April 19, 2024

First Hand Account of Ground Zero on 9/11 from a Meigs County Resident

By Glenn Kelly

To many when we see the American Flag we see it as a National symbol – however on 9/11 and the days following while working at ground zero as a medic involved with the search and rescue the flag became something more. 

Each time a fellow brother in Fire or Police were pulled from the rubble – they were placed in a stokes basket and the basket was draped with an American Flag.

Even now so many years later each time I see the American Flag, be it as a sticker on the side of a police vehicle, waving at the Mark Porter Dealership or even on someone’s shirt – I remember the many bodies I had the privileged to help carry to peace. 

For years I had worked in EMS and Fire – I have had to deal with many fatalities from innocent children to gang members who were in their own version of war – but 9/11 and the months following to this day still haunt my soul.

While driving in to the city our ambulance was rocked by people holding signs – and stopping us to hand us water, hugs – prayers and sharing tears on one side and on the other some folks that sadly agreed with the actions of those who flew the planes.  On both sides were Muslims.  

The first person that gave me a water bottle was a Muslim. 
The first person that spit on me during our response was also Muslim. 

I had a rookie on board who was driving. He thought it was best to use the siren to get the people out of the way so we could get through the city to our staging area. 

I calmly reached over and turned the siren off – as I looked at the people’s faces I realized something – We, as First Responders just minutes into the attack, were literally the only sign of hope in a city in despair -masked in acres of rubble where roads, cars and a concrete haze hid the scorched and scared faces that were looking at us empty – left without meaning. The siren only added to the shock – and our presence was supposed to be calming.

If you have ever been to New York – you will learn that even at the latest hour of the day – there are cars and buses – taxis and limo’s driving people all over the city – it was an eerie feeling as we drew closer to ground zero – We saw a sea of people all walking, some so drained mentally and emotionally you could see they were using every last ounce of their strength to drag themselves just to the next step… – and suddenly it was all quite. 

Hardly a sound. When we arrived just one block down from the collapse of the first tower, prior to the second falling- on Vesey street the realization of the devastation set in.  Pallets and Pallets of water and other items were just sitting in the street. 

We were assigned to go through the many surrounding buildings to search for survivors – sadly we did not find many. I can remember a secondary collapse in which I had to dive under a fire truck for safety – all the while thinking if the building is coming down there is no way this truck is going to save me.

The first rule any EMS, Firefighter or Police officer learns is Scene Safety – look out for potential hazards. The truth is – the members of the FDNY, NYPD and the Port Authority Police knew they were running into the most dangerous situation. As bodies were descending at the speed of gravity First Responders were climbing as quickly as possible.

Scene safety was not paramount upon arrival for these Hero’s but rather getting in – and saving as many lives as possible – even knowing that your theirs was not in jeopardy but already over.

Hearing radio traffic that day go suddenly silent and hours later being handed a radio to use from a Ham Operator tells me that we were FAR FROM READY, FAR FROM PREPARED …. we knew it, every first responder knew it but the enormous task at hand needed to be completed.

A few days later I was exhausted and walking back from the Cafeteria – a fancy name for what really was a boat which until the terrorist attack was used to shuttle tourists around the water ways so they could “tour the city” and I found a priest ripping off his clothes screaming at God asking Him Why and Where. 

Where are you now God… he demanded to know. 

I walked over to help what obviously any Medic trained would could identify as a man who was mentally breaking down and in need of help. Begin De-escalation… 

I asked him his name – and he answered – I asked him why he doubted God’s presence and he pulled me by my collar over to a blue suv and read to me the note out loud -“Dear NYPD – I am a nurse – Please don’t tow my car – AND if you find this please tell my husband and my children that I love them and if I do not make it let them know I am fulfilling John 15:13”

He demanded to know from me how God could let this happen. I sat with him for what seemed like hours – but was really only just a few minutes and felt the warm glow of the sun coming up over the horizon – as I looked up I saw a cross in the distance – this cross had tons of workers underneath it digging and working, struggling to find any one who could have possibly survived. 

I personally had not been to church for years – left Bible College and became almost an agnostic… 

I answered the priest and said – until now I never really could answer your question – or even that question for myself long before what happened yesterday but I do know one thing – Even as I walk through this Valley of Death the Lord is near me – He comforts Me and in the end I will lie down in Green Pastures. 

I pointed to the Cross – and he asked me if I would pray for him as he had “lost the words to speak to God”, 

I began with the Lord’s prayer – which he recited with me.

We both parted ways – me a protestant, he a Catholic – I never was able to find that priest again – even after searching – but I will never forget what he told me 

” Glenn, I have a renewed faith and even in this tragedy I know that it is a promise SURELY goodness and mercy – the Love of our Father will follow us all the days of our lives – let me go and share the good news.”

With that I returned to the gator crew I was assigned to picking through the rubble.

For those who are struggling – I want to simply remind you also of that promise God has made us – He will Never Leave us or Forsake us – even when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of Death – His Rod and His staff are there to comfort us.

While driving back home I stopped at a small Baptist church in Hoboken NJ on the other side of the tunnel – ran to find a bible and opened it to John 15:13

From the over 350 EMS, Fire and Police officers – as well as the countless other volunteers including ham radio operators, building security and the other nameless who helped, from the folks who downed the plane in Shanksville PA, and from that nurse who most assuredly was killed, we as a nation learned a lesson that most have already forgotten – except perhaps those who are still serving daily putting their lives in front of harm’s way day by day: 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

I pray for our nation, as once again we are sliding back into a position away from Greatness, focusing on Self and not on the needs of our Brothers and Sisters, Our common partner in this great Republic.

e pluribus unum – From Many One.

We are One Nation Indivisible – We are Partners with a Contract of the Constitution between our nation and its people. 9/11 taught me many things – but perhaps the most important lesson other than bringing me back to Cross is that Tolerance, humility and patience are not the ornaments of a democracy, they are its essence. 

They allow us to live at peace amid deep disagreement. This is something the radicalized Islamic Community, much like other Radicalized organizations fail to realize. 

Today across our nation are thousands of paid and unpaid servants who are focused on protecting your lives, your liberties, your freedoms and yes even your pursuit of happiness – even if it means sacrificing their own. 

I am proud to call them Hero’s, I am proud to have served the People of New York and New Jersey but more than that I am proud to know that at any time of day – there are those servants who are still willing to answer the call, unsure if they are going to come home or leave their families for the last time to provide help to the helpless.