9-11 is always a hard day for me. I carry a lot of emotional baggage from that day as well as the knowledge that under stress, I'll do the job that I signed up for. That's actually scary when I sit back and think of it - crap like that can get someone killed. My Department, the NYPD, lost 23 members that day and another 49 members have succumbed to illnesses related to their 9-11 duties over the past 10 years. At least, 49 members that the Department and the City government recognize as related - I'm sure there are others that we have lost that are missing from the list.
The story I want to relate today is one I was told by a NYPD Detective that afternoon, hours after the towers fell.
He pulled up to my post in an unmarked police car. The front of the car was melted. The headlights looked like slag from a glass factory. When he put the car in park, his partner exited from the passenger side and started to slowly shuffle in random directions, constantly picking up random pieces of paper that were all over the place from the fall of the towers. I noticed that his partner was wearing a fighter fire's helmet, which certainly seemed out of place even in the chaos of that day.
The first detective, the one that had been driving, told me that the two of them had been assigned to the crime scene at the foot of the towers. They were told to catalogue and tag the debris that had fallen when the two towers were hit. He'd never seen a crime scene like it, and didn't even know where to start. It was then that he heard the bodies falling.
There were people stuck in the towers, above the points of impact, that leapt to their deaths rather then burn alive or die from the smoke, and they were landing (and dying) around the two detectives. Before that day, I could never have pictured the image, but on that day I could imagine it to well.
When the towers fell, they felt it before they heard it. The ground shook, they looked up and saw the world crashing down towards them. The detective that was relating the story said he grabbed his partner's arm and ran with him, but they got separated in the chaos. At some point he threw himself and some random woman he was near under a fire truck, just as parts of the towers were impacting.
At some time after, he crawled out and tried to find his partner, but he couldn't. He did manage to find his now partially melted car, and started to canvass the area, looking for his missing partner. He found him about an hour and a half later, sitting on the back of a fire engine.
Some firefighters had found the partner wandering around aimlessly, picking up random papers, studying them and putting them in his pockets. His detective's shield was still clipped to his belt. They decided he was in shock, put him on their truck (where he happily borrowed one of their helmets) and kept an eye on him until his partner found him.
I tried talking to the partner, but he wouldn't respond. Truthfully, I don't think he heard me. Not from loss of hearing, but because his mind was escaping within... he just couldn't handle what he had witnessed. He did respond to his partner telling him to get back in the car. Not with words, he just got back in the passenger's side seat in the front. Even reached down and put the red bubble light on the dash, out of habit more then anything else I suspect.
I'll carry 9-11-01 with me for the rest of my life. We lost a lot that day, both as individuals and as a country. We didn't just lose friends, family, coworkers, countrymen - we also lost our innocence.
Paul - My friend, fellow gamer, classmate, extended family - you will never be forgotten. Rest well lad, you deserve it.