On the morning of September 11, 2001, Morris Paserchia was visiting his parents’ graves as the horror of that day unfolded. The cemetery was located on a hillside in New Jersey across the Hudson River. The sight was surreal and others joined him, watching in disbelief, as the horror unfolded. Morris was a certified NJ Medic and knew his services could be of help.
He was unable to get to lower Manhattan on that horrific day, so he began his volunteer work in Bayonne sorting and packing water and supplies that were donated from people all across the country. It wasn’t until November when he was assigned to the NYC Medical Examiner’s office on 30th Street and 1st Avenue. After four weeks working 3rd shift in tents between the morgue and Bellevue Hospital, he was reassigned to Ground Zero as a recovery worker. From November 2001 to May 2002, Morris worked 12 hour shifts two to three times a week to assist in recovery efforts.
He typically worked the overnight shift in “The Pit” and at “Ten House” on Liberty Street. Ten House was, and still is, the NYFD station where Engine 10 and Truck 10 were housed. Both were destroyed and five of their men were lost that day. It was odd to be in a fire house with no engine or truck, only body bags and flags. It was sad to see retired fire chief’s searching among the rubble day after day for their sons who responded but didn’t survive. It was sobering to hear the hear the words, “See you in hell” repeated over and over as NYFD crews passed each other each other descending down into or returning up from the pit.
A source of strength was the solitude of St Paul’s Chapel at 2:00 AM and the crowds of people and family members that lined the West Side Highway and wished him well as he trekked to and from Ground Zero. Knowing that he was doing something good for the victims and their loved ones was the only way he could continue with his work.
Morris attended the funeral of NY Port Authority EMT Robert Cirri from his town who lost his life on September 11th. He can still hear the resounding bagpipers playing inside of the church at this hero’s funeral. The EMT’s wife buried an empty casket that day. In January, his body was recovered and another funeral service was held. Morris will never forget the emotional sound of the twenty or so bagpipers as they played “Amazing Grace” in the church.
While working at Ground Zero, Morris came across what he described as the most eerie sight he has seen. At the beginning 2002, about a half dozen cardboard boxes were discovered unscathed in the midst of the rubble. The boxes, filled with files from one of the many companies destroyed on 9/11, were completely intact. Seeing the boxes in pristine condition, especially since there were no recognizable signs of desks, computers, copiers, telephones, or anything that remotely looked recognizable, was an incredible sight given the absolute devastation and destruction surrounding it.
In the following months and years he suffered from PTSD and depression. He worked long hours and began to spend time on numerous projects to keep busy and distracted. After receiving support through the World Trade Center Medical and Treatment Program, and in addition to the loving support of his wife, Morris was able to move forward. Although he will never forget the sights, sounds, and smells of that horrific time, he was able to move forward, finally gaining the courage to return to the 2008 Memorial Service at Ground Zero in 2008. MSNBC captured a photo of him on that solemn day saluting those who lost their lives on 9/11.
While Morris’s experiences have caused him great suffering and pain, he knows that it was insignificant when compared to that of the thousands of innocent victims, their families, loved ones and friends and those that unselfishly responded on that horrific day.