who was in those buildings, in The Pentagon and on those doomed jets. There are amazing stories of self sacrifice and heroism, some known, some known only to God. Each of those who was present that day and survived has spent at least a portion of the past 3521 days seeking answers, searching for meaning and, oddly perhaps, living with some sense of guilt, with some part of their innermost self wondering how and why they survived while so many didn’t.
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Not every women is cut out to be the wife of an NYPD Officer or an FDNY Firefighter. The stress of “the job” takes tolls on relationships and marriages that is often too much for a spouse to bear. “I always knew when my husband walked out the door to go to work there was a risk...a chance, he would not come home. I came to dread the phone call in the middle of the night telling me which hospital he was in. It didn’t happen that way. I’ve raised our three daughters these last ten years. Our youngest was born on September 21, 2001. She never knew her Dad. That breaks my heart sometimes but, then I realize, my heart is already broken. It can’t get broke more than it is but sometimes it just does”. Those are the words of a beautiful, intelligent widow who has nothing left of her husband except memories and “three wonderful girls”, who was last heard from as he approached the 78th floor of the North Tower. “All they ever recovered to identify him was his service piece. His gun. I have it and keep it wrapped up and hidden. I never did like the fact that he had guns in the house. Bin Laden, I do believe with all my heart that I could have shot him had I had the chance. What he took from me is something I can’t fully explain”, she continued before her tears began to flow.
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Most of the members of Service from the FDNY and NYPD who survived that event will say that “only in New York” could such an amazing amount of “citizens", civilians, calmly, orderly and with an absolute absence of fear or panic evacuate those Twin Towers as they did. “Sure, the training after the February 1993 bombing was crucial to the fact that so many of us survived”, said an accountant who made his way down from the 59th floor of the North Tower. “We had Fire Marshals. Each company on each floor had someone who was the designated Fire Marshall. Shit, we’d drill...kinda like in grade school..we actually had fucking fire drills. Those drills, my fiend, saved thousands of lives”.
One third generation NYPD Detective noted that, “As New Yorkers, we are used to things fucking up. The subway suddenly stops in a tunnel, no air conditioning, no lights. We give it a good 15, 20 minutes tops before we start to wonder. We’re used to things going wrong. After all, we live in a city of 10 million with God knows how many visitors and tourists in town a day. Had we known the North Tower was hit intentionally by a commercial jet and that the South Tower had already collapsed, I don’t know, honestly, if we would have made it out”. “Literally, after the dust and debris settled it dawned on me I was still alive. I was shocked. I could hardly breath and really couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But, after awhile, I don’t know if it was 30 minutes or an hour, I heard sounds...I heard voices...I heard sirens. I crawled towards the sounds I heard. I found a guy under a car. I grabbed his hand, drug him out from under the car and told him, ‘Listen to me cuz, we’re okay. Now, let’s move our asses outta here’. We walked west. Suddenly after walking like what seemed a mile, we ran into some other guys from the job. After that, I think I passed out for a few minutes. Next thing I remember was waking up with (name with held) tossing bottled water in my face”, said a MOS of FDNY from a Ladder Company in Brooklyn that lost many members.
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343 members of FDNY were killed on September 11, 2001. 23 MOS of NYPD lost their lives and 37 PAPD Officers also perished. Some Firehouses lost entire companies; others suffered losses in double digits. As Mayor Guiliani later answered a reporters question saying “ The loss of life will probably be more than we can bear, we can only imagine. It is beyond our grasp at this time”. The innocent civilians: the brokers and traders, the cooks, custodians and window washers; the secretaries, executive assistants, CEOs, VPs, CFOs who were killed were, in a way, sadder losses to the Tri-State Area than were the tragic deaths of the MOS.
Cops, Firemen and other First Responders are expected to run into environments from which everyone else is frantically running out of. They sign on to that the day they take the oath. Those people who showed up for work, on time, that gorgeous New York morning probably never gave a moments thought to their own mortality or the random nature of chaos and evil as they commuted by bus, subway, bike and walk to work on that morning. “I remember thinking to myself”, began a veteran Homicide Detective assigned to the recovery effort, “that the parts of these people we were finding, the ‘biologics’ as they were called, ever gave a moments thought that morning that that day could be their last. At least, as a cop, I was in touch with how quickly my life and the life of my family could change. I don’t know how to explain it to you, ya know what I mean”?
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Life has gone on. Tens years is a long time especially in the life of a child. So many children across the Tri-State don’t have clear memories of their Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. Many of those children whose lives have been defined by the events of September 11, 2001 were those who took to the streets in NYC and DC while their surviving parent stayed home watching the news and, of course, searching for meaning. Each has their own private pain, each, their own private mechanism that has allowed them to cope and function from that day until today. Will the death of Osama Bin Laden somehow provide them “closure” or a sense of justice, retribution or solace? Only they can answer and their answers are probably as diverse as they are disparate.
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Sadly, 9-11-01 is still killing. Hundreds of First Responders, the underpaid MOS from FDNY, NYPD and PAPD as well as the hundreds of steel workers, welders and construction workers who toiled at “The Pile” for months after 9-11-01, have died from exposure to the toxins in the air at the WTC Site. Odd malignancies and other respiratory and autoimmune diseases plague them and some are so sick that their deaths are immanent. Many have had to swallow enormous lumps of pride and accept disability retirement because they could no longer function in the manner their jobs, jobs they devoted their lives to, requires. Still others, haven’t the energy to swallow their pride. They live their lives in the shadow of sites, sounds, smells, sensations and memories. Several have found the intervening years too tough and have taken their own lives. In a sense, each one of us who has survived exists with the profound sense of being on “borrowed time”.
The sea tells know tales.
So be it. Some of us may, on occasion believe, at least on some spiritual or neural level that our survival was meant to be. Again, who knows. We talk and debate in hushed tones on the phone about the death of Osama Bin Laden. We disagree about aspects of it from its overall significance in America’s ongoing battle against terrorist elements seeking to inflict us harm. We wonder what his capture might have meant. we ask each other how we feel about his death and if it really makes any difference in what we lived through and live with. We are permitted our disagreements; we’ve earned them. We speak with the wives and children of the men we once called Brothers and do what we can for them.
We all realize that they have the strength and resolve to do fro themselves what non of us could ever do for them. We mourn our friends and strangers alike. We think about the people we carried on our backs from one floor to the next in the North and South Towers. Some of them, we know their status; others of them, we haven’t a clue. All we know is we got out while some of the best of the best, civilian and public servant did not.
The Obama Administration reports that Bin Laden’s corpse was given up to the sea. New York City is a port town, a coastal city. We understand the power and infinite depths of the waters that wash with amazing regularity on our shores.
Life has gone on and will continue to do so. The moon will wax and wane and induce our tides accordingly. Perhaps, someday, years from now, a young child will find a sun and salt bleached bone fragment out in Coney Island or Jones Beach. Who knows whose bone that may be?
If cosmic justice exists in some form or any fashion, the child who finds that bone fragment will toss it back into the surf.
To all of those who died on September 11, 2001, we wish you a peaceful rest Safely Home.
Posted Tuesday, May 3, 2011 @ 5:45PM EST
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