|Reflections on 9/11|
|Written by Craig Floyd|
Like everyone else, I cannot help but recall some of the powerful memories of that horrific day – September 11, 2001. Many of the memories are good ones – the amazing acts of heroism, the patriotism that was ignited when the towers fell, the public's outpouring of support for our public safety officers, just to name a few. But none of us will ever think of 9/11 without remembering the thousands of lives that were lost, the pain and grief of the survivors, and the physical and emotional trauma experienced by the rescuers.
Sitting in my office two blocks from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial on the morning of September 11, I remember watching the horror unfold on television. Suddenly, there were reports of smoke billowing from that symbol of military might – the Pentagon. Moments later, the television beamed the pictures of the Pentagon on fire. There was now no question. America was under attack.
The rest of the day was a blur. My wife coming to our office. She was in tears, emotionally devastated by what she was seeing and the reports she had heard. She was worried about our children and a cousin who worked high up in the World Trade Center. Thankfully the cousin was stuck on a subway train when the attacks occurred. A week later, I made a trip to New York City at the invitation of the New York City PBA.
I was taken to Ground Zero and saw the devastation up close and personal. The site was eerily silent. Most of the rescuers wore masks to protect against the smoke-filled air. The towers were now just small mountains of rubble. Only a few stories of the metal facades of the buildings still stood. They looked like tombstones belonging to the thousands of people who had died. We tied a Memorial flag, with the shield and rose logo, to one of the railings nearby. Later we learned that the flag remained at Ground Zero throughout the rescue and recovery effort as a symbol of honor and remembrance for the 79 law enforcement officers who perished when the towers fell.
I will never forget what Scott Williamson, my friend and New York City police escort, said to me that day. He proudly recalled several of his Bronx police colleagues who died that day, including Sgt. John Coughlin, Officers Stephen Driscoll, Vincent Danz, Jerome Dominguez, John Perry; and Wally Weaver.
Scott mentioned that he was a close friend with several of the missing officers. He told me that Steve Driscoll was always the first one through the door on dangerous calls, and that he always attended the Widows and Orphans Christmas Party to help make sure the families of the fallen were cared for. John Perry's story should make every officer a little prouder to wear the badge.
Scott told me that this veteran officer was putting in his retirement papers a few blocks away at Police Headquarters when he heard about the attack. He ran over to the World Trade Center to help save lives. He was never seen again. But as sad as Scott Williamson was about losing his friends and colleagues, he was equally proud of what they had done. He explained that no matter how far away these officers might have been when the call for help went out, they were determined to be there so they could help save lives.
They were right where they wanted to be, doing exactly what they wanted to do when they died. Most of all, I will never forget the ride out of Ground Zero. I was riding in a police cruiser when we neared a crowded intersection filled with citizens who were applauding and cheering loudly. Some held signs saying, "We love our police and firefighters."
Just one short month after September 11, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial with a gala event that had been planned long before the terrorist attacks. Representatives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, and the New York City Police Department attended as our special guests and were treated to thunderous ovations.
A Virginia State Trooper named Michael Middleton attended with his wife, representing the heroic rescuers at the Pentagon. Trooper Middleton suffered life threatening injuries when he raced into the burning building just minutes after the crash. He was pulled to safety and rushed to the hospital, where he recovered from his injuries. He and his wife were moved to tears when their turn came to be recognized and thanked that evening for all he had done on 9/11. In April of 2002, a public ceremony was held as we began engraving the names of the officers who died on 9-11 onto the Memorial's marble walls.
Port Authority Police Chief Joseph Morris was there that day. He stood and watched as his predecessor, Fred Morrone's name, was engraved onto the Memorial, one of 37 Port Authority officers to die on September 11. New York City Police Officer James Smith saw his wife's name, Moira Smith, etched into the blue-gray marble. He then placed a haunting photo of his wife helping a bloodied victim to safety on 9-11, just moments before she went back into one of the towers to help others. Moira never made it out before the tower she was in collapsed.
On May 13, with some 25,000 people in attendance, a candlelight vigil was held at the Memorial honoring all of America's fallen officers. During the ceremony two guests on the dais were given special recognition. Those two Port Authority officers were John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno.
They were buried alive when the towers collapsed and witnessed the death of three of their colleagues.
They never thought they would make it out alive, but many hours later they were pulled from the rubble in a miraculous rescue.
They were, in fact, the last people to be pulled from the World Trade Center.