#1325 | Monday, May 27th 2002
I was driving to Manhattan to meet my nephew. He is a NYC police officer and we were to meet at Center Street. That morning is unusually strong in my memory. I remember the small insignificant things I saw driving down. It was Election Day and remember seeing politicians soliciting votes a half a block from the WTC. I noticed the old cobblestones there on the West Side and thought how long they had bee there and how much longer they would remain. I was driving up chambers St and had just reached a stop at Church ST. when I heard a very loud sound then a “POP” like a big paper bag exploding. I looked up and saw that every one was looking south in awe and pointing up. I was able to lip read some of the expletives and placed the car in park and got out. I was amazed to see what looked like tone of confetti all around the WTC. The building was just starting to burn and I parked my car. I ran to the nearest bodega and purchased a disposable camera. I was thinking at this time what a terrible accident this was. I made my way up Church St. Taking photos. The horror still had not set in. It was all so unreal. Then I would hear the crowd scream and moan from time to time. I then realized that they were seeing people throw themselves from the building still on fire. This all added to the disbelief. I made it to the base of the building and was helping an elderly lady that was having problems breathing when the sound returned. It is hard to describe how loud those jet engines were as they came up Church St. I stood and looked up just as the second plane hit and ripped through the building. There were a few hundred of us in the street there and all seemed to move as one to take cover. We were being showered with debris from the jet as well as a cloud of un-ingnighted jet fuel. I dove under a police car and waited for the debris to stop. My heat was pounding out of my chest, I can truly say now that I know what it is like to be in battle; (though I was never in the armed forces) I was still operating in a state of disbelief. I was a strange feeling of heightened senses, not fear as much as unknowing anticipation. I made my way back up Church to Chambers ST. when a policeman was hurriedly announcing (“ITS GOING!!!ITS GOING!!!) I had no thought that he had meant the building was falling until we could se it listing ever so slowly at first then coming down. Three other men and I broke through a doorway on chambers and got under some counters. We rode out that collapse waiting for the roof and walls to cave in. I was reaching my limits of endurance rapidly and as soon as the cloud settled I found my car. I drove off down chambers as the second building was collapsing. It took me until 8PM to get home in Monticello New York that evening. The scene getting out of Manhattan was like a Steven King Novel. I will never get over that day and as sad as it makes me that this tragedy occurred I am glade that I was able to bear witness to it. I have one very poignant memory of the ladder trucks rolling in right after the first plane hit. I was a fireman some years ago and can remember the anguish of fighting a high-rise. Especially one with so many potential victims. I could read the apprehension in their faces as well as their determination and courage. I pray for all those brave souls who selflessly walked into hell that day to save their brothers and sisters.
I still get chills when I hear jets flying low. I find myself looking up now when I’m in the city very strange dreams, (when I can sleep). I did see some of the finest traits in us as humans, Americans and New Yorker’s display itself that day.

Frank Konefal | 46 | New York

#1275 | Tuesday, May 14th 2002
My name is Courtney. I am 14 years old and On September 11th 2001 I was in school... it was the begining of the day and it seemed like any other day untill i realized that many kids were being takin out of school.... at around 10 oclock a announcement came on.. they said that 2 planes had hit the world trade center and they would keep us up dated .. but they didnt as our country was being attacked my school did nothing they would not even tell us what was going on... as i sat in my classroom for the rest of the day i could see that this would change my life forever.... All of my friends had left me by the time lunch had come... only 3 or 4 kids i hangout with were still at lunch, my friend jess was so scared because her dad is a fireman... i knew that i had to stay strong for my friends so i stood in school i didnt no what was happening... when i got home i saw it on the tv i knew that it wasnt an accedent like my school led us to beleive and i know that september 11th will be in my heart for ever... GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!
Courtney | 14 | New York

#1268 | Saturday, May 11th 2002
september 11 i was in school the day it happened. and i was frightned i had lost people i know in the world trade center. amd my father happen to be in the city but he turned around right when it happened so he is ok. but my family that was hurt didnot sevive they died. i am so upste and i have tried to move on but it's hard and i think that moving on and trying to start a new life it sucks. i cannot evey day i think about what happens i have gone to church every night and lit candles and pryed for a long time. i have watched it fall over and over again on tv i am not happy with everything happening to our world. i have called all my family members the day it happened and i was so upset when the first plane hit and so on. i am not happy at all. remember all thr cops fire fighters and other people who had hepled during this time. i am here to support everyone in our world. i was in the city towards december or some where near that time. so i know what the feeling was when i saw it just standing there. the fear i had how scared and if this was to happen again after they put it in.
irene | 15 | New York

#1260 | Wednesday, May 8th 2002
I was at work at 110 wall when someone called and said a plane hit the world trade center, we thought it was a small plain at first. until someone said it was passanger jet, (its amazing how clear I remember this) I looked out the window and saw all thease papers flying all over.at that point we ran into my bosses office to watch his tv, thats when the second plane hit,and my buiding shook with this huge roar behind it. our phones and ims were going nuts.people calling us to get out,I tryed calling a friend of mine at cantor,but to no answered. thats when the owner of the firm came up and yelled everyone out, now I have three guys that work for me and we were all scared. I told them to grab all the water they can.
we started down to the street level, we looked outside and , it was snowing, I looked up and the towers were burning. I tried calling my wife at that point but the cells were all down. we started to walk towards the bklyn bridge I thought to myself if I can get us to bklyn I can get us to a friends house. as we approched the bklyn bridge the first tower came down. a cloud started coming towards us, someone yelled don,t panic stay calm, wet ur shirts and put it over ur nose. and belive it or not one person
paniced no one ran,it was so surreal. I felt a tear runing down my face as I strated to cry thinking about my wife my daughter and all my friends at cantor, where six months before i worked on the 104th fl.
as we made it to the middle of the bridge the secound tower fell, it was amazing, how one secound they were there and the next they were gone. people were crying and helping eachother, their was no black no white no nothing but people americans helping americans. as sad as this was that day it made us one united..

carmine | 36 | New York

#1257 | Tuesday, May 7th 2002
Ground Zero Through My Eyes.

By Bill Donovan
Devoted Husband, Father, Friend


Day One

Working at the Bowery Bay W.P.C.P. a sewage treatment plant in Queens, I was standing on the deck of the primary tanks and one of my guys informed me of what had happened. I looked over and saw one of the Twin Towers on fire, I couldn’t believe it. I turned to the guys and said they’ll never take down these buildings. A few minutes later the second plane hit, I stood in shock, watched in horror. Then the anger set in. I couldn’t believe what was happening, the disregard for human life. Watching as both buildings burned I saw a cloud behind Tower #1 and when the smoke cleared Tower #2 was gone. Disbelief! This couldn’t be happening. It was like being in a dream in broad daylight, everything seemed to move in slow motion now. A short time later Tower 1 was gone. Then the sorrow set in, all those people. I thought to myself what can I do? How can I help? I drove home with such an empty feeling. As I was driving down the Long Island Expressway there were times when I didn’t know where I was, being in a daze most of the time. When I got home I was still in a daze thinking all the time I have to get down there, I have to do something.


Day Two

I drove down the Long Island Expressway towards Manhattan and when I reached Queens the Police and State Troopers had closed all lanes into the city except for the left lane, this was used for emergency personnel and vehicles. I jumped into this lane and at each checkpoint I showed my Environmental Protection ID and was allowed to pass. As I approached the midtown tunnel the police were pulling over vans and trucks to be searched. It started to get a little scary not knowing what to expect. After going through the midtown tunnel and into Manhattan at 34th street it seemed as if nothing had happened, the hustle and bustle seemed the same as always, New York City on a typical day. As I drove down 2nd Ave. I could see the smoke rising from the Trade Center and my mouth went dry. I cut over to Broadway and down towards Lower Manhattan, every road was closed down and barricaded from canal street down to Battery Park, 5 to 10 Police Officers on every corner. At each checkpoint I showed my ID and was allowed to pass. After passing Canal street an eerie quiet and still greeted me, no more hustle and bustle there was no one, no movement, just no one. The sun was blocked out from the dense smoke and a gray brown haze covered Lower Manhattan. Everything was covered with dust and ash, the dust on the street coming up in clouds from the tires as I drove.

I parked my car near Pace University across from The NYC Downtown Hospital, there were about 25 Doctors and Nurses outside with gurneys and stretchers anxiously waiting for the survivors to arrive. As I walked down towards ground zero from the Hospital I could not believe what I was seeing. The dust and ash on the street was about 4 to 12 inches deep and kicked up in clouds as I walked, the debris went on in a 10 block area and more, crushed cars, trucks, burned out busses and fire engines every where I looked. Thick smoke was rising from the ruins of the buildings, steel from the World Trade Center pierced through vehicles 5 blocks away, paper from offices everywhere, and floating down from above.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was witnessing. As I got closer to the center of this devastation the knot in my stomach got bigger, knees a little weaker, there were Fireman and civilians coming from ground zero covered in concrete dust and ash, with blank stares, tears and frustration on the faces of most. I could taste the smoke and dust, the closer I got the thicker it became.

Reaching the plaza area I didn’t know what to do, people were everywhere, how could I help? A gray haze made it hard to see, there was smoke and dust everywhere. There were Firefighters resting on the curbs just across from the plaza, nurses and volunteers handing out dust masks and water,. One of the Firefighters looked at me and for a minute I didn’t recognize him he was covered with ashes and dust, it was Skip, we had worked together at the plant, we shook hands and hugged each other, it was hard to talk, what can you say except I'm sorry and it’s a terrible thing. He had lost so many brothers and friends. I told him I had to get in there and we said goodbye.

I felt an inner strength and determination to get in there and help my fellow New Yorkers and Americans. As I started to go into the crater the knot in my stomach loosened up and I went to work. Working with Firefighters and Search and Rescue teams we dug holes through the debris trying to get deeper into and under this mountain of steel and concrete. Everything that came out of the holes was handed up to lines of volunteers who then passed it down the line to the street. Ironworkers with torches cut away reinforcement bars and steel I beams that blocked our way, it was a slow process. I felt a sorrow so deep in my heart as we carried out the dead. Then as cheers erupted when someone was found alive you were uplifted and thought there is still hope. We worked shoulder-to-shoulder removing steel and debris by hand and bucket for hours on end.

Standing on the rim of this crater all you could see was devastation. Buildings sheared in half, huge pieces of floors hanging off the broken buildings ready to fall, smoke billowing out from everywhere. People searching in all corners. Up in the buildings with their front walls missing, you could see firemen and volunteers searching through the upper floors for survivors. The surrounding buildings with all the windows broken.

You could see America.

Working in the crater that was once the World Trade Center I saw a firefighter carrying an American Flag climbing towards a part of the antenna that stood at the top of Tower #1. This flag must have come from an office in one of the buildings. As I stood watching, like a scene from the sands of Iwo Jima a group of firefighters holding their brother as far up the pole as possible placed this flag on the antenna. I heard in the distance the Battalion Chief yell hand salute and everyone inside and outside the crater (about three hundred) stopped and saluted. An eerie quite came over all of us, after about 2 minutes the man standing next to me yelled God Bless America. It felt good to be an American.

All of us cried.

Reaching out a hand to the fireman as they came out of holes we had dug under the iron, I could see them in tears; the sadness on their faces was almost unbearable, the silence in them said it all. It had been almost 8 hrs since we found any survivors. The body of one fireman wrapped in an American Flag as we passed him down through the line, everyone was silent.

Three horns everyone out, building #5 has shifted 6 degrees and may come down. A scramble to get out of the crater, hundreds of men and women trying to get to safety, fear on the faces of all as we run out of the crater and off the plaza level down to the street. After the all clear we come back to the crater, the same faces. Hrs later three horns everyone out, part of building #7 is coming down, same drill same faces.

While taking a break I had time to reflect, we had worked for almost 15 hrs straight and had not pulled anyone out alive since about 8:30am, remembering the Doctors and Nurses waiting at the hospital sent a chill through me, they had waited and no one came.

Sitting on the curb around midnight in front of the plaza area, Red Cross workers and Nurses walked down the lines of exhausted volunteers passing out water, food, gloves, hardhats and kindness. The people next to you were next to you most of the day and night, you got to know their names Mike, George, Tony, Al, Jeremy and so many more, all working toward one goal find someone alive. I have lived in New York my whole life and never saw such unity or empathy for fellow New Yorkers and fellow Americans.

I need some rest. I get to my car and try to get some sleep but the thought of one of these buildings coming down keeps running through my head. The thought of my 7 children and my wife also runs through my head. I decide to drive home. On the way home on the LIE there are flags and thank you signs hung on every overpass. Signs that said God Bless America, we shall overcome, united we stand and so many more. As I arrived home I was surprised to see that my kids had made a huge flag out of oak tag paper and cotton balls, then hung it on the front of our house, it was surrounded by Christmas lights and lit up the front yard. They had every flag we owned all around the yard. It made me proud.


Day Three

After about 4 hrs sleep I arrived back at ground zero to start digging on the Liberty St. side. Up into the crater, seems like I never left. Working shoulder-to-shoulder again with fellow New Yorkers removing steel and debris. Some of the faces familiar, weren’t we next to each other yesterday, “ hey bill how are you” hey mike how are you? All day we removed steel, small pieces of concrete, rebar and bucket after bucket of dust and debris. Who is it? Do I know them? Were the questions that ran through my head as we gently passed down the stokes baskets with the dead, with the faces I couldn’t see.

You could hear the fighter jets passing overhead and the roar was tremendous, the first time they passed hundreds of people took off running thinking that it was another plane hijacked and going for another building. At one point a civilian, small aircraft came for a look and was chased away by two army helicopters, another scary moment.

I had met a fireman from out of state and we had stayed together most of the day watching out for each other. We were under the pile about 30 or 40 feet digging by hand, cutting wires with wire cutters and cutting rebar with bolt cutters trying to find pockets large enough for survivors. Filling buckets and passing them up through the hole. As we went down into one area we came across things from the store that was on the observation deck. It was an eerie feeling, a post card came down from above me and was undamaged, not a scratch or dust on it. It said on the back ( Top of The World / NY’s Theme Park in The Sky). Time for a break, we come out of the hole and go down to burger king (NYPD Headquarters) for something to eat and some coffee. The owner of this burger king never shut his doors. He served food to the firemen, police and civilian volunteers from the beginning till there was none left. Then the Red Cross and others delivered the food there. It became a meeting place and a place to get dry clothes, socks, boots, rain gear and almost anything else you needed.

There is still hope. Standing on the top of the iron beams that stuck out at odd angles handing down buckets of debris, a fireman say’s “Did you here that” hold up hold up everybody quiet “Did you here that” another fireman say’s yea I heard someone. Now all of us on the top of this mountain of steel try to stay quite as this fireman tries to communicate with this person. Hello are you there? Silence. Hello are you there? Then yes I’m here. What’s your name, no response. Is there anyone else with you? He answers Yes one other. The fireman yells we have two, a cheer goes up.

Three horns everyone out, a scramble to get out of the crater again, fear on the faces of everyone, which building this time. Some of us got used to the horns and stayed behind to help the fireman, police and volunteers down out of the crater. Same drill same faces. After everyone was off the crater we went down to the street.

It’s three thirty pm; I have to meet my brother Tom and his son. He’s looking for his girlfriend Linda, she was on the 92nd floor of tower #2, and she had called her mother and said she was fine. Then called back a short time later and said they were told to wait for an escort out of the building. After that she wasn’t heard from.

Desperation on his face searching hospitals, we went to the NYC Downtown hospital to check their lists. No lists have been updated since Wednesday. As I waited for Tom I sat with my nephew Tom Jr. tired and filthy and watched all the other people trying to locate their sisters, brothers and girl friends with a sorrow in my heart so deep it’s to hard to explain and most times to hard to talk about. A man and his wife came up to me and asked me if there is any hope of finding anyone, he was looking for his brother. I told him there is always hope. I told him that the way the steel and concrete floors came down that there is sure to be pockets that people could survive in. He thanked me several times for helping. He walked away with tears in eyes. As he walked away, my own tears came. I knew deep down that there were very slim chances that anyone was still alive.

It’s hard to look at my brother without breaking down. He is a rock on the outside doing what needs to be done. The questions he must have, where are they, so many lost so little found, I wish I had the answer. We go to the armory on 28th and Lexington to check their lists and post a photo and info about Linda. He tells me to leave them here there are things he has to do. He’ll take a cab home. We hug. He is my big brother, he gives me strength, and I love him.

I go back to ground zero and ask about the two people that we had found before the three horns went off, no one can give me an answer, no one knows, I have to assume that they were not recovered alive. Again hundreds of people in lines by twos, we remove steel, small pieces of concrete, rebar and bucket after bucket of dust and debris. The fireman crawling into tunnels that were dug by hand still searching still hoping. The courage of these men makes you proud; to see them in full gear climbing in and out of the rubble that was once the World Trade Center, searching for survivors and their fallen brothers, not giving up, brings tears to your eyes.


Day Four

We arrive at ground zero Dolores Nicoletti and I. It’s raining and cold. As we look up, a sole figure stands on top of the steel beams, an ironworker; he’s making plans to remove the huge pieces of I-beam that form what looks like the outer rim of a volcano. Tom Hayes my brother in-law is this ironworker he was here when the buildings came down, working since Tuesday with very few hrs of sleep, we talk for a while, he has his job to do. Moving over to the Temporary Police HQ (Burger King) we meet up with my brothers Jim and Mike, they were here since 4:30 am helping the Battalion Chief try to get into the path train area and the restaurant area, Mike was a maintenance manager there for some years. They could not reach either one.

There is a stand down inside the crater right now. The heavy equipment starts to move in, staging areas were cleared out all week. Huge cranes that can reach into the center of the crater to pickup the steel that the ironworkers cut away are setup. Cranes so big that the George Washington Bridge was shut down for regular traffic because of their weight. I think it’s starting to become a recovery effort more than a rescue. We grab shovels and brooms working with the sanitation department most of the day to help clean up around the American Stock Exchange so it can open on Monday. The stand down is over, back into the crater, most of the faces are now new. We remove steel, small pieces of concrete, rebar and bucket after bucket of dust and debris.

As night starts to fall, stairway #1 of Tower #2 is located and the remains of firemen are found.

A terrible thing to witness, no more stokes baskets no need to hand them down the line. The bags are smaller now.

Leaving ground zero, going down West Street, Dolores, Tom and I were greeted by thousands of people lined up along West Street waving flags and thank you signs, cheering, holding candles and yelling God Bless America all the way to 34th Street. These were the stockbrokers, marketing people, lawyers, the people that run New York City, cheering the men and women that keep New York City running, the grunts, the electricians, the plumbers, the carpenters, the ironworkers and so many more. The feeling of being an American never felt stronger than that moment, the unity I felt with my fellow Americans was overwhelming and tears came to my eyes.

As I lay in bed with my wife in my arms, there are uncontrolled sobs and tears I can’t stop. For a while, she holds me and comforts me, she had done this all week, I know that things will be ok. My kids all in bed sleeping, earlier I tried to explain what had happened and what was going to happen, I think they understand and are not afraid.


Day Five

The National Guard takes over.

As I stood there in front of the plaza area, a Guardsman came over to me and said that it was time for me to leave. I told him that I was there all week and he told me there was nothing else I could do, that I should go home and get some rest. I knew he was right I had to leave the rest of this up to the professionals, the people sworn to protect and serve.

Leaving the place that was once the World Trade Center I was emotionally and physically drained. It was then that I started to feel the full impact of what I had witnessed and gone through. I went to moms house. The tears kept coming. Crying in my fathers’ arms I knew I would get through this.

Country, Duty, Honor and the willingness to help others are byproducts of my upbringing; my parents are wonderful people who instilled these values in me from a very young age. We are proud of our name, to be Irish and most of all to be American.

My Family was there when our friends and fellow New Yorkers needed us most.
I am proud to be a Donovan
I love them all

May our Father in Heaven be watchful and grant peace and comfort to all of the lives that have been touched by this horrific tragedy that has fallen upon our homeland on this day…
May the Angels wrap their wings about those that have been lost and those that are grieving with the loss of their loved ones…

William Donovan 11//01

William Donovan | 43 | New York

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