- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

NEW YORK — He does not want his name known, he said, "out of respect for the other police and firemen."

He was there on that first bloody night under the lights when burly men in tears desperately but gingerly shifted the twisted steel, listening for voices in the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

It is not a rare kind of modesty, not among the thousands of volunteers in the auxiliary police and fire forces who quietly went to work in the wake of the enormous losses suffered by their brothers. "There were bodies and body parts all over the place," he said in a distant voice. "I was expecting basic Armageddon, a war zone, and that's what it was like."

"The first five minutes were the worse," he said. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this can't be happening. This isn't a Third World Country. This kind of stuff never happens here.'"

Then he went to work. He noticed the tears in the eyes of the men, and in his own eyes, too, the screaming from one to another when someone thought he had caught sight of a body under the smoking mass of debris. That happened twice on this young man's shift, the first time just half an hour after he arrived on the scene.

"They started pulling out a body from under the concrete. It was a fireman. He had dark hair. He was burned bad and his eyes were closed. He was dead."

They worked at a furious pace in the smoke and dirt. Then, an hour later, the second body, this one with a faint pulse.

It was another fireman, bloody and severely burned around the face, his body "limp and floppy."

The young volunteer had never seen anything like this. He remembered that his Uncle Bob, a Con Edison worker, had been electrocuted by a live wire a few years back, but he didn't die. This was different.

He is an ordinary 26-year-old, living in Queens, studying to be a pharmacist; he even took a few courses in forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But that had not prepared him for what he saw at "ground zero" on this night.

"It's ironic," he said. "I was going to take my girlfriend to the World Trade Center for a tour this weekend. Imagine that."

Like this young man, the volunteers are motivated by a bond with their fallen comrades. Officials report that 291 firefighters and 78 New York City and Port Authority police officers are missing, men who in the very first minutes of the apocalypse rushed to the aid of those trapped in the tower struck by the first airplane. The second attack, 18 minutes later, would build their tomb in a mountain of debris.

"We're gonna get 'em out, you know," said Mike Hart from Engine Company 248 in Brooklyn, unshaven, exhausted, but smiling faintly.

The cranes were working, moving the huge pieces that had rained from the sky. Once they had cleared the way, perhaps they would find some sign of life. Meanwhile, lasting vignettes of the disaster were everywhere: The hundreds of broken windows in the standing buildings eerily looking down on the devastation; the blanket of yellow dust; the lone fireman walking through the rubble carrying an American flag on his shoulder.

"We have entire companies that are just missing," said Mike Carter, vice president of the city's firefighters union. "We're going to have to bury a lot of people."

Known dead include First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan; Chief of Department Peter Ganci, the most decorated firefighter in the department; and the FDNY chaplain, the Rev. Michael Judge, a Franciscan priest.

The mayor, wearing a surgical mask and an NYPD visor, toured the wreckage in the afternoon. Compared with the early hours of the morning, he said, the improvement was remarkable. "Of course, everything is relative when you look up there and don't see the World Trade Center."

The young man who is too modest to tell his name sees nothing special in what he did, nor do the men who worked alongside him. But there is one thing, they seek: "We want retribution, all of us."


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