Remembering the September 11th, 2001 Terror Attacks – 18 Years Later

It’s 8:45 EST, a minute before my life changed 18 years ago.

I want to stop the clock, but I can’t. Just like my life, it will change and I will have to face the memories again.

18 years ago it was just another September 11th, now it is a day that is etched into my brain until I draw my last breath.

My wife reminded me last night that on September 10th we had been watching Monday Night Football. My (formerly beloved) Giant’s lost to the Denver Broncos. We’d stayed up late to watch, even though I had election duty the next day. What should have been a day spent bitching about my team, would soon turn into a nightmare that I am forever trapped in.

I often wonder if people look at us and think, ‘why can’t they just move on?’

The simple answer is that we live with the aftermath of September 11th every day.

That morning, we lost 23 members of the NYPD, but since then we have lost over 240 and the reality for us is that this number will only grow. Most cannot fathom what we were exposed to, as the videos do not do it justice. For those of us who were there, we know what was in the air and what we were exposed to. I have never understood why the government lied, when they said, ‘the air is safe.’ Walking into Ground Zero we all knew that it wasn’t and it didn’t stop us from doing our job.

The other reason is that we do not have any closure.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, America was attacked at Pearl Harbor. There were over two thousand deaths and over one thousand wounded. It was the worst attack America had ever faced from an enemy. On August 15th, 1945, less than 5 years after the attack, Japan surrendered. While it didn’t bring back those we lost, there was some measure of closure. We’d been attacked and we brought our enemy to their knees.

18 years later and we are still fighting this war and there is no end in sight.

Last night, minutes into the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, our embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan was attacked; a stark reminder that our enemy has not surrendered and is alive and well.

On the morning of September 11th, we lost almost three thousand people, in the 18 years that have passed, we have lost nearly the same amount to the toxins they ingested either fleeing from or responding to the attack. Yet, when I have had occasion to speak on this topic, most have no idea.

They have no idea because there is little coverage of those numbers. It is America’s dirty little secret. They don’t know the staggering amount of people that continue to die, almost every day, nor the fact that, for many families of the original victims, there is no closure because, 18 years later, their loved ones have still not been identified.

Many, like me, feel as if we have been relegated to history and the recent fight to renew the VCF is a poignant reminder.

  • Rather than do what they promised to do, which was Never Forget, the 9/11 victims had to plead, threaten, and embarrass many in Congress to renew the funding; the very same politicians who get in front of any camera they can, on the anniversary of the attack, to pontificate to the rest of us about, ‘not forgetting.’

  • Rather than point a finger at our enemy, and call them out for the cowards they are, we look away, afraid to offend anyone. Even today, the NY Times posted an article about how, ‘planes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center.’ Unless we have sentient airliners, I’m pretty sure there were Islamic terrorists who aimed them at their targets.

  • Rather than stand tall and call it what it was, a terror attack, many in politics and the media have chosen to white wash it. Or, as one Congressperson insensitively put it, “Some people did something.”

18 years ago today, I stood next to my old partner, NYPD Lieutenant Paul Murphy, as we helped rescue and evacuate people from Ground Zero. On January 4th, 2018, Paul died from the 9/11 illnesses he had battled. Paul was a great cop, a loving husband & father, and a dear friend. I remember when I called him to tell him I had been diagnosed with 9/11 cancer. Even though he was fighting his own battle, he immediately counseled me on what I needed to do to get taken care of. I lost him only days later.

Paul, and all of my brothers and sisters who have fought and lost their battles, are my heroes. They exemplify the NYPD Motto: Fidelis Ad Mortem.

Today I remember them and all they sacrificed that fateful day. I just wish we could set our clocks back to September 12th and live our lives with that same level of commitment, respect, and appreciation.

Never Forget - “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.”

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Chernobyl & Memories of September 11th, 2001

I recently saw a post on social media discussing the new HBO mini-series: Chernobyl, so I thought I would check it out. Before I was an author, I was a NYC cop. I remember when the incident occurred back in April 1986, and all the ensuing media coverage. What I didn’t expect was the flashbacks I would experience and the parallels, to what occurred on September 11th that I would be presented with.

First, let me say that, from a historical perspective, I highly recommend watching this show. They have done an amazing job and it is quite compelling. That being said, as I watched it I began feeling more and more anxious and recalling my time in lower Manhattan following the September 11th terror attack.

Here are a few reasons:

1.       After the explosion at Chernobyl, police and fire responded to the scene, completely unaware of the dangers they would soon face. Even after they realized something wasn’t right, they continued to stay and perform their duty. By the same example, on the morning of September 11th, it was obvious we were under attack, but that didn’t mean anything to the first responders. Even after the South Tower fell, everyone remained behind; and continued in the evacuation and rescue efforts.

 2.       Residents from nearby Pripyat gathered on a train trestle to watch the incident in the distance, unaware of the danger that lurked in front of them. In one scene, you can see the radioactive ash that was being carried along by the wind, enveloping the onlookers, while children played in it. It became known as the Bridge of Death. Sadly, I remember the streets of lower Manhattan being covered in the same ash. It wasn’t radioactive, but it was certainly contaminated with toxins. Everywhere you walked you breathed it in and kicked it up with your footfalls. It reminded me of a grey snowstorm, but instead of it being a winter wonderland it was actually a nightmare.

 3.       In one scene, a mask is given to one of the miners, brought in to dig beneath the destroyed reactor. He asks if the mask will do anything, and the reply is ‘probably not.’ The same thing happened on 9/11, when we were given basic painters masks to wear. It seemed ludicrous to me, knowing the masks provided zero protection from the particles we were dealing with. It was so bad that even the cartridges on the heavy duty respirators were clogging in minutes. There is only so much you can do before you end up just accepting your fate and work without the useless equipment.

 4.       Lies – Socialism is many things, but transparent it is not. The residents and responders were lied to ‘for their own good.’ The international community was even lied to when they were told the situation at Chernobyl was minor and that it was under control. Everything was about assuaging their fears, but the reality was that the lies were all designed to protect the government, not the citizens. We like to believe that our government is different, but it is not. After 9/11, the focus was on returning New York City (and the Stock Market) back to normal, as quickly as possible, following the attack. The EPA Director came out and emphatically stated that the air around Ground Zero was safe; it wasn’t and they knew that. It was bad enough that they lied to the first responders and construction workers, but they re-opened the area and exposed innocent civilians to risk, many of whom are now sick and dying. There was no consideration given to the secondary contamination risk and the majority of us brought our uniforms and gear home, exposing out families to the toxins. Sadly, the government won’t even acknowledge this, even though the data shows an increase in medical illnesses among family members versus the general public. In the case of Chernobyl, the State was aware of a flaw in the RBMK reactors, but they chose to bury that fact. Prior to 9/11, the government was aware that there was actionable intelligence of a planned attack, yet this fact was kept out of the 9/11 Commission Report. Ironically, the death toll from Chernobyl is estimated between 3,000 and 100,000 (initial explosion and long term sickness), although the official number stands at only 31. We lost 3,000 people in the initial attack on the World Trade Center site and since then almost the same number have died and there are nearly 100,000 people that are sick from their exposure.

 5.       Promises – Interestingly enough, the brave men they sent in were promised that the State would take care of them. I wonder how many went in believing that the State would keep its promise, only to find out it was a lie. It’s easy to promise something in the middle of a crisis, but when the crisis is over memories fade quickly. Today, 17 years after the terror attack of September 11th, the heroes and victims are still fighting our government to receive the care and compensation they were promised. Today, June 11th, 2019, Actor / Comedian Jon Stewart and many of the responders testified before Congress. Sadly, while the gallery was packed with those who were sick and dying, very few representatives even bothered to show up for the hearing. I don’t think I can put it any more poignantly than Mr. Stewart did: “What an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders—and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress."

 At the end of the HBO show I was left asking myself a very difficult question: What separates the United States from Soviet Russia? The answer I arrived at: Nothing.

This isn’t an indictment of our system of government, but rather it is an indictment of our governmental leaders. The people of the Soviet Union didn’t elect their leaders, but we did. We expected them to be different, but in the end they caved to their own greed and hubris, just like those in the former USSR. This isn’t a democrat or republican problem, it is a CONGRESS problem. Both sides have turned their back on the victims and heroes.

To be fair, when the renewal for the Victim’s Compensation Fund came up, many eagerly jumped on to co-sponsor the bill, but they were the exception, rather than the rule. No, the vast majority of those current sponsors have had to be forced to support it. To them #NeverForget is a catchy phase they dust-off once a year; a campaign slogan that is hollow. It doesn’t personally affect them and they don’t care. The only time they care is when they are shamed into it at the threat of a political challenge.

No, the people of the Soviet Union didn’t have a choice, but we do.

I implore you, as a 9/11 cancer survivor, on behalf of all those who are sick and dying from the toxins they ingested, take one moment and contact your elected representatives and demand they take action to fully fund the Victim’s Compensation Fund. This September 11th should send a resounding signal to those who gave every last measure that day that their sacrifices will Never Be Forgotten.

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Throwback Thursday - Behind the Scenes (NYPD ESU)

Readers of my books know that I reference a lot of different places and agencies. So today I am continuing the theme of Throwback Thursday, the 2nd in the on-going series, by introducing you to what I consider the preeminent unit within the NYPD; the Emergency Service Unit. In my second book, Queen’s Gambit, ESU plays a pivotal role in the hunt for terrorists threatening NYC.

The saying goes in New York City: ‘When a civilian needs help they call 911, but when a cop needs help they call ESU.’

 In 1964, the Philadelphia Police Department established what became known as the first official Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in the United States. Three years later, the Los Angeles Police Department launched their SWAT team. These were the first units dedicated to specifically addressing escalating violence in urban areas. Without taking anything away from these two premier agencies, in my opinion they were about four decades late to the party.

In 2015, after five years of research, I wrote: Uncommon Valor, a history of the insignia of ESU. It was my goal to record not only the insignia of this acclaimed unit, but also the rich history. I was deeply honored when Police Commissioner William Bratton called me to say that he was having this book included at the NYPD Police Academy library.

The origins of the modern ESU date back to 1925, when NYPD Police Commissioner Richard Enright, created the Police Emergency Automobile Squad. This unit arose out of the need to address changes in the growing urban landscape in New York City.  A steadily growing population, coupled with increases in urban construction and a diversifying system of transportation, began to present new issues that the regular patrol officers simply could not begin to handle effectively. Officers were now being forced to contend with a myriad of issues, such as gas leaks, pedestrians being run over by vehicles or falling from elevated train lines, and horses that would fall into open construction sites. It soon became obvious that there was a need to have a specialized unit, which would be available to respond to the new type of emergency situations that New York City was beginning to face. 

On November 3rd, 1926, the officers of Emergency Service engaged in their first major gun battle when NYC mobster, Herman ‘Hyman’ Amberg, who was in jail for the murder of a local jeweler, attempted to escape from the old ‘Tombs’ jail on Centre Street, along with two other prisoners. Pistols had been previously smuggled into the jail for the three men. They faked illnesses so that they would be brought to the jail doctor. Once inside the doctor's office, they pulled their guns and attempted to escape. Newly assigned Warden, Peter Mallon, heard the commotion and came running to stop the escape. He was shot and killed as he entered the office. The three inmates then fled into the prison courtyard, near the Lafayette Street gate, where they exchanged shots with Keeper (the former title for Corrections Officer) Jeremiah Murphy and his partner, Daniel O’Connor. Keeper Murphy was killed and his partner was wounded.

Emergency Service responded and engaged the inmates from nearby buildings, raking the jail from all sides with heavy machine gun fire and gas bombs.  The gun battle at the Tombs went on for thirty minutes, with hundreds of rounds being fired. Amberg and the other two inmates hunkered down behind a pile of coal in the yard, before making their way to the safety of a guardhouse. They occasionally returned fire, wounding a police officer and a businessman in the Conklin Building across the street. At some point, two of the inmates were shot and wounded. With no escape possible, all three committed suicide. 

Over the decades, the role of the Emergency Service Unit has continually evolved. While they still respond to all major disasters, they have become the tip of the spear in the response to terrorism. On September 11th, 2001, of the twenty-three members of the NYPD killed on that day, fourteen were members of ESU. Sadly, in the years since, a number of members have succumbed to 9/11 related illnesses from the toxins they ingested during the rescue & recovery efforts.

In addition to its traditional role, ESU also provides Counter Assault (CAT) / Counter Sniper (CS) Team’s for major events and dignitary protection details. Like the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, ESU works hand in hand with their counterparts in the United States Secret Service and is part of the protection details for presidential motorcades and venues.

The motto of the NYPD ESU has always been: ‘Anytime, Anywhere, Any Place’.

If you have ever watched a newscast, concerning any major event in NYC, it is almost certain that you will see the familiar vehicles of the ESU. Contained within these trucks is a variety of equipment to handle any type of incident. When confronted with a situation they have never encountered before, they will find a way to perform the impossible.

The men & women of ESU are the epitome of the title: NY’s Finest.

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Photo courtesy of Tom O’Connor (NYPD ESU - Retired)

Photo courtesy of Tom O’Connor (NYPD ESU - Retired)