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Everyone in the United States (and the world) has been affected by the
terrorist attacks in different ways. This one is very close to my heart.
Luckily my brother made it out of there alive. He wrote this for a military
newsletter one of my father's army buddies runs. If you're curious what it
was really like to be at ground zero in New York, read on. (It is a bit
graphic.) Really helps keep everything in perspective.
I have always maintained Tidbit recipients are a special group.
Some of you have been receiving it since 1984. Tidbits
has always been about people. Over the years, the stories sent by
the readers have been what makes Tidbits accepted across the
country and in several foreign countries.
The story which follows is from the son of an Army buddy I served
with on Okinawa in the mid 1960's. Some friendships remain
strong regardless of time or distance. As I said yesterday, it is a
story you will not read in any of the newspapers. There will be no
television interviews, but it is the story of a member of the Tidbit
family. Chris B. went to Ranger school and then was Special
Forces qualified. Now he wears a suit and makes the big bucks. I
think he does something with computers. Would you believe the
first computer Chris had is still downstairs in my house? I believe
his Dad gave it to our daughters after taking the family to the top of
the World Trade Center. It was windy and cool. So read the story
of one individual. It is probably similar to many stories we will
My father passed me your notes - my email at work will be out for
quite a while. We all worked in the World Trade Center Complex.
If you don't mind I will tell you what I saw and heard throughout the
day, it really helps and I think you are someone who can appreciate
I was in Building 4 when the first plane hit. Building 4 sat 10-20
feet to the west of Tower 2. One of the 12 story mushroom
buildings in the complex. After the building shook everyone ran to
the windows which were being hit with debris - as I ran to the
windows telling everyone to leave I saw a piece of the fuselage
explode about 20 stories from the ground. I then turned towards
the back exit - closest to the trade center, grabbed roll of paper
towels and exited the building under an overhang - which I hoped
would protect me. I heard screaming and looked for people to
The first people I saw were ok, just scared. I sent them West away
from the towers and headed down a flight of stairs to Liberty Street
which is the southern border of the complex. The street was
littered with debris and papers from the offices which had been
ripped open. There were parts of the plane, seats, life preservers
(for some reason inflated) and spots of fire everywhere. In a
parking lot across from the towers, many cars were on fire from the
flaming jet fuel that had fallen. The smell reminded me of tarmacs
at Bragg before a jump, and Army heaters.
Then I found one injured person, and I slipped in something along
the way to him. It was then that I realized the street was covered in
human remains. The injured man was hit in the face by falling
glass - but was okay. I told him to leave the area to the west again
and started to direct people away from the carnage in the street.
It was truly amazing that people actually wanted to walk through
the gauntlet of fire, debris and carnage to get to their destinations.
I finally realized this was just the shock, and people struggling to
grasp the situation just try to finish what they were doing when all
hell broke loose. After about 10 minutes the police and fireman
politely told me thanks and to leave for my own safety.
I don't know if they are still alive, but they clearly saved my life. My
company rented another building on the South side of the towers,
on Liberty Street and I went inside to call my wife and family. I
went all the way up to the 35th floor and walked to an open
conference room. Several windows were cracked - and some of
the employees were panicked but security was asking everyone to
remain in the building. People were being asked to stay away from
the windows. But I sat looking at Tower 1 burn while making my
calls. I was dialing my sisters cell phone when another plane
streaked in from the south and into tower 2 - a mere 30 stories
above me. It was at this point that I knew this was not an accident
but an act of war.
Security then began evacuating my building. We had to wait until
the floors below were clear and then descended the 35 flights and
out back doors 1 block south of the building. It was there I linked
up with many of my colleagues and we spilt up to head home. I
told those going to New Jersey to head south first towards battery
park and then follow the river North to the ferries - because going
directly west would not be wise.
I went east towards Brooklyn with two folks from work. As we
walked 3 block's from the towers the streets were filled with debris
and the occasional piece of a person. I didn't point these out to
people but I noticed them everywhere. As I walked up the street I
couldn't believe the people stopping to take pictures, holding up
pieces of debris - like this some kind of sick tourist attraction. I
heard someone say - hey I am keeping this - I should be able to
sell it on e-bay. I turned to confront him but he was gone - it was
just a voice in the crowd.
I lost my friends from work in the crowds and then linked up with a
friend from a previous job. He too wished to walk past the towers
to work. I dragged him away with me. I was caught in awe at the
top of Liberty Park. We had turned and were looking back at the
burning towers. It was completely surreal. The buildings were
engulfed in flames and smoke and there were huge gaps in the
exterior structures. The just below the fire line on Tower 2 - the
second hit - I saw the exterior begin to crumble and I realized it
was time to run. I grabbed John and yelled RUN!
I turned around and ran straight into a fruit stand, which I promptly
threw out my way and saw a flight of stairs down. I yelled for John
to follow and hit the glass doors at the bottom. About 12 feet
further I hit another set of glass doors and just as I got through the
first set exploded. I turned to my left and dove for cover across the
Then I realized John was not with me. So I went back through the
doors, but I could not see and after 2 steps I could not breathe, so I
felt my way back the way I had come. Building security then
directed me into a sub basement. People were panicking and
crying and some were hurt but non badly. I gave several women
hugs and assured people this was this safest place to be. And
then I went back up top see if I could help anyone.
This time I went our the Eastern exit and turned back into the
cloud. There I met an 80 year old woman covered in 2 inches of
dust and stumbling through the street. I cleaned her up and
decided she was my mission for the day. I walked with this 80 year
old woman to the Brooklyn Bridge, we were climbing an on-ramp
when tower 2 fell and the cloud of debris rained on us - probably a
half mile or more away. So we turned around and walked north to
the Manhattan Bridge. This bridge had one lane of traffic and one
of pedestrians. the traffic was not moving - so I knocked on the
window of a cab and asked the driver to take an 80 year old
woman across the bridge. He gave my the finger and drove away.
A police officer said - don't worry and stopped a car with official
plates. She got in and hopefully had a ride all the way home. I
turned back into the city to see what else I could do.
At this point, the police were creating roadblocks around the towers
in concentric circles, and it was hard for me to get close. I kept
pushing back towards the west and as far south as I could. Each
time I stopped I asked for the volunteer point, but the officers knew
nothing about it - with good reason - the chaos was tremendous
and the priority was getting civilians out of the area not letting them
Eventually I wound up 3 blocks north of the World Trade center - it
was tough to find my way, downtown Manhattan is not the easy
matrix that the rest of the city is and I have always depended on
the Towers as my landmark in the area, because they are always
visible, but they were gone. A large group was assembling on one
corner and people were signing up to be volunteers, I stuck with the
group and eventually we were sent to Federal Plaza back on the
At federal plaza, they had organized a triage point and were
overrun with volunteers. Some loaded buses arrived to donate
blood. If you had medical experience or CPR traing your arms
were marked as such. Otherwise we stayed for hours with nothing
to do and no true leader, when woman from the NYC health
department told us they needed litters. So we broke into a
construction site and began building stretchers from plywood and 2
x4s. There weren't enough hammers so people banged nails in
with sections of 2x4 and shoes.
The rumors were rampant - this was my first chance to hear any
news and it was frightening - they had hit the Pentagon, Sears
tower and something in Pittsburgh and LA. There bombs set on all
the bridges in and tunnels in the city etc.
Around 3 PM we loaded the stretchers into a set of garbage dump
trucks and loaded into buses and trucks and with a police escort
headed towards ground zero. People in the streets cheered and
took photos. I actually felt like I was doing something important for
the first time since I left the service. But we were not allowed into
the area because Building 7 was ready to collapse. We unloaded
our stretchers for the firemen and headed back to make more.
At 5:30 PM - I realized that no one knew what to do with us as
volunteers and decided I should head home before dark - I feared
the city might turn on itself Tuesday night. As I walked North in
hopes of finding a bridge open I heard over the radio that building 7
had fallen and I turned around - now they would let us in.
This time we loaded a city bus and went across town to the West
Side Highway and Stuyvesant High School. The entire area was
filled with fireman, police, construction crews, clergy, the Salvation
Army, the Red Cross and a few soldiers from recruiting stations
around the city. Most of these soldiers were the kids straight out of
basic - what a first duty...
We were told they didn't need our help. There were already too
many people in the area, and not enough organization. Everyone
had the stare, similar to that of those recently in combat. As the
wind shifted the smoke cleared and I could clearly see that the
West Side Highway - all 12 lanes were blocked just 3 blocks south
of me by what looked like corrugated cardboard on steroids 6
stories high. I sat with a fire crew hoping I could go in with them
when the time came - but a fire captain told me clearly, that there
were more then enough trained men with equipment, and the
people like myself without training or equipment were not needed
especially as the sun set.
So I walked uptown feeling helpless and numb. I stopped at the
chapel at NYU in the village and said a few prayers. In the chapel
was a young student crying because he had seen it on television. I
wanted to slap him - but then I realized that everyone needed to
deal with this in their own way.
The subway was working partially and I headed to queens and my
mother-in-laws house. It was on the train when I realized what was
on my shoes and pants. I walked from the subway to her home
and threw my shoes away before climbing the stairs. My daughter
has stayed the night, and she came to the door to give me a hug, I
knew I was safe - but couldn't let the emotions out in front of her. I
borrowed some shorts from my brother-in-law and threw my pants
out. Then I borrowed a car and drove home.
At home I finally saw the news ad it all hit home...
It wasn't until late Wednesday night we confirmed that all of my
people and those in my department made it out alive. We are not
considered essential to everyday business so I have been off ever
since. Those that are essential went to work in our disaster
Recovery sites in New Jersey.
This is my story. There a million details burned into my mind,
fortunately they have yet to haunt my sleep - but I know one day
they will. I have tried to detail them here the best I can. In the end
our city - disliked by many as a cold and mean city - proved itself
greater than I ever imagined. So many individual acts of courage
and compassion, not a single act of violence. There were no riots
or looting. I sat in the back of dump trucks in my wing tips and
dress clothes with bums off the street, construction workers and
people of all races, religions. All we wanted to do was help!
Many people on the news now say - our way of life may be
changed forever - I hope not. We all may be more cautious, and
hopefully more appreciative of what we have but our freedom still
reigns and the flag stills flies. We now seem to be preparing for a
war - on multiple fronts in multiple places with many allies and I
hope we shall exact the revenge required, and take the
preventative measures required to prevent these acts in the future.
But as long as one man is willing to die killing Americans, we will
have to live with some level of fear.
I hope you and your family and friends are all safe. God bless you
and God Bless America!
September 13, 2001
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