Atmore native recalls Sept. 11 experience
Letter to the Editor
First I'd like to say that I played a very insignificant part in the 9/11 response.
I had worked a lot of disasters after I retired from teaching and before 9/11. Most were hurricanes and damage assessment. My first big job was hurricane Opal where I was by chance assigned Escambia County. This helpful Red Cross officer told me that "you go down I-65 and its off to the left before you get to Mobile". I told him that I thought I could find it. That was the only time I ever did damage assessment without a map, having ridden all those roads beginning in the 50s and 60s out 'politickin' with my ole' Daddy.
I had also done tornadoes, floods and one winter storm in Pennsylvania. The most rewarding was the Kosova Refugee assignment. Those people were being bombed, the women raped and the young men shot with everyone trying to make it to the relative safety of the camps. Once there, many were flown to Ft. DIX, N.J. On one occasion I was part of the greeting team. I was standing there with a sack of bananas when the frightened and bewildered refugees for their first look at the U.S. I spotted this little old man who seemed to be traveling alone, so I walked up to him and gave him what I hoped was a welcoming smile and offered him a banana. He accepted it like I was giving him a brand new Rolex watch and put it into his coat pocket. He then took my hand in his two hands and kissed it. I knew I was about to make a fool of myself and start blubbering so I quickly embraced him and he hugged my back. It's those times when you get your pay for being a Red Cross Volunteer.
The two most profound things I remember about 9/11 was first, the night I flew into La Guardia. We went in low over lower Manhattan. The fire was still burning, there were huge floodlights and you could see the rubble and dump trucks going in and out. They were still looking for survivors.
The second thing was about a week later. I was allowed to visit 'ground zero'. I had to walk several blocks from the sub-way and the closer I got the quieter the people became. At one point when you could actually see, everyone whispered, if they talked at all. It just so happened that while I was there a limo pulled up and Martin Scorsese, the movie producer, got out alone and walked up on the platform. I watched his shoulders drop and his head bow for a minute. Then he quickly walked away. It was the same reaction most people had. The most powerful memory to me was the smell. I guess it was burning hot fuel and melted steel and concrete, but there was also something awful. I hope I never smell it again.
My job on 9/11 was screening Local Disaster Volunteers. Thousands of people came from all over the country to help. Some of the locals would work all week at their regular jobs and then some came in after hours and weekends to help. I can say that the stereotype of a cold, uncaring New Yorker is wrong.
I'd like to finish by saying that I've seen the aftermath of lots of disasters and how hard it is to recover. It makes me wonder how those people in Atmore do it. Before they can clean up from one disaster they are hit by another and another. They are some tough customers. I'm also especially proud of my Aunt Charlotte Boyle for getting involved in the Red Cross, even though at times I think its been a little more than she bargained for.