The following is an account of that day 11 years ago from one of my best friends, Bryan Whalen — a high school classmate of mine, godfather to my daughter and father to two of my godchildren. To him and everyone else who were a part of this — in NYC, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania — we say THANK YOU!
9-11 ….always an emotional day for me. Proud memories of activating our Army National Guard unit and making the 200 mile trip down to help out and being one of the first units to arrive on scene ….and oh what a horrible scene! Our eyes, noses and throats burning in the toxic dust and smoke that has now done permanent damage to many of us. Our highly trained and motivated soldiers ready to Aid Civil Authority …and finding there wasn’t much Civil Authority left to report to. So we took charge and divided up the area into sectors and began search and rescue operations….in dark buildings with no power, searching floor by floor and in some cases door by door up tall apartment buildings using debris filled stairwells. A few happy moments of rescuing those in need but all too often finding just parts of bodies and wreckage in this hell!
Bryan Whalen At Ground Zero of the WTC on 9-11-01
Some exciting memories now flood my consciousness along with scenes I struggle to keep buried but can never forget no matter how hard I try. …that term “we will never forget” that is so easily bandied about each year around this time has a much more personal meaning to those that were there and wish we could forget… At least some of the horrible experiences we encountered!
Eventually, Civil Authority took control again and this mission would give way to security operations, and while still necessary and in some cases productive, had its own exciting moments burned into my memory interlaced with hours and hours of boredom.
You could not have found a more motivated group of soldiers though ready to carry the fight to the enemy! ….something most of us eventually got the chance to do. That brought its own moments of joy and horror and sealed a bond with my ‘brothers’ that was forged in the rubble of Ground Zero in NYC.
My prayers this day and everyday are that nobody ever has to experience such horrors again! ….but knowing evil is out there and thankful that brave men and women stand ready to respond again and again. My watch has passed and I now salute those that Stand To for us all.
So the occasional tear in my eye and choked up words in my throat today are for the swirl of pride, sadness, horror, and unidentified emotions that well up in me around this time each year. I will never forget.