By Bob and Sandy Nesoff
July 28, 1945, a few months short of the end of World War II, dawned with a dense fog. Even though the country was still on a war footing, New Yorkers prepared for their normal daily routine. By 9:45 a.m. most had arrived at their jobs and despite the lack of visibility the day was just like any other…until that moment.
A 10-ton B-25 bomber on its way to Newark Airport had somehow wandered over Manhattan, mistakenly heading to LaGuardia Airport. It never made it. Unable to see more than a foot or two the pilot had no way of knowing that he was headed directly for the 79th floor of the Empire State Building.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 people looked skyward and saw little more than small clouds flitting across the blue advance and were unable to process how a plane had slammed into the World Trade Center. The answer became abundantly clear moments later when another plane rammed the second tower setting them both on a path to crash into a pile of rubble and toxic smoke taking nearly 3,000 people with it.
New York came together as only New York can do. Police, fire, EMS workers all raced to the site. Doctors and volunteers came in from the outer boroughs, New Jersey, Connecticut and in the days to come, literally from around the world.
Over the next two years the recovery effort, seeking the remains of those who died—any small piece of DNA that could bring closure to a grieving family—recovery workers sifted through the concrete and steel.
Construction workers joined the uniformed services in moving literally every small piece of what remained of the World Trade Center, never giving up hope that they might bring peace to a family. Others sifted through the wreckage at the Fresh Kills Land Fill where the detritus was carter.
Rudy Giuliani earned the title of “America’s Mayor” for the calm and reassurance he brought to the minutes, hours and days following the attack. Then Governor George Pataki lent his personal support and state agencies in the recovery effort. New Jersey’s acting governor, Donald DiFrancesco provided assistance from across the river.
In the years since the attack the first responders and recovery workers were treated slightly better than veterans returning from Vietnam. Many responders and recovery workers fell ill and were marginalized by various governments.
But all of that appears to have changed. Fittingly on May 30, the traditional Memorial Day, New York City hosted first responders and recovery workers to a private viewing of the Ground Zero Memorial. On hand to greet them and thank each one individually were Pataki, Giuliani, DiFrancesco, Mayor Bloomberg, Christine Quinn and a host of government officials. Each of them stood and shook the hands and personally thanked all of those who passed through the reception line.
On the street outside the memorial hundreds of people stood behind police barricades holding signs reminiscent of the night of 9-11 heaping praise on those who rushed to Lower Manhattan.
Not a few of the invitees walked through the site with moist eyes remembering that they had stood on this very spot with toxic dirt falling on them. The mood wasn’t upbeat but it had the feeling that American and Americans standing together will win.