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Eye Witness Account ∼ “Remembering 9/11” by Phil Giambri

Phil Giambri

“Remembrance of 9/11”

Resurrecting 9/11 memories for me, is like ripping out shards of broken glass protruding through that horrible white dust cloud.

In the mid ‘70s, my wife and I get reservations at Windows of The World, “the must-go-to” restaurant of the moment. We leave carrying a tourist brochure with a header reading, “The closest some of us will ever get to heaven.” Seems kind of ominously prophetic now.

September 11, 2001 I report for jury duty at the Courthouse near City Hall. I arrive a bit early and sit in the park across from the courthouse with a coffee, enjoying the beautiful fall morning. I‘m blinded by the morning sun bouncing off the face of the twin towers and slip on my Ray Ban aviators. The air is clean, I’m feelin’ good, and it’s one of those New York moments.

I report in and just get seated, when I hear and feel a muffled rumbling of some kind. I assume it’s a subway underneath the courthouse pulling through the station. One of the jurors is listening to a small radio with an ear bud attached. He announces that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

Wow. We can’t actually see the WTC from the courtroom but we’re soon overwhelmed with the sounds of sirens speeding by all around us. It seems like moments later, that the juror announces a second plane hit the other tower. Suddenly, the doors of the courtroom burst open, and men are shouting, “FBI… you have to leave immediately.” The FBI building is adjacent to the courthouse and these guys quickly take charge of evacuating the courthouse and surrounding buildings. Everyone is hustled out of the buildings and herded east, away from the towers. Once outside, we all stare up at the towers to see what’s going on. It seems unreal.

My first thought is to go home, grab my camera, and come back to take pictures of the evacuations and rescues.

Police quickly channel thousands of evacuees and keep us moving swiftly uptown, via the Bowery. Countless people are safely evacuated very quickly; an amazing accomplishment, considering what is about to happen.

My fellow juror with the radio walks ahead of me. I try to keep up so I’ll hear any new developments. He suddenly shouts out, “The Pentagon was just bombed and it’s on fire.” Now that scares the shit out of me. This means we’re at war now. But with who? The crowds walk briskly in silence, like a huge marching army, but constantly sneaking glances back at the burning Towers.

Back in my apartment I’m digging around for my camera, and turn on the TV just as the first tower collapses. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I freeze and just stand there watching the dust cloud thunder toward the terrified people running right at the TV cameras. I won’t be going back there today.
The phone rings and jars me back to reality. My wife’s friend tells me that my wife is being evacuated from Rockefeller Center where she works, and is worried because she knows I’m downtown. She asks her to check on me. “I’m okay… I think!”

Our neighborhood is in chaos. Heavy smoke, dust, and sirens everywhere. I close the windows, put on the air conditioner, and sit by the TV, trying to comprehend what’s happening. It just keeps getting worse with each passing minute.

My wife arrives safely by mid-afternoon. We both continue to stare at the TV in disbelief.

As a hospital employee, I need to get to work as soon as possible, but the streets are cordoned off, transportation shut down, and cars aren’t being allowed to pass. My boss calls and says he’ll pick me up if I can get to 14th street, and be sure to have my hospital ID with me. I walk up First Avenue to 14th to find it lined with armed military and police in full combat gear, weapons loaded, and armored vehicles everywhere. When I explain that I work at a hospital and show my ID, they allow me to pass on to 15th street where my boss is waiting. We encounter checkpoints all the way to 70th and York, and arrive to find our Trauma Team is being dispatched to Ground Zero, to assist with casualties. Most of the staff volunteer to stay as long as necessary, to assist in any way possible, including blood donations. My crew all sleep in the auditorium in scrubs, wrapped in blankets.

No victims or casualties ever arrive, and when that reality sinks in, a dark silence settles over everyone, as I’m sure it did in every other hospital in the city. No one to help, no one to save, no one rescued, no one alive. The depth of the horror begins to sink in.

As days and weeks go by, we all slowly work ourselves back into our daily routines, but normal will never be normal again. My wife returns to her office at Rockefeller Center overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She bears witness to a seemingly endless dirge of kilted drummers and pipers, fire trucks draped in funeral bunting and flags, and a sea of blue uniforms lining 5th Avenue, offering a final salute to lost brothers and sisters.

New Yorkers will bear a scar from a wound so deep in the heart that it will never completely heal. We watch on TV as our president declares war to avenge the killings. I guess it’s supposed to make us feel better. It doesn’t.


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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