That September Morning

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First responders at Ground Zero.

It was a perfect September morning.

The weather was perfect, cloudless, heralding the end of summer. The day was Tuesday, primary day in New York City. As then-favored mayoral candidate Public Advocate Mark Green campaigned near Greenwich Village’s Sixth Avenue, a plane flew overhead.

Witnesses from several miles away remember it sounded like a truck driving over metal plates.

To them that was how they remembered the sound of a Boeing 767 crashing into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Eighteen minutes later, a second Boeing 767 struck the South Tower.

In less than two hours, nearly 3,000 were dead or missing, including four DC 37 members. Hundreds more were injured, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers — some covered in toxic dust — marched in all directions under a cloud of billowing smoke and ash spewing from the flaming wreckage of the World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan.

For weeks, that September summer continued with warm days, blue skies, which were marred by an endless column of smoke rising from the ground in what was by then called Ground Zero.

In the weeks that followed, thousands of first responders came to the site, to search for and recover human remains, and to clean up the dangerous wreckage of what turned out the worst terrorist attack on American soil. Headed by union members, the clean-up would last nine months. Subway station and infrastructure work has continued for years.

Fifteen years later we continue to grapple with the consequences from that terrible day on Sept. 11.

For the tens of thousands of the survivors, and the first responders and workers called to duty to work for months at Ground Zero, in lower Manhattan, the suffering from this terrible event continues unabated. The death toll continues to rise as veterans of the clean-up effort succumb to the myriad of merciless and debilitating illnesses and cancers caused by exposure to the toxic chemicals released in the destruction of the Twin Towers.

For many years, DC 37 helped lead the long struggle for these heroes to be cared for. Many workers were denied complete coverage after becoming too sick to work — forced into disability — with only a limited safety net for themselves and their families to get the necessary medical care.

Finally, thanks partly to the efforts of then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, along with Sen. Chuck Schumer and U.S. Congress member Carolyn Mahoney, the Ground Zero workers won an important victory in the passage of the Zadroga Act by the U.S. Congress in 2010, which was renewed last year. Now, their lifetime health-care coverage is guaranteed.

In the years since, what time cannot heal, humanity builds on and moves forward. The new One World Trade Center rises above the Manhattan skyline. An expansive park, memorial and museum covers much of the former site where thousands lost their lives, and continue to do so, paying the price of heroism.

They were just doing their job. These workers never quit.

This originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Public Employee Press.

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