Unless you weren’t born yet or were too young, Americans and people around the world remember clearly what they were doing Sept. 11, 2001.
Twenty years later, it is a significant time to reflect on the horrific events of that day when America was attacked, and to honor those who lost their lives and those who rushed in to help.
New Smyrna Beach resident Brian Grisanti was a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Engine Co. 160, which shared quarters with Rescue 5, on Staten Island on 9/11. He worked in Brooklyn most of his career. The retired 63-year-old, who rides his bike daily, golfs and works out three times a week, still gets emotional when talking abut the 11 Rescue 5 members lost that day. All that was recovered from them was one finger.
Mr. Grisanti might have been with them except for an emergency errand he ran on 9/11, ending his shift at about 8:30 a.m. (he normally got off at 9 a.m.).
He heard a plane hit the twin towers and thought it was an accident. By the time the second plane hit, he knew it was intentional.
“I went to my mother’s house and my kid’s school,” Mr. Grisanti said. “I told her I have to go back to work. I have to get junior out of school and you are going to have to watch him.”
He had to get back to his crew with whom he had just had breakfast with at 8 a.m.
“I wanted to get in there and start digging,” Mr. Grisanti said. “I was there three months. We didn’t want to leave anybody behind.”
Lt. Grisanti and his fellow firefighters headed straight for Ground Zero.
“By the time I got there, the two buildings were down” he said. “You still had the smoke. It was such a surreal feeling marching up Broadway. You didn’t hear a word. Just an eerie, eerie feeling. Major events like that just blaze into your memory. You can’t unsee it. Out of the 343 (firemen) who died, I personally knew at least 60 of them.”
Mr. Grisanti went on to detail many stories of heroism that day, such as the “Miracle Seven” whose lives were saved because, as they were going up the second tower a heavyset woman was coming down, having a lot of trouble. They opted to stay and accompany her down and by doing so they all survived as the tower collapsed they were caught in an air pocket and were rescued.
He remembered the iconic symbol of the three firefighters hoisting the American flag at Ground Zero (Danny McWilliams, Billy Eisengrien and George Johnson) had actually taken the flag which they found nearby to place there and he advised them not to, but they did it anyway. He was glad they “disobeyed” him as that picture went worldwide and became a patriotic symbol for this country.
“I was a workaholic,” Mr. Grisanti said. “After that happened, I decided to start enjoying life a little bit more. I had to reinvent myself.”
He is a supporter of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. For more information, visit t2t.org. He Also wanted to give accolades to his best friend Capt. John Graziano, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2015. Several forms of cancer have been identified as affecting those who were present at Ground Zero.
U.S. Navy veteran Richard Bowe of Port Orange is a retired New York City police officer, who worked in Brooklyn/East Flatbush 67th precinct. On 9/11, he was already retired from NYPD, but was active as a volunteer firefighter and worked part time as a limousine driver.
Mr. Bowe was scheduled to pick up a family at the World Center Marriott that morning, but his pickup was canceled, which saved his life. He watched the second plane hit the Twin Towers on television and as captain of his hook and ladder company, knew he would be making the trek from his home in Long Island to Manhattan.
He was supposed to go a birthday party for his nephew, who was five on 9/11. He had to explain to the boy, “There’s bad people in the world that have nothing to do with you.”
Residents of Patchogue on Long Island inundated his fire department with supplies to take to Manhattan.
“We headed to Ground Zero (on 9/12) and found out where to drop off our supplies,” Mr. Bowe said. “At that time there was dense smoke around Ground Zero. We dropped off our supplies and went to a staging area. The towers were gone. Firetrucks were crushed. It was one pile still smoldering and burning. We got with a group of other firemen and walked into Ground Zero. Some of the stuff we saw…”
His voice trailed off describing the human body parts found and things he can never forget. “We moved hand over fist to move the debris to find anything,” he said. “One of the things that bothered us is that each fireman has a PASS alarm. They activate it when they are going to go work a fire. Any time they stop moving, it goes off with a high-pitched chirping sound. We could hear the chirping from where we were. There were firemen that went in trying to rescue people before the towers fell and got caught. It’s like it happened yesterday.”
Mr. Bowe and his volunteers kept going back and forth from Patchogue for six months.
Mr. Bowe and Mr. Grisanti like how the 9/11 Tribute Museum in New York was created even though being there evokes strong emotions. And both simply want people to “never forget.”