Eleven Stories From Ground Zero On The Anniversary Of 9/11


Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll — BI

Stepping on the bus this morning, I asked the bus driver, “What do you think, Lincoln Tunnel gonna be packed?””I’m not sure, man, we haven’t been through yet. But who knows, it’s 9/11, anything can happen.”

And that last phrase,”anything can happen,” stuck with me for a few minutes.

We as Americans, even after eleven years, still remain sensitive, and yet mourn the loss that occurred more than a decade ago.

In a lot of ways, we’ve been conditioned, we know anything can happen, because it did happen, and especially today, on the eleventh anniversary, for a lot of us today is when 9/11 feels like yesterday.

What follows are eleven portraits; eleven people and their stories. Young, old, local or out of town, 9/11 touched all of us, and today we remember.

Susan Ballestero's sister, Loretta Anne Vero, was in Tower 1

'She was on the 94th floor, so we knew, we knew there was no way to get out of there. There was still hope though, even though we knew it was improbable. We thought maybe she was in the hospital. We had two detectives assigned to us, and on our own we called all the hospitals. We never heard word back from anyone.'

They never found Loretta's remains. It was like she just ceased to exist. Susan said it took about 4 years for her to get over the ordeal. To be honest she looked like she was still in shock. This was her first time to the site of the memorials, and she came because her husband was reading the 'B' names. They also got to do a personal dedication for Loretta.

'It took me about four years to come to terms with it,' she said. Having no remains, no finality or closure, just made things worse for Susan. I didn't ask her how long it took to finally stop calling the hospitals, but something tells me it took a while.

Army Specialist Christian Mason was in the 4th grade when the towers came down

Christian told me that he enlisted to fight, though he was just a child when 9/11 happened, the memory stuck with him.

'By the time I was 17, I was down at the recruiting station.'

He went for the Marines, then the Army, but the wait list was too long, so he joined the National Guard.

'I've really wanted to go overseas, but I haven't gotten the opportunity. I just wanted to serve the country. When I tried the active services, they told me I would have to wait 8 months. I didn't want to wait. I signed with the National Guard that same day.'

Christian is a Military Policeman, part of the 'field MPs,' guys responsible for base and convoy security.

Doug Doughty and his fellow firefighters are not from NYC, but still they come every year

'We come down and visit some of the guys at the Wall Street Fire Department,' he tells me, showing me his shirt. 'They gave us unit shirts, because we came up with some big paintings of their (Engine and Ladder insignia).'

He and his colleagues--Dave Mazurek and two sons Leighton and Brian, and also Bob Beverage ('Like the Drink')--come down every year bearing gifts for the local fire departments here.

'We work up in Plainville, Connecticut, but we still want to show our support.'

Jimmy Bacolo couldn't talk enough about his old friend Jon Fisher

Bacolo was working on the Staten Island Ferry at the time.

'I'll never forget that guy and how much I owe him and his brothers. They gave me a lot of work when I was struggling. I figure I owe it to him to be here, so that's why I came, I owe Jon more than I could ever repay.'

Bacolo is a veteran of the Vietnam war, a former infantryman, so he's familiar with loss.

'They never recovered his body. That was the worst part. My wife, her cousin passed here too, but they found fragments, bone fragments, and used DNA to identify.

'I saw him two weeks before it happened. Saw him at a Yankee game, and, you know, we told jokes and it was a good time. Later on, I couldn't believe it. I had just seen him.'

Brad Simon didn't think he'd ever see his father again

'We knew what was going on, and we knew he had to go.'

His father and cousin were both firefighters at the time.

'I was young but I remember thinking I would never see him again, once he walked out that door.'

It took his father two weeks to come home--though they knew he had survived--he stayed at the site, working to rescue any survivors. All told, Brad's father worked at Ground Zero for about 3 months.

He might have been looking for Brad's cousin, Robert McPadden, who went into the Towers and never came out.

'He was 32, he had two sons and a wife. Thankfully the city took care of them.'

Joe Loliscio arrived on the scene to a gigantic pile of rubble

He was a volunteer firefighter on Long Island, and he headed into Manhattan to see if he could help. He still has trouble putting his experience into words.

'Aw ... there was nothing left. Nothing. Just a pile. We were here and there was nothing. Devastation. Unbelievable, indescribable devastation.'

Joe fell in with the rescue and recovery effort.

'You know, the regular firefighters, the paid guys, they don't like us too much, but on that day they took all the help they could get. But there wasn't much to rescue. Everyone was dead or dying.'

'I was in awe. No one could believe it happened, to the U.S., to us. It happened to us.'

A lot of people know about Firefighter Michael Joseph Cawley because of Linda Mula

But she never knew him herself.

Linda told me her personal story of a deep fear and depression following 9/11.

'I was so scared. I was scared to come down here, and scared to even talk about it to anyone.'

She said she had to make peace with God before any difference occurred in her life. Then one day, while she was at a restaurant, a small poster fell at her feet.

'I picked it up and saw it was one of those pictures people put up on posterboard, like at the entrance of businesses, and it had firefighters on it. So I picked it up and put it in my purse.'

Later she read it, and saw it had Firefighter Cawley's name on it.

'There was 343 of them, and I always thought it would be good to pick just one, and try to help people remember that one American.'

Now, every year she stands at the memorial with a poster of Michael, telling people his story.

'He was one of those guys who was off for the day, he had just gotten off shift. And he volunteered to come down here. He ran toward the danger.'

Michael Teferi was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with his mother when the South Tower collapsed

He was on foot, the bridge was shaking, he remembers thinking it might even collapse. The South Tower was crumbling right in front of the eyes of Michael and his mother, the eyes of the world in fact.

'It was astounding, the sight of it, I'll never forget.'

Michael was attending 4th grade at PS 234 on Chambers street, blocks from the World Trade centres.

'We were only in school a short time before my mother came to get me. I remember thinking, initially, that it must have been a movie or something.'

Then he got a chance to look out the windows of his school.

'I saw people jumping. People were jumping from the flames. And I knew then that this was serious.'

Tracy Armentano has been here for every memorial since the 2nd

She's one of a many people I met who came from Connecticut. She spoke in great, energetic bursts, words tinged with frustration and anger.

'These people died because they were American, that's the only reason, because they're American and they were in this country.'

Armentano and her husband take a few days off of work every year to come up here.

'It's important to remember and to do it right. So we arrive on the 10th and leave on the 12th. I feel like the least I can do is come here once a year.'

Joseph Rabitio was a construction worker up on 39th and Madison when he got word

'As soon as I knew, I told my apprentice, 'pack up your tools, I'm going down there.'

Joseph was a former Emergency Medical Technician, for about 4 years, and then he went into construction.

'I knew I was strong, that I could carry stuff, and I knew I could do triage for any of the injured, so I got down there as fast as I could.'

Breaking up several times, Rabitio told me every detail of his experience.

'I came up out of the train, and there was just this sea of people trying to get away. I couldn't believe my eyes. And I kept working my way to them, to get to the Towers. Once I got there, I started helping out the injured, I helped them find some of the EMT stations the hospitals were setting up.

'I was in the lobby of the South Tower when one of the firefighters looked at me and just screamed, 'run!' and I grabbed up these two injured women beside me and took off. I'm still friends with those two, and later they told me I carried them out of the building. I don't remember that though, I just remember trying to get them out and get them to shelter, or protection. There was this huge wall, we called it the curtain wall, of the tower coming down.

'We couldn't get away from it, so I just took the girls over to this NYPD van and we hid behind it.'

Afterward, Joe stayed at the site every day for three months to help clean up, calling it the 'most incredible experience of' his life.

'You really see the goodness in people, when they're confronted with such a horrific situation as that.'

'You know, I got health problems now, but I'd do it over again, given the choice. And my health is nothing compared to the emotional problems. My neighbours, they lost their little girl, and they knew I was at Ground Zero every day. And every day I would come home and they would ask me if I'd seen anything. That was the toughest thing I ever had to do, was face them every day.'

Richie Flynn is visibly shaking when I see him leaving the memorial site

When people ask Firefighter Richie Flynn what injuries earned him a medical retirement in 2002, he tells them, 'I was retired for having a broken heart.'

Flynn was in a leadership position and had been fighting fires for 22 years at that point. As soon as they got word he took his four guys down there to the Towers to begin evacuations.

'I was a driver, a pump guy, you know, and I remember setting up evacuations, because neither of the towers had come down yet. My guys all shot straight up stairs to help bring folks down, that was the last time I saw any of them.'

Then the towers started to come down. Flynn was too close.

'I couldn't get away, there was no way to get away, so I dove beneath one of the trucks. The truck was destroyed by the debris, and it took me fifteen minutes to get out from underneath it, the dust was so thick that I thought I was going to suffocate, and when I finally got out I saw all the people and they were covered in soot, they looked like ghosts, man, I'll never forget,' he says, shaking a bit and breaking off.

'I tell people I live alone and they ask me why. I lost 100 friends in those buildings. So I tell them I live alone because I don't have any friends left.'

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.