Maurice Decaul visits the firefighters of Company 224 in Brooklyn, to observe their rituals of remembrance and see the ongoing work as its men pay their respects and respond to new alarms.
The flag this morning flies at half-staff in front of Engine Company 224 in Brooklyn. It’s 08:35 a.m., Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 10 minutes from the exact anniversary of the chaos that enveloped the city. I am with my cousin Al and the other firefighters at his station.
Alice Proujansky/Newsweek Daily Beast
The wind is near still, the air is hazy and thick, the sky is bright.
In the middle of the memorial ceremony the alarm rings for an emergency somewhere in the city. The firehouse doors open and I watch the five-man crew scurry aboard Engine 224, the station’s only fire truck. The backup-man stops stroller traffic on the sidewalk, another fireman is road guard. The time is now 08:45 a.m. The engine clears the bay and firefighters in full gear hop aboard. One is still wearing the creased blue dress uniform shirt he’d had on for the ceremony under his fire retardant jacket. This is the first call on September 11 in the five years since Al has been a member of the company. The engine pulls out, and, like every other alarm that these men race to, there is no guarantee of their return.
On September 11, 2001, the alarm rang and the chauffeur, as the engine’s driver is called, took the Brooklyn Battery tunnel into the city and toward the towers.
I remain at the station and as the engine pulls away the remaining men of the company start coming out to the street in their Class A uniforms. They stand shoulder to shoulder. “08:46 a.m. Flight 11 impacts tower one” comes over the loudspeaker. We observe a moment of silence. The whole neighborhood seems to do the same. For a moment everything is still. Hicks Street comes to attention. People on their stoops stand. People walking along the sidewalk silently hold their place. Cars stop. The sanitation men turn off their truck’s engine. I close my notebook and put my pen in my pocket and stand near the firemen.
The guys ask me if I’d like to share breakfast. We have a good spread, they say. I say yes and thank you, and we walk back inside to the kitchen. The bay is empty. Engine 224 is still out responding to the alarm. There are bagels and bacon, potatoes, and coffee. I’m offered coffee and warned with a smile that it’s no good. I’m given french-vanilla creamer to sweeten it. Al and I get a slice of bacon each and for a moment let our attention drift to the television where the people reading the names of the victims are only just getting to letter C.
08:57 a.m., Engine 224 is back from the alarm.
Photographer Alice Proujansky tours New York City for reminders of the 9/11 attacks on the 12th anniversary.
Twelve years after 9/11, the reporters and anchors who covered the worst tragedy in U.S. history remember it all too well. From holding back tears on screen to watching bodies fall from the towers, here are their stories.
On September 11, 2001, people across the globe gathered around their TVs to watch one of the worst tragedies in U.S. history unfold before their eyes. For viewers, it was unfathomable. For the anchors on the other side of the screen, it was reality. Twelve years later, they can still smell the stench of dust and death, hear the sound of buildings crumbling, and feel the thick smoke that cloaked the city. Here are their stories.
Pat Kiernan, a morning anchor for NY1, was one hour from finishing his shift when the first tower was hit.
We had just gone to commercial when my assignment editor told me that a small plane had hit the Twin Towers and there was a fire and that we had a shot of it—from our camera perched on the top of the Empire State building. When we came back, I had to ad-lib: “There’s smoke coming out of the building …” I had no idea what was happening. So we sent one of our reporters, Kristen Shaughnessy, to the scene. And she was telling me what was happening. But suddenly sounding afraid, she said, “Pat, I gotta go, it’s billowing.” In the meantime she had to drop the phone. It was one of the more terrifying things for me personally. Kristen was a friend of mine and colleague for eight years; I had no idea if she was a block away from the towers or 10 blocks away. I could see on the live picture that the field of debris was spreading. That was the longest 25 minutes ever before I heard that she was OK. We had taken someone who was out of harm’s way and put them in it. There was a lot of guilt there.
But that’s not to discount my fear for the first responders and people who I knew were probably still in the building. The information was so sketchy. I had no idea. I began thinking—and I mentioned it on the air earlier—that the structure of the building might pose a problem. But I didn't expect it to become one so quickly. When the towers fell, I was shell-shocked, struggling to find words. How do you tell people watching that any hope for people in that building is gone? The first two minutes I was searching for words, the smoke and debris were filling lower Manhattan. Suddenly, we got a guy who's an eyewitness on the phone. A minute later he's on the air and he's right there. Airplane debris, dust, smoke. It was so hard to sit up there and stay composed and keep track of everything—to process what the facts were. We kept getting false reports of survivors. It just kept coming, coming, coming.
The emotion of the day didn’t hit me until hours after, when my thoughts were my own. I went home to my apartment at 75th and Broadway. It was empty because my wife—who was eight months pregnant—was in Chicago. I remember feeling glad that she was there, safe. I heated up leftovers. The apartment was quiet. I turned the TV off and tried to just breathe. But as I was sitting there, I saw the smoke rising. It was suddenly just this inescapable reminder.
Rick Leventhal, a Fox News correspondent, was working uptown when his boss called to see if he could get downtown. “Why?” he asked. “Turn on your TV.”
Rick Leventhal, a Fox News correspondent, during his coverage on September 11, 2001.
David Filipov, a reporter with The Boston Globe, was working in Moscow when he turned on CNN, saw the burning towers, and got an email from his mom: ‘your dad was on the first plane.’ He remembers the moment—and his father—in a series of tweets on the 12th anniversary of the attacks.
Every single Cantor Fitzgerald employee who reported for work on floors 101 through 105 of the North Tower died on September 11, 2001. Lloyd Grove reviews ‘Out of the Clear Blue Sky,’ a documentary about one weeping man’s quest to save his decimated company and console the families of the dead.
“I had not intended to cry, but I couldn’t think about all those faces without crying,” Howard Lutnick recalls. “It wasn’t up to me. I wasn’t in control.” Lutnick, the chairman and chief executive of the Wall Street trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald, is filmed sobbing a great deal in Out of the Clear Blue Sky, and not only is it impossible to blame him, it’s hard to resist the impulse to join him.
Howard Lutnick, the chairman and chief executive of the Wall Street trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald during 9/11, looks at a wall of missing-people posters after the attack. (Out of The Clear Blue Sky)
Lutnick, a master of the universe abruptly laid low, is shown fighting to keep his composure in a series of television interviews (with Connie Chung, Larry King, and others) after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in which every single Cantor Fitzgerald employee who reported for work that morning on floors 101 through 105 in the North Tower of the World Trade Center—658 in all, including Lutnick’s brother, Gary—was killed by fire, smoke, and God knows what when one of two hijacked jetliners hit, ultimately toppling the massive skyscraper. The other crashed into the South Tower with similar results.
Lutnick, then 40, was spared because he was dropping off his son that morning at his first day of kindergarten on the Upper East Side. He rushed downtown to the hellish scene, only to be blasted by a “tornado,” as he describes it, of ash and debris. He couldn’t see; he couldn’t hear. “Am I dead?” he wondered, before jabbing himself in the eye and feeling the sharp pain of life. Writer-director Danielle Gardner makes compelling use of all the horrifically iconic images. They have lost none of their gut-wrenching power.
“Oh my goodness,” an all but trembling Bryant Gumbel, then host of the Today show, laments on camera, in a video clip from that terrible week. “His entire firm, everybody who works in his office ... is gone. His entire office. Everybody! Everybody! I watched this guy tell his story. It just ripped me up. I couldn’t handle it.”
The film, which will receive a special nationwide screening in select theaters on Wednesday night, the 12th anniversary of the slaughter, is an emotionally draining and yet ultimately heartening documentary that follows Lutnick, a sort of weeping prophet in the spirit of Jeremiah, as he and his surviving co-workers cope with their sorrow, try to save their decimated company, and console the families of the dead.
They also weathered devastating publicity—and in Lutnick’s case, obscene messages and death threats—after the firm was widely portrayed in the media as too slow to fulfill a public promise to compensate the victims’ spouses and children with 25 percent of the company’s profits for 5 years and keep them on health insurance for 10 years.
Amid the grief and confusion in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, Lutnick and his surviving managers had determined that while the company, if it managed to stay in business—a big “if”—could distribute a chunk of the profits, Cantor Fitzgerald couldn’t afford to keep writing paychecks to deceased employees. It was a decision that, understandably, was greeted with anger by the survivors.
Former Marine and Iraq War vet Maurice Decaul and his cousin, a NYC fireman, reflect on September 11, 2011, and the meaning of service and sacrifice.
Bravery is the ability to overcome fear through fortitude, instinct, compassion for others and training.
FDNY Mission Statement
My cousin Al is a Navy veteran, a former EMT, and now a fireman in New York City. As a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, I’ve thought a lot about what heroism means, what bravery means, and how they are forged and tested. When Al and I spoke recently about September 11, 2001 and the actions of New York’s bravest fighting their way deeper into the inferno to save the lives of those trying to get out, it wasn’t as two weary vets, jaded and swapping stories. It was like we were kids again, awed by the might of superheroes and quietly inspired to search out the possibility of that kind of sacrifice in our lives.
After we had talked, I followed Al’s directions and walked west from Engine 224s firehouse on Hicks Street along Remsen Street to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The river smelled faintly briny as waves brushed up against the pier. Further out in the harbor speedboats and ferries turned up white water, the chop chop chop of tour helicopters whirled the air and cumulus clouds peeked through Manhattan’s canyons. I put on my sunglasses. A lone jet trailed vapor as it raced the sun. It was a bright September day like it was a dozen years ago.
At his firehouse in Brooklyn Heights, Al asked me if I wanted to try on his gear. He reached into the cab of the fire engine near the Control-man’s seat, took out his helmet and handed it to me. I put it on. Al said that for the first few months on the job, his neck was sore. The helmet weighs about 12 pounds, and sits slightly unbalanced unlike the Kevlar I wore as a Marine. It’s designed with an air pocket, which acts as a cushion between the skull and falling debris. I slipped on Al’s fire retardant jacket next and immediately felt beads of sweat form on my back. The weight is almost 20 pounds and the jacket feels the way body armor feels. Heavy with security.
Al reached into the cab of the engine and took out the mask system; it includes a bottle of oxygen with forty-five minutes worth of air, the face mask itself, and the harness to which everything is attached. I put the mask on and Al snapped the buckles. There’s a carbon filter attachment in case of gas or biological weapons attack. This piece of gear is so well designed that you barely feel it. I asked Al about this and he says that the FDNY has been attempting to lower the weight of the kit. Next, he gives me the Control-man’s toolbox, which can be carried by hand or slung across the body or shoulders. Al prefers to hold it. So do I. It feels less heavy this way. He hands me the Control-man’s hose next. It is a lighter hose than the type that would have been used on September 11 but still heavy. Lastly, the radio with its orange mayday button.
I stand there in the protective gear, it weighs about 120 pounds altogether. I remember images of firefighters walking to the Trade Center and up the stairs and I think of them carrying a 20-or-so-pound, canvas-covered flexible hose while wearing a helmet and a fire-retardant jacket and pants and boots, a mask, a tool kit. The adrenaline rush of anticipation, the extra weight of fear as those men walked on into the unknown.
Al is not big, maybe 5-foot-10, 160 pounds. He is lean, well muscled, the complexion of a hazel nut, with black, sympathetic eyes. He tells me how much it bothers him when he sees someone hurt or to see the human body damaged. He tells me of holding a woman’s hand who had been hit by a vehicle on Atlantic Avenue, as she passed from this world to the next. He is reserved when saying this, his Brooklyn accent influenced by the rhythms of the Caribbean of St. Vincent.
Why do the best 9/11 novels only deal with 9/11 in oblique ways? Jimmy So looks at how writers have contended with the legacy of the Al Qaeda attacks.
“For those in the immediate vicinity, the horror was of course immediate and unmistakable,” columnist Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in the first issue of The New Yorker published after Sept. 11, 2001, in what must have been a somewhat agonizing session of chiseling in the stone a first draft of the emotional response to the attacks that killed some 3,000 people. For their families and friends, the acts of violence were personal. But for those who witnessed the events from far away, “it will take months—or years—to measure their impact and meaning.”
We have had years to do just that. Twelve years on, however, there is a sense that we are no better at measuring the meaning of 9/11 than we were on that day. Most of us assess the impact of the catastrophe by our response to international terrorism and the reverberations in domestic security. We have gone through Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, wiretapping, and the Arab Spring, yet we emerge conflicted as ever about issues of civil liberties and foreign intervention—what are we to do with Edward Snowden? With Syria? We appraise the legacy of 9/11 through politics and the news, but side effects include numbness.
And that is why we turn to fiction—to reanimate reality. We want to draw ourselves back into the orbit of the life we have become apathetic to, or simply confused about. Thus, every year in early autumn, we wonder where the great 9/11 novel is, and why the whale doesn’t want to be spotted. Mostly, we seem to have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t exist, that there is no great 9/11 novel yet. We even seem to have decided that Sept. 11 was such an abrupt, transformative event that fiction dealing with the tragedy squarely cannot possibly come close to measuring its vibrations.
This is a valid reading, especially since sentimentality (Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, superficial attachment (Jay McInerney’s The Good Life), and stylized luster (John Updike’s Terrorist, Don DeLillo’s Falling Man) do trivialize the reality. Sept. 11 is a black hole that can’t be approached directly. The problem, according to the critic Laura Miller of Salon, is that at its heart, 9/11 was meaningless. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would modify that: if you scramble to read too deeply into what the terror acts “mean” for your life, you’re giving the terrorists a little too much credit. It’s not as if their violence benevolently afforded you the opportunity to reflect on your blunders—that opportunity was there all along, and we ought to have taken advantage long ago. They committed murder in cold blood, and we are all in the process of coming to terms with the possibility of this abhorrent reality.
The truth is that 9/11 was so unanticipated and traumatizing that when we peer into almost any novel written after 2001, we see 9/11 staring back. (Even Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad make the required gestures.) The public cataclysm has been woven into much of our lives, and some of the best social and political novels of the past 12 years have met 9/11 at an angle. They are about much more than 9/11—they are about a great many things in life—but let us offer five novels that do deal with 9/11 in significant if oblique ways. When we visited this subject four years ago, we picked Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. In our update, we can now add Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Amy Waldman’s The Submission. (Waldman also picked her favorite 9/11 books for us two years ago.)
By Joseph O’Neill
Netherland is a gaunt novel that begins with a Dutch banker, named Hans van den Broek, who fled his Tribeca loft and lived with his family in the Chelsea Hotel after the World Trade Center fell. O’Neill’s prose is precise and whisperingly rich throughout, and offers perhaps the best sensory report on New York in the days after 9/11: “Around the clock, ambulances sped eastward on West Twenty-third Street with a sobbing escort of police motorcycles,” Hans observes. “Sometimes I confused the cries of the sirens with my son’s nighttime cries.” The attacks puts him in a kind of paralysis, and his wife leaves him for London, freeing him to turn to a game that, although you wouldn’t likely think of it that way, O’Neill somehow makes into a symbol of the American dream: cricket. The book is lovingly careful with its symbolism, so when Hans experiences his rebirth from sluggishness and embraces the vibrant sport, which has a healthy subculture among West Indian immigrants in the city’s ungroomed public parks, the emotional sonority fits, taking us on Hans’s redemptive arc without being overwrought.
Twelve years ago today, Benjamin Clark saved hundreds of lives in the South Tower. But he wasn’t a firefighter or a cop. Michael Daly on what we can learn from the courageous chef.
At midnight every September 11, Elsie Clark hangs a banner on the fence alongside the front-yard memorial to the 39-year-old son who perished at the World Trade Center.
“In Loving Memory
Benjamin Keefe Clark
Benjamin Clark remained in the South Tower of the World Trade Center helping countless to safety. (Louis Lanzano/AP; Clark Family)
The son was not a firefighter or a police officer.
He was a chef.
But a morning that began with him preparing meals for the people at the Fiduciary Trust Company suddenly led to him becoming as brave as any first responder. A Fiduciary official would later credit Clark with saving hundreds of lives as he made sure that everyone in his department along with everybody else in the company’s 96th floor offices in the South Tower was safely exiting the building.
He then paused on the 78th floor to assist a woman in a wheelchair.
“He could have gotten out,” his mother says. “Everybody else did.”
Tina Brown was inspired to become a citizen. Michael Daly lost friends in the towers. See theirs and other Daily Beast memories of the attacks 12 years ago today.
A defining moment for the country was also a defining one for Tina Brown. The Daily Beast’s editor in chief talks about the trauma of 9/11 and how it inspired her to become an American citizen.
Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for The Daily Beast, had been reporting on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for nine years before 9/11. Dickey says he immediately thought bin Laden was the culprit—and shares a strange memory of a jogger that crystal-clear morning in Central Park.
Before he joined The Daily Beast, executive editor John Avlon was a speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. On the day of the attacks, he was with the mayor. Avlon talks about the difficulty and importance of one of his duties in the days following the tragedy: writing eulogies for responders who lost their lives.
Immediately after 9/11, rumors emerged of someone who had ‘surfed’ the debris to safety. A Discovery Channel documentary on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy told the story of survivor Pasquale Buzzelli, who may or may not be the surfer.
When Pasquale Buzzelli regained consciousness on Sept. 11, 2001, the dust of what had once been the World Trade Towers still billowed over Manhattan and fires burned in the rubble of what had once been the skyline’s most striking features. Among the men and women who bravely climbed into the wreckage to find someone, anyone, who might have survived, the hope of pulling even one person out burned brighter. For a time that hope gave birth to rumors of miraculous things.
Among the most cinematic was that of a World Trade Center “surfer,” someone who had ridden fragments of the building down from the highest floors as it fell, and somehow escaped unscathed, or at least alive. It was a story that was in many ways a measure of what Americans wanted and needed to believe in the immediate aftermath of a disaster that defied comprehension.
On Tuesday night, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary that showed the need to believe the miraculous had intruded on the tragic that day and has not dimmed by the passage of years. The hourlong film, titled The 9/11 Surfer and which promises to find out “what really happened” regarding this figure of urban myth, does little more than wrap the survival of one extremely fortunate man, Pasquale Buzzelli, in the garments of a story Americans always wanted to be true but that never quite panned out.
And while NBC’s Savannah Guthrie said on Today before the documentary aired that Buzzelli’s tale is a “survivor’s story that is just now being publicly told for the first time,” the tale of how Buzzelli endured the collapse and was discovered in the open air by firefighters had been told multiple times in prominent publications in the intervening years.
Neither Buzzelli nor the Discovery Channel returned requests by The Daily Beast for comment on the documentary.
According to the documentary, as well as other press accounts of Buzzelli’s activities that day, the 34-year-old Port Authority engineer made his way to work in the North Tower and exited the elevator onto the building’s 64th floor shortly after American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the structure. He and his fellow employees did not begin to evacuate the building until after the South Tower had collapsed at 9:59 a.m. Buzzelli made his way down stairwell B, one of the building’s three exit stairways. He had reached the 22nd floor, he says, when the building began to collapse. He threw himself against a wall and curled into the fetal position, then, after a brief freefall, blacked out. He woke up again three hours later, he said, atop the rubble of the tower.
By that account, Buzzelli had fallen to about the seventh story—a drop of 200 feet.
On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, former FBI agent Ali Soufan talks to John Avlon about the Obama administration approach to al Qaeda, how the invasion of Iraq opened ‘Pandora’s Box’—and what more the U.S. needs to do to win the war on terror.
Terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1 and on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it can be easy to forget that the terrorist’s war on us hasn’t stopped.
Ali Soufan, former FBI agent, security consultant and author, in Afghanistan in 2002.
The good news is that we have made measurable progress in this fight—not only with the elimination of bin Laden, but also with the more than 45 attempted jihadist plots foiled in the last 10 years.
The Obama administration’s strategic decision to intensely focus on the destruction of al Qaeda has proven especially effective to date, providing a useful contrast to the more unilateral, boots-on-the-ground approach of the Bush administration. This should inform our domestic debates.
And so on this anniversary, I spoke to Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent, security consultant, and author of the award-winning Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda to get his take on the Obama counterterror doctrine. How would he sum it up in a sentence?
“Total elimination of al Qaeda.” Soufan said. “They are hitting leaders of al Qaeda, and anyone who is known to be plotting against the United States. But at the same time they are trying to stop all the incubating factors that help terrorist recruitment, funding, P.R. and so forth. They are hitting them on different levels. A lot of people see the success of the drones … but the global partnerships that have been created have been effective—and that includes law enforcement, diplomacy, economic aid, educational programs, and definitely boots on the ground when needed, i.e., killing Osama bin Laden. So I think it's more comprehensive in nature.”
“We joke sometimes that Obama does a lot of the same tactics as George Bush, but he keeps his mouth shut,” Soufan says. “The Bush administration’s war on terror wasn't actually working because most of our allies around the world—including England, Germany, other European countries, and the Muslim world—did not have the same concept of the war on terror. So, it makes it difficult when you have a strategy that your partners are not buying into. No. 2, it was wrongfully viewed in the Muslim world as a war on Islam,” said Soufan.
Soufan clarified that he doesn’t “want to blame everything on the Bush administration. I think you have to put yourself in their shoes at the time. But the two things I disagree with the Bush administration on, the invasion of Iraq and EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques), because it just created a lot of problems to our reputation around the world.”
A soldier whose firefighter father died saving others on 9/11 reminds us of the importance of always observing that dark anniversary, writes Michael Daly.
As we come to the 11th anniversary of 9/11, a Special Forces operator in Afghanistan on his sixth deployment has a standard signoff to his emails.
Robert Nickelsberg / AP Photo
“America is not at war. The U.S. military is at war. America is at the mall.”
Last year’s elaborate ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks carried an underlying sense that this was a milestone from which we were moving on. Nobody is talking about President Obama and the first lady coming to the memorial to observe the 11th anniversary.
But now is when we need our leaders to lead, to ensure that we remember and reflect on this date and only because we owe it to the thousands who were murdered at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard the downed plane in Pennsylvania. We also dare not forget because the war continues on, no matter how badly we want to put it behind us.
We still have enemies who spend every waking hour scheming of ways to blow up that mall of imagined peacetime.
'John Avlon, former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, leads a tour near Ground Zero.'
“They’re just regrouping,” says another soldier, a Special Forces sergeant who honors me by calling me Uncle Mickey and asks that he not be named for security reasons. “It’s obviously not over for them.”
Mayor, governor squabble over price tag.
The loved ones of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, will go at least another year without a museum at Ground Zero as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo argue over who will pay for maintenance. The spat also includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who with Cuomo oversees the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site. Until the three can work out their differences, work is stalled on the museum to commemorate the lives lost in the terrorist attacks nearly 11 years ago.
On the anniversary of 9/11, former FDNY chief Thomas Von Essen, reporter Michael Daly, and former Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon remember colleagues who lost their lives in the attacks.
These are dispatches from the front. Schoolteachers and firefighters, parents and police, trauma surgeons and tourists—they all struggled to explain the inexplicable. Here are their voices.
In his final speech in Washington on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the president said that while America took a painful blow, it emerged stronger than ever before. Plus, full coverage.
While networks documented the 9/11 attacks from afar, people near the scene recorded it up close. Watch video.