Adam's Big Apple - My 9/11 Letter from America
Posted on the 11th Sep 2014 in the category travel

Nine years ago I was fortunate to spend September in New York state as a guest of The Rotary Club.


It was only four years after 9/11 so it was still fresh in everyone's minds.

Everyone had an anecdote, my favourite was the fellow who was having a bonk with his mistress on that day: She phoned and he said: "I am at work in the World Trade Centre."  

She replied: "I think you better put the TV on.” And promptly divorced him. 

I was honoured to interview Gerry Sheehan who as well as being a Rotarian was a real  9/11 hero on that day when so many of his fellow policemen died.

This is a feature I sent back as one of my Adam's Big Apple - Letters From America to The Great Barr Observer, Sutton Observer and Tamworth Herald.  



The ashen-faced relatives of those who died on September 11 started reading their loved ones names out at 9am on the tragedy's fourth anniversary.  

The names were still being read out six hours later. 

The morning  of September 11th 2001 was just like any other but at 8.46am the world changed forever. Although the natural world order was turned upside down so many  everyday lives were destroyed within a few hours. 

Whether it was the  stockbroker who instantly died in his office with his phone in his hand, the waitress who died in the Windows of the World restaurant, the fireman who rushed back into the towers only to perish amongst the falling rubble, the mayor of  Ploughkeepsie who still does not know what happened to her husband or the just  average New Yorker who knew their city would never be the same again.

9/11 changed everything. Speaking to so many New Yorkers on the fourth  anniversary it is obvious what an all encompassing event the terrorist attacks  were, everybody knows somebody who was personally affected by the man made  disaster. 

Some stories are desperately sad but others are inspiring,  there are so many tales of people getting up late or missing the train and  surviving where all their colleagues died. 

Rotarians were affected like  everyone else; West Point Rotarian Gerry Sheehan was in charge of the New York  Police Department Bomb Squad on that fateful day. 

He got to the World  Trade Centre as the first tower collapsed.  

"You could not see a thing -  there was a state of confusion. It was pitch black and we soon realised many of  our colleagues had died," he said. 

Gerry found his friend of 30 years,  fire chief Louis Garcia, and they set up an emergency command post. On  9/11 split-second decisions decided whether it was life or death for many. They  decided to move their makeshift command centre a few hundred metres away from the towers. 

 Minutes later the second tower collapsed and the first  command post was destroyed. 

 "I will never forget the sound of the tower falling. It was like a muffled roar as the building collapsed. 

 “There was smoke  everywhere - the only way we knew where we were was because the River Hudson was  behind us," explained Gerry. 

 "The Fire Brigade hierarchy had all been  killed and there were no mobile phones working, so coordinating the rescue  effort was a near impossible task." 

Off duty policemen and firemen came  to the disaster site, often putting their personal grief aside to pull people  from the rubble. After commandeering land phone lines, the true extent  of the attack was revealed. 

The Pentagon was hit and heroic plane  passengers had foiled hijackers flying to the White House. Then the phone  calls started. 


"People were phoning in reporting bombs all over the city  and we had to investigate every one of them," he said. 

Gerry does not  like being called a hero. But he realises how lucky he is. 

"After 9/11 I  cherish my family a lot more and I spend a lot more time with them. I try not to  be critical of small mistakes that people make.

"I stayed on until the  first anniversary, in case anything happened, then I retired. "I think  about it a lot but the memories are fading.

“If I go to Manhattan I visit Ground  Zero but I do my grieving in private." 

Ground Zero is an eiree,  emotional and unique place, the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end and a  lump comes to the throat as you walk around a desolate 16 acre site where  thousands died in one morning. Craning your neck and imagining the half a mile  high superstructures collapsing is heart stopping, upsetting and overwhelming.  

There is not much laughing or joking though the macabre pose for photos and twin towers trinkets are sold for a few dollars. 

The New York and  Hudson Valley Rotary District was emersed in the rescue and recovery in the  hours, days, months and years after the disaster. 

Rotarians gave up  their holidays to help the volunteers clear the rubble and look for survivors at  Ground Zero. My host for a week in Woodstock, Michele Lerner, was one of the  thousands of Rotarians to help out four years ago. 

"My first cousin was in the World Trade Centre as were a few close friends," she said. 

"It was a very  sad time for New York, you could feel the death hanging in the air around Ground  Zero." 

"We went down and served food in a restaurant at ground zero to  all the workers and policeman, we all had to show we were doing something to  help." 


Though the deaths took place in down town Manhatten the victims  were from across the world. It is still the biggest single loss of British  life in a terrorist attack. 

But it was the tri-state area of Conneticut,  New Jersey and New York that was deeply affected. Throughout the state there  are small villages and towns that were so cruelly touched by 9/11. Several  communities have a concentration of firemen or policemen and the shiny new  memorials dotted on village greens across the Hudson Valley betray the human  sacrifice of the men and women who served their community with the ultimate  sacrifice.

The confirmed death toll stands at 2948 and there is still 24  reported dead and 24 people still missing. 


Stephanie King from Highland  Rotary Club remembered the chilling day. 


"We were all devastated, the  planes flew from Boston and straight down the Hudson River into the World Trade  Centre it was horrible," she said. 

But Stephanie explained America  pulled together. "There were so many people volunteering they were getting in  the way at one stage." 


There was a little trepidation in the air as the  anniversary of the terrorist attacks approached. 


At a bizarre event in Ulster  County, New York called the Renaissance Faire 20,000 Americans came to get a  taste of ye olde Britain. 


There were less than expected but there seemed  to be no worries about the terror threat. Despite getting the historical period  wrong by about 200 years, (I am pretty sure Robin Hood was not around during the renaissance period) the New York attitude shone through the fake 

British accents  that greeted every visitor. 


A Brooklyn native, dressed in English  attire, working on the faire was not giving in to the terrorists.

"The Government  tell everyone to stay in for 9/11 anniversary, why should we stay in and watch the twin towers fall down on the TV fifteen times, we need to get on with life."  

And that is exactly what the people of this remarkable place have done.


  Records 1 to 1 of 1