It was like any other day. I was on my patrol shift when I heard over my police radio, at 8:46 A.M. of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I had thought that it was extremely strange that a plane would miss a giant skyscraper while flying so low. After I returned to Police Headquarters and watched the second plane crash into the South Tower, without question, I knew that this had something to do with terrorism. We were told not to respond until called, but I knew that I could not sit and wait too long. I added my name to a list being compiled by the Camden County Emergency Management Coordinator and “awaited the call”. Just as my shift ended, I returned to my home and took my first bite of an early dinner when I received “the call” from my department to respond. I got dressed as if I were “ready for war" (being a member of a Regional SWAT Team at the time), little did I know, that's exactly where I was going…..a war zone. Arriving in Jersey City, authorities were not allowing people over into New York City, but something told me that they needed help and I continued trying to find alternative routes over the Hudson River. A Jersey City Police Sergeant made an announcement that he needed 20 EMT's to accompany him on a boat over to the City. I noticed 5 police officers from Medford Township, a town not too far from mine, standing around just as I was and had told them to follow me. All of us made our way over as 6 of the 20 EMT's that the Jersey City officer was taking into the city (Medford had 3 cross-trained officers who were EMT’s, but we joined up as three teams of two – (the “buddy system”). Once I arrived, we left the EMT's do their duties and set off in search of other police officers in a rush to see how I could help. I will add that as soon as I stepped off the boat, it already seemed to be “another world”.
It was now about 7 o’ clock in the evening and still light out, but through the dust and debris, not an ounce of sunlight was seen. My next step was approaching an NYPD Sergeant and asked him how we could help. I was directed to West & Vesey, the temporary headquarters of NYPD.
Following his directions, we made our way to that location. Walking thru debris filled streets, the dust and smoke became thicker. You could actually taste the air. Debris filled everything around me; fire escapes on buildings had piles of papers feet deep, windows blown out of nearly every building I saw. As I got closer to our destination, I wondered what be around the next corner.
That soon became evident………as skeleton of the former World Trade Center stood high into the air. Fires burning out of control, smoke, ash and dust made it difficult to see, making it even harder to navigate to my destination. I will never forget the destruction not only to the buildings, but especially to the emergency vehicles – fire engines crushed; police cars strewn about; ambulances overturned. Also, I remember passing by aircraft parts lying in the street(s); landing gear, jet engines and other parts. There were small pieces that I determined to be body parts scattered about. I thought that somewhat strange, as most were lying atop by dust and debris, not covered by it. I can also never forget the look upon other First Responders faces; the look of bewilderment, the look of sadness; the look of hopelessness. It was not long before I too got that “stare”, finding out that there was not much that could be done but having that need to try.
I was assigned, along with an NYPD Sergeant, to secure the area/intersection around West & Vesey – keeping out curiosity seekers and any unauthorized persons”. I soon became aware that the building (the American Express building) was serving as a triage area and temporary morgue. All too often, teams of rescue workers would walk up carrying remains of victims. One of the members of the Medford Police was actually their department’s Chaplain. I constantly turned towards his location, just outside the entrance to the building, as he consoled numerous members of the NYPD, FDNY and PAPD and others, as they grieved both from losses of their co-workers and of the scope and scale of the devastation. At times, I could hear him speaking to those who lost brothers, sisters, fathers – who had also been members of the various first responder agencies. During the evening, it turned cold and windy and many of the rescue/recovery teams huddled together, outside, to stay warm as they too waited for something…….anything to do to help. A large group had approached from across the street towards me. As I raised my hand directing them to stop, a large man leading them announced “we are the steelworkers”. I directed them all inside. Also, a pickup truck pulling small trailer that I soon saw was a portable Verizon cell phone tower. (Prior to leaving for the City, I never thought to take a camera, but I did remember to take a spare cell phone battery.) Until that cell tower was raised, there had been no way to communicate with “the real world”. Trying my phone, it was now working. I called my home to advise that I was OK, then handed the phone to others around me to contact their families, etc.
Soon after it became light on the morning of the 12th, a large contingent of NYPD officers approached. They advise that they were my relief and would assume their responsibility. Right after they took over, exhaustion overtook me. I remembered as we got off the boat that there were benches along the riverfront. I thought to myself that that would be a good place to get some sleep. I began walking towards the Hudson. Not even getting ½ block away, I heard someone call out my name. I turned around to see Corporal (now Chief) Rodney Sawyer of the Mantua Township Police, whom I knew. He shouted out “We are over by the flags” and signaled for me to go with him. Together, we walked thru the more evident scale of the destruction, walking over, around and through the debris.
I reached “the flags” which were on the South Tower side of the complex, between Buildings 5 & 6. Both of those buildings were still fully involved in heavy fire, and black, acrid smoke overcame us a number of times. Two long lines were formed in a “bucket brigade” fashion, minus the buckets, from the top of that pile. The pile was being dug by hand and the pieces, often quite large, was handed down the line and thrown into the street in front of Century Plaza. Taking part in one of those lines, I noticed a US Army Major walking about the top of the pile to the south of these two long lines. He was working alone. I decided to join him. Together, we dig thru the pile with our bare hands; having no gloves, respirators, nor any other type of safety equipment. In fact, I had to remove my Tactical Vest, as it was quite heavy and the heat, both from this sunny September temperature and also from the heat from the fires below our feet. Some fire was visible atop the pile, but more was observed down the voids all around us. Unfortunately, we recovered only body parts; no “full set” of remains were found by the two of us. We continue to dig thru the pile, occasionally glancing about the plaza area. The devastation was overwhelming – like we were standing on an upside-down bomb crater. I saw the remains of the gold-colored Globe that stood in the center of the plaza. It was dented and a number of holes punched thru it. The two of us were soon joined by more and more workers, which in time, became a “third line”. Work went on non-stop. Only the lack of sleep kept me going until I was totally exhausted. It was my time to take a break.
I made my way thru the debris back to where I initially arrived by boat. At that time, I saw some boats pulling into the basin. I called down, asking if anyone was going to Jersey. They yelled back, “Yes, you are”. I went thru an emotional roller-coaster leaving the pile, but knowing that I could do no more in my present condition. Reaching Jersey City, I was offered a cup of coffee. I truly must have been quite the sight, being covered from head to toe in dust. Speaking with a few of the Red Cross, Police Officials and others back on the Jersey side, I made my way back to my vehicle and headed home.
It was overcome at the outpouring of the public as I traveled South on the New Jersey Turnpike. Every single overpass was liked with throngs of citizens, waiving American flags. Not so much for me heading South, but for those units that I passed traveling North and East on their way to the City to assist. Pulling into my driveway, and with my soon-to-be wife approaching me, I cried uncontrollably in her arms – emotions flowed for the sight of her and as a result of where I had just come from. I was now in another environment with my family – something I knew many, many others would never again to be able to do.
I reported to work on Thursday, but throughout the day, received numerous phone calls from police agencies that had learned I had been up in New York City and asked how they too would be able to get in there. It seemed as though I was the veteran by now and I gave advise to all those who called, as assistance was sure still needed. A group of local officers met with me, and it was decided that we would all meet at I would lead them all into New York. We did leave around 0200, and were on a boat heading into lower Manhattan about one hour later.
There was a light rain falling. The one thing I immediately noticed were the colors – green leaves, brown buildings, and so on. While I was there, everything was mono-color; that unforgettable shade of grey. By them, supplies such as buckets were available. Our group stayed close together, right at the base of the pile, filling those buckets with our bare hands. They were passed down the bucket-brigade line to those behind us. Fires were still burning around us, but the rains kept the air mainly clear of dust. We continued our efforts into the afternoon, when it was decided to return to our homes.
Mr. Steve Saymon had gone back to Ground Zero only one time since September 11, 2001; that was the first anniversary. He had chosen not to go back since then due to personal reasons, but this past year he knew he would want to be involved in the tenth anniversary. Mr. Saymon wrote constant letters, emails and made phone calls to the Mayor's office asking for information on invitations to the 10th anniversary memorial ceremonies. He received not one response. In May of 2011, Mr. Saymon realized he had to take matters into his own hands. There needed to be a place where all were welcomed to come, commemorate, remember and reflect September 11th (on the day of the 10th anniversary and every day thereafter). Mr. Saymon began his mission with a goal of creating a memorial and monument to remember the lives lost on September 11th, lives lost subsequent to that day of first responders and to members of the military who have lost their lives during the (ongoing) War on Terrorism and to honor the first responders, rescue workers and members of the Armed Forces of the United States that put their own lives in danger everyday.
Mr. Saymon turned his ideas into "Brooklawn’s 9/11 Memorial and Monument of the Delaware Valley." What started out as a pencil sketch and later turned into a computerized color design, he went on to make this project a reality. Within just weeks after he personally sought out, was awarded and picked up these artifacts from the three disaster sites.
Groundbreaking took place on the evening of July 18, 2011 and the site was completed on September 3, 2011 – an amazing feat in itself, especially when you visit and see the scale and scope of the project. We wanted a place that would be easy to visit, handicapped accessible and free of cost to all who come. The location is a short 10-15 minute drive from Independence National Historical Park – home to the Liberty Bell. Within minutes, one can visit that site where Freedom began in our country, and see the results of that times in which our continued fight for our freedoms and rights remain. The memorial and monument contains artifacts from the 3 disaster sites of September 11th and presently serves as a place where those who have suffered and are still suffering can visit and attempt to find peace……to be open to the public every day; 24 hours a day.
“Brooklawn’s 9/11 Memorial & Monument of the Delaware Valley” is probably the most unique place in the world in regards memorials of the terrorist attacks. Entering the Pentagon shaped base of the site, you walk up a 9’11” paver walkway which is emblazoned with a patriotic 9/11 emblem. Entering into the site, you are greeted with a black marble plaque describing what the Memorial & Monument stands for.
The overwhelming artifact in the center of the site is an 8.438 pound steel I-beam, which rises from the base, 9’11” (to the top of the steel). On either side of the WTC beam are artifacts from the Pentagon disaster (a large, damaged limestone block from the crash site) as well as a transparent container that holds soil and stone artifacts from the Flight 93 crash site. (Both the WTC beam and the Pentagon block can be touched by those who visit). The rising steel also acts as a “sundial”, with marked lines scribed on the paver base marking the “timeline of events” – when the shadow reaches the first line (at 8:46:28 on September 11th), the North Tower was attacked; the shadow touches the next line at 9:02:59, the time of the South Tower attack, as so forth. Additionally, lights shine up the WTC I-beam; front and rear. As the light reaches a bracket bolted thru that part of this original beam, it cast shadows of the “Twin Towers”. The site is gently lit from dusk to dawn with seating walls along the five sides of the memorial/monument. Pillars at each “corner” of the pentagon shape are emblazoned with full-color medallions of the branches of the Armed Forces and time capsules are underneath each of those caps (to be opened at an unknown date if the future, if ever). Just outside “the pentagon” are twin black marble towers: one of which describes the artifacts on display while the other lists quotes, facts and those individuals and companies who made the construction possible – a small list – however, not one cent was transacted, solicited nor accepted. All materials were donated, all labor volunteered. No public funds were used during the construction process nor on the 10th Anniversary Remembrance day – a day that began for us at dawn (6:10am and continued thru 11:21pm – exactly 911 minutes).
For more information, visit “Brooklawn’s 9/11 Memorial & Monument of the Delaware Valley” website at www.brooklawn.us/911.htm.