It has been a year since 9-11, and like everyone else I cannot help but recall some of the powerful memories of that horrific day and the months and events that followed.
Strangely, many of the memories about 9-11 and its aftermath are not all bad ... the heroes; the patriotism that was ignited when those towers fell; and the public's outpouring of support for our public safety officers ... just to name a few.
But, unfortunately, 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.
But, at about 9:30 a.m., before the towers collapsed and the full gravity of the catastrophe was understood, I took a previously scheduled conference call to discuss the progress we were making on the National Law Enforcement Museum. Some of the project team members had not yet heard the news and we began filling them in.
Suddenly, one of them, driving in a car near the Pentagon reported that smoke was now billowing from that symbol of military might. Moments later, the television beamed the pictures of the Pentagon on fire. The conference call ended.
There was now no question ... America was under attack.
The rest of the day is more of a blur. I remember my wife coming to our office from a meeting downtown. 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 and she would be fine).
My wife walked several blocks to our office, across the national mall, with the Pentagon smoke filling the air, and the nation's capital in a state of panic. Reports of other planes on their way to destroy more buildings and more lives filled the airwaves.
No more planes came, but plenty of damage was already done and hours later, Washington, D.C. was a ghost town.
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 had on masks to protect against the smoke-filled air. The towers were now small mountains of rubble. Only a few stories of the metal facades of the buildings still stood, appearing like tombstones 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 and I was told recently that the flag remained at Ground Zero throughout the rescue and recovery effort as a well-earned symbol of honor and remembrance for the 71 law enforcement officers who died there on 9-11.
I'll 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; Officer Stephen Driscoll; Officer Vincent Danz; Officer Jerome Dominguez; Officer John Perry; and Officer Walter "Wally" Weaver.
Scott mentioned that he was a close friend with several of the missing officers. In fact, Scott said he was planning to go on a fly-fishing trip with Wally Weaver in October. He commented 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 he 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, he said. It was a comforting thought.
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." It was a sentiment shared by all Americans at the time.
So much of the rest of the year has been filled with events honoring the heroes of 9-11, and deservedly so. A month after 9-11, 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.
Obviously, 9-11 received much of our focus that night. 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.
Two days later, hundreds of people gathered at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for our 10th anniversary wreath laying ceremony. Joining us that day were about 30 family members of some of the officers who had died on 9-11. They arrived by bus just moments before the ceremony began and solemnly filed into their seats.
A special wreath was placed in honor of their loved ones and they offered their own personal show of remembrance with the placement of red roses on the Memorial's center medallion. Tears were shed that day, but most said they were glad to have made the trip. After all, that Memorial would now have very special meaning to each of them.
December brought with it another special salute to the law enforcement heroes of 9-11. The Olympic Torch Relay scheduled a stop at the Memorial in their honor. Patriotism flooded the site as hundreds stood by and watched as Officer Isaac Hoopii of the Defense Protective Service (the Pentagon Police) proudly carried the Olympic Torch onto the Memorial grounds accompanied by his K-9 dog, and 12 police colleagues.
The Pentagon police had saved many lives on 9-11 and they were lucky to escape with their own. Among those there to greet Officer Hoopii was Wayne Sinclair, one of the Pentagon victims who narrowly escaped death thanks to Isaac Hoopii's daring rescue efforts.
In April, 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 that day.
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. The names of 480 new additions, including the 72 officers who died on 9-11, were all read aloud. 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 living people to be pulled from the World Trade Center. Their story is all about courage and a will to survive and recover from one of the greatest acts of evil and destruction our nation will ever know.
That is the memory I have chosen to remember the most.
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