Like most Americans, I had an empty feeling in my body. I wanted to do something, anything to help. I remembered seeing Mayor Rudy Giuliani on TV a few days after the attacks saying that if you want to help, visit the city, see the attractions and spend money. My niece was getting married in May up in North Carolina, so I decided to attend the wedding, and then take Amtrak up to NYC.
Some friends of mine drove me to the train station, and I boarded my car for the overnight trip to the city. A couple of hours into the ride, I decided to stretch my legs and made my way to the lounge car. I sat at a table with about six others and the conversation was about the attacks. One woman from NYC was describing the horrors she had seen as she volunteered at the site. She was telling us about this terrible stench in the air. She said she could still smell it for over three months before it finally dissipated. I asked, “What did it smell like?” She turned to me and said, “Death. It smelled like death.” There were others at the table from the city and they were expressing how helpless they felt afterwards. Their city was attacked and they could do nothing about it. I began to empathize with them, imagining how I would feel if something like this had happened in my own backyard.
The next day my train pulled into Penn Station, which is located under Madison Square Garden. I walked the block to my hotel and checked in, put my bags away and headed for the subway station nearby. I arrived at the closest station to the WTC. It was a couple of blocks away because the collapse of the buildings had closed the one at the site. At that time, there was a viewing platform built so visitors could see into the massive hole in the ground. By May, most of the debris had been removed, except for a few beams still protruding through the bedrock and a few piles of rubble. There were thousands upon thousands of people there. Many of them crying and visibly shaken. I handed my ticket to a National guardsman at the entrance and walked up the broad platform to the viewing area not knowing what to expect.
I had to wait a few minutes to make my way up to the front of the platform. As I drew nearer to the edge, the full scope of the destruction appeared. Tears instantly began flowing from my eyes as I finally got a look at the 17-acre, 80’ deep hole where the seven buildings of the WTC complex had stood. Just then, a bigger realization hit me. Eight months earlier, 2,753 people lost their lives at the very place I was standing. I started praying for them and their families, as were most of the people on the platform. I shot a couple of rolls of film and then left to let others pay their respects.
I wanted to try to get closer but barricades and fences were everywhere. Soldiers and police numbered in the thousands. Each carrying fully automatic weapons locked and loaded. At that time, Manhattan was the safest city in the world. All air traffic was monitored closely and security of one form or another was found every few feet. I turned left onto Liberty Street and stopped in front of the heavily damaged Deutsche Bank building, a 40-story building built in 1974. It was damaged by falling buildings across the street and was deemed structurally unsound. Thick black netting covered the building from top to bottom to prevent debris from falling to the sidewalk below.
I walked a little farther and I came to another partially demolished building. I noticed some gray dust piled up in a corner and realized it was part of the dust cloud from the collapse. I took a film canister and scooped up what amounted to about a tablespoon and tucked it in my camera case. I keep it as a reminder to me that death from an enemy can come at any time.
Next week, I will tell you about the rest of this trip and my visits to NYC for the first and second anniversaries of 9-11. Have a great week, and may God bless you all!