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America, September 11th: The Triumph of the Human Spirit

America, September 11th: The Triumph of the Human Spirit

by Jackie Waldman

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Every tragedy has its heroes, and there were many in the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Jackie Waldman has collected the stories of some of the firefighters, rescue workers, police, medics, relatives of missing loved ones, and strangers who, in the face of horror, sprung into action to save lives and help their communities.


Every tragedy has its heroes, and there were many in the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Jackie Waldman has collected the stories of some of the firefighters, rescue workers, police, medics, relatives of missing loved ones, and strangers who, in the face of horror, sprung into action to save lives and help their communities.

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Red Wheel/Weiser
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America, September 11th The Courage to Give

The Triumph of the Human Spirit

By JACKIE WALDMAN, Brenda Welchlin, Karen Frost

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2001 Jackie Waldman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-823-8


Kindness at Ground Zero

Jessica McBride, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The clothes I wore around Ground Zero last week are piled in a corner of my hotel room, crowned by the hospital mask I breathed through for days. They stink of smoke and death. So did I, until I took two showers.

As a former police reporter, I am more inured to tragedy than most people. I have been to my share of murder scenes. This is different. The trauma here comes in waves.

On the way to New York, I passed electronic highway signs stating that New York was closed. The whole city. Closed. Who would believe that New York could be closed with the abruptness of a school during a snow emergency?

As I drove on, I thought of Lt. David Chong. Chong is a New York police lieutenant who was a keynote speaker at a Midwest gang conference two weeks ago in Milwaukee. I spoke to him for just a half-hour, but he is one of those dramatic personalities who make an impression even in the briefest of meetings.

It was devastating to imagine someone so vibrant losing his life this way. For three years, he had risked everything posing undercover as an Asian gang member. He received countless death threats. But he made it through.

Now I wondered whether he was still alive. The officials who brought him to Milwaukee—the Great Lakes International Gang Investigators Coalition—were wondering the same thing. It later turned out he had been hospitalized with a concussion. But I wonder: How many David Chongs were among the victims?

In New York, I made it past three sets of barricades and approached Ground Zero. The smoke and silt covered everything—cars, streets, people—in a ghostly blanket. The burned hulls of squad cars were abandoned on virtually every corner. Charred papers or soda cups remained inside some of them, images of lives interrupted.

Emergency vehicles zigzagged everywhere, dodging soldiers and rescuers who were trudging around with frozen faces. The smoke chapped my lips and gave me a lingering cough.

Ground Zero was a looming mishmash of mountainous rubble. There are thousands of people in there, I kept reminding myself. Thousands of people who just vanished, turned to dust.

A friend asked if I took pictures of the area around Ground Zero.

Would you take a picture of hell?

When I walked into a firehouse, another stranger in the haze, the exhausted firefighters, just back from digging at the World Trade Center site, offered me food. I can't possibly take your food, I told them. They insisted. I refused. After the fifth firefighter offered me food, I gave in.

Firefighters are used to helping people, not being helped. The latter makes them uncomfortable. They invited me to spend the night at the firehouse, watching their rescue efforts and hearing their stories. Firefighter Jamal Braithwaite dragged a mattress into a room for me and made a comfortable bed, without being asked. Everyone takes care of everyone in Ground Zero.

The following morning, a newspaper report said a child's hand was found clutching a doll. A man and woman were found still holding hands, their wedding rings intact. The woman's head and the man's legs were missing.

As I read the newspaper in the firehouse, the emotions I had been holding back started to surge in my chest, threatening to overtake me. Firefighter Rick Saracelli was watching. He was feeling it, too. We forced the emotions down together. The brief connection helped.

As I left the firehouse in the pouring rain, a firefighter came rushing over with a pair of donated hiking boots to replace my running shoes. I can't take those, I insisted. He said they were too small for any firefighter's feet and motioned over to the mountain of donated goods they would not be able to use. Strangers had given them everything from toothbrushes to contact lens solution to T-shirts five times too small.

I took the boots, mostly to pacify him, and then set them down in a corner of the kitchen. A few minutes later, he spied the boots and asked why I wasn't wearing them. He looked hurt, so I finally put them on. They gave me a plastic rain poncho, too.

The Salvation Army, serving reporters and rescuers alike, gave me a warm cup of coffee and a pair of orange slickers not far from the station. A block later, a teenage boy offered bottled water. I took one; he said to take two. I stopped to speak with a pair of firefighters from Rhode Island whom I had met the day before, and as I was leaving, one of them shoved a pair of gloves into my hands. He didn't want my hands to get cold. I hadn't mentioned being cold. He gave me a flashlight, too.

As a reporter, I am used to being treated with animosity or aloofness at crime scenes. But everyone was in this together.

I looked down and smiled. Just about everything I was wearing had been given to me by a series of strangers. Without them, I would have been soaking wet and very cold.

After about 48 hours with minimal sleep, I needed to get someplace where gray dust wouldn't eat at my lungs and people weren't talking about picking up pieces of other people's heads. I had $6 in my pocket but needed to walk almost 50 blocks on almost no sleep to get to my hotel.

A state trooper guarding an intersection stopped me, asked me if I wanted some coffee. I thanked him.

Not far away, restaurants like Olive Garden and Hard Rock Cafe had closed to the public, and were serving rescuers for free.

Another few blocks and I was stopped by two young women who peppered me with questions. How could they help? They had heard there were no more volunteers needed because there are so many offering their services.

I imagined the firefighters heading back out to dig, covered with gray dust, talking about body parts. What could the two do? I told them to wait a week and then go down to Ground Zero and help the firefighters.

Exhausted from sleeplessness and emotion, I hailed a cab. I only have $6, I told the driver. Please take me as close to my hotel as that will get me. He took me all the way there. If the fare goes over, the New York cabbie said, don't worry about it.

Everyone is taking care of everyone now.

The New York Fire Department's Engine 54 sent fifteen men to the first call for help. None returned. The forty-five fire fighters left behind worked 24-hour shifts and returned to the attack site on their own time to search for their comrades. While they were gone, folks in the neighborhood built a tribute—with food donations, flowers, cards, candles, American flags under the photos of the station's missing firefighters.


Playing for the Fighting 69th

William Harvey

On September 16, 2001, 1 had the most incredible and moving experience of my life. Juilliard organized a quartet to play at the Armory in New York. The Armory is a huge military building where families of people missing from the disaster went to wait for news of their loved ones. Entering the building was very difficult emotionally, because the entire building, the size of a city block, was completely covered with posters of missing people. Thousands of posters, spread out up to eight feet above the ground, each featuring a different, smiling, face.

I made my way to the huge central room and found my Juilliard buddies. For two hours the three of us sight-read quartets. I don't think I will soon forget the grief counselor from the Connecticut State Police who listened the entire time, or the woman who listened only to "Memories" from Cats, crying the whole time.

At 7 P.M., the other two players had to leave; they had been playing at the Armory since one in the afternoon and simply couldn't play any more. I volunteered to stay and play solo, since I had just gotten there.

I soon realized that the evening had just begun for me: a man in fatigues who introduced himself as Sergeant Major asked me if I'd mind playing for his soldiers as they came back from digging through the rubble at Ground Zero. Masseuses had volunteered to give his men massages, he said, and he didn't think anything would be more soothing than getting a massage and listening to violin music at the same time. So at 9 P.M., I headed up to the second floor where the soldiers were arriving. From then until 11:30 P.M., I played everything I could from memory: Bach B Minor Partita, Tchaikovsky Concerto, Dvorak Concerto, Paganini Caprices 1 and 17, Vivaldi Winter and Spring, the theme from Schindler's List, Tchaikovsky Melodie, Meditation from Thais, "Amazing Grace," "My Country 'Tis of Thee," "Turkey in the Straw," "Boil Dem Cabbage Down."

Never have I played for a more grateful audience. Somehow it didn't matter that by the end, my intonation was shot and I had no bow control. I would have lost any competition I was playing in, but it didn't matter. The men would come up the stairs in full gear, remove their helmets, look at me, and smile.

At 11:20 P.M., I was introduced to Col. Slack, head of the regiment. After thanking me, he said to his friends, "Boy, today was the toughest day yet. I made the mistake of going back into the pit, and I'll never do that again."

Eager to hear a first-hand account, I asked, "What did you see?" He stopped, swallowed hard, and said, "What you'd expect to see." The colonel stood there as I played a lengthy rendition of "Amazing Grace," which he claimed was the best he'd ever heard. By this time it was 11:30 P.M., and I didn't think I could play anymore. I asked Sergeant Major if it would be appropriate if I played the National Anthem. He shouted above the chaos of the milling soldiers to call them to attention, and I played as the men of the 69th Regiment saluted an invisible flag.

After shaking a few hands and packing up, I was leaving when one of the privates accosted me to say that the colonel wanted to see me again. He took me down to the War Room, but we couldn't find the colonel, so he gave me a tour of the War Room.

It turns out that the regiment I played for is the Famous Fighting 69th, the most decorated regiment in the U. S. Army. He pointed out a letter the division received from Abraham Lincoln, offering his condolences after the Battle of Antietam—the 69th suffered the most casualties of any division at that historic battle. Finally, we located the colonel. After thanking me again, he presented me with the coin of the regiment. "We only give these to someone who's done something special for the 69th," he informed me. He called over the regiment's historian to tell me the significance of all the symbols on the coin.

As I rode the taxi back to Juilliard—free, of course, since taxi service was free in New York during this time—I was numb. Not only was this evening the proudest I've ever felt to be an American, it was my most meaningful as a musician and a person. At Juilliard, kids can be critical of each other and competitive. Teachers expect, and in many cases get, technical perfection. But this wasn't about that. The soldiers didn't care that I had so many memory slips I lost count. They didn't care that when I forgot how the second movement of the Tchaikovsky went, I had to come up with my own improvisation until I somehow got to a cadence. I've never seen a more appreciative audience, and I've never understood so fully what it means to communicate music to other people.

And how did it change me as a person? Let's just say that next time I want to get into a petty argument about whether Richter or Horowitz was better, I'll remember that when I asked the colonel to describe the pit formed by the tumbling of the Towers, he couldn't. Words only go so far, and even music can only go a little further from there.

When planes were grounded, the American Red Cross teamed up with Amtrak and Coca-Cola to establish the Clara Barton Express train to bring essential supplies into New York City. The train, named after the founder of the American Red Cross, was used to transport 20,000 cleanup kits, 20,000 hygiene kits, cases of paper tissues and beverages. Included in the supplies were eye drops and dust masks, two items not normally delivered to disaster scenes.


With Compassion and Bravery

Bright Horizons Family Solutions is the world's leading provider of employer-sponsored child care, early education, and work/life consulting services, managing more than 365 child care and early education centers in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific Rim. Bright Horizons serves more than 300 clients, including eighty-one Fortune 500 companies and forty-four of the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers," as recognized by Working Mother magazine. Bright Horizons was recently named one of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" by Fortune magazine. One of their childcare centers was just around the corner from the World Trade Center. What follows is an excerpt of a letter the Chairman of the Board wrote recently to her staff.

To the Bright Horizons community,

I have just returned from New York City where we are launching, in partnership with J. P MorganChase and Mercy Corps, an emergency response effort on behalf of children and families. We have an excellent, highly skilled team and we have already moved into high gear. We will be providing a variety of services and materials for children, parents, and caregivers. Please check our website (www.brighthorizons.com) for further information and details on how to help.

Traveling around NY was a shock. I drove into the city late Sunday night. I saw the familiar skyline with the Chrysler building, the Empire State building, and others all lit up. But of course, the view of lower Manhattan was shocking with the absence of the World Trade Center towers. Lower Manhattan was lit brightly by floodlights as emergency crews worked around the clock. Smoke still billows skyward.

I have worked and lived in a variety of disaster spots around the world. The environment now in NYC felt all too familiar to me, although I never thought I would feel this way in my own country. We have long been sheltered from the terror that other cultures live with around the world. Police were everywhere, streets were blocked off, security in all buildings was tight. Everywhere you walked you saw posters plastered on walls of loved ones lost. People are afraid and somber.

One of our centers is a few short blocks from the World Trade Center. Joan Cesaretti, Haifa Bautista, and the faculty showed tremendous compassion and bravery during the crisis. As the towers crumbled, scores of panicked people escaping the towers stampeded into the center, covered in inches of ash and dust. The teachers and directors responded and ministered to all who came in. They washed and bandaged cuts, they washed eyes and faces, they ripped up crib sheets to make face masks as the area rapidly became thick with smoke. They talked to panicked victims and kept them calm. Only one child was left in the center, and teacher Ingrid Gutierrez refused to put her down for hours until they could find the child's mother. At one point a fireman rushed into the center and urgently ordered them to evacuate immediately. As they stepped outside, the child looked around and said, "What happened to the world?" None of us know the answer.

Fortunately, all parents and children were accounted for, and no one was lost and injured from our community. Our other NYC centers became a sanctuary for children and parents. In one center, families stayed in the center for most of the day with their children. They felt safe, protected, and nurtured in the childcare center environment. They had no idea how they would get home. Teachers kept the children engaged and busy, and the children's spirits helped everyone to be strong.

Linda Mason, Chairman of the Board, Co-Founder, Bright Horizons Family Solutions

The day of the attack, ferries, tugboats, and dinghies appeared on the banks of Manhattan to bring people to safety.


Excerpted from America, September 11th The Courage to Give by JACKIE WALDMAN, Brenda Welchlin, Karen Frost. Copyright © 2001 Jackie Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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