That Forever September Morning
The atrocities that occurred exactly 10 years ago today will not quickly be forgotten by Irish and Irish Americans. “That Forever September Morning: Memories of 9/11” is a podcast created by Glucksman Ireland House, New York University Oral History Project and has been put together to remember the ten year anniversary of September 11 2001. Among the 16 voices heard are TV journalist Mary Murphy, firefighter Vince Dunn and activist Anne Maguire. SINEAD NOLAN revisits some of their haunting memories…
“I remember the day so clearly as it was beautiful out,” says Jim Murphy, a journalist. “I dropped my son off at Trinity. I walked through the park. I was crossing fifth avenue and I saw the black smoke.”
“I was on Grenwich Street walking to work,” says Anne Maguire, an immigrant and activist. “I heard the plane overhead, then, I heard this incredibly loud noise. I stopped walking and crouched down and put my hands over my ears because I had no idea what it was.”
John Ridge, a Historian, was two blocks from the World Trade Centres when he remembers hearing about a plane crashing into one of the buildings. He went to have a look.
“So I went outside and looked up at the tower… there was a crowd of people around all of sudden I see this figure falling from the tower, I thought – my God, that can’t be a human being falling from that building…”
Frank Naughton, a retired university professor said he remembers watching when the second plane hit.
“We had a line of vision direct down to Manhattan, we were both at home. I was scheduled to go to Cain University. I heard there was a delay so I turned on the television and saw the second plane hit.”
Vince Dunn, who was a firefighter in New Yorkfor 42 years and has written four books on firefighting, recalls how he was in the gym glued to the TV when he witnessed the second plane crash into the World Trade Centres.
“I had just finished a training video on fighting fires in high rise buildings,” says Vince. “After it happened at first I thought the building would burn for hours. I know what goes on in a high rise building so when I saw that structure come down, I just put my head in my hands and I said, ‘Oh God I know those guys are dying…’”
Anne Maguire arrived at her office.
“The first one fell, which happened while we were all in this room which had windows looking out onto the towers. The guy from HR told everyone to stay in the building. No one was to go outside. Someone behind me grabbed me by the neck and I couldn’t get her off me, she had got such a fright, she just grabbed.”
For some the memories are clear of the panic – for others it is the aftermath that sticks in their head more poignantly.
Mary Murphy remembers the city when the panic had died down.
“There was dust. I remember the dust – inches and inches, blanketed and paper – paper everywhere that had survived the blast and fire. You just knew it was the remains of buildings and people and it was everywhere, every car, every canopy outside, the ground – it was like there had been a war on Mars or the Moon or something.”
Catriona Hayes, immigrant homemaker and student nurse, remembers the people searching for remains of their loved ones. “Some of them had lost buddies. Some of the older firemen had lost sons. They just didn’t want to leave until they had found something, just some little piece of them.”
“I remember photos everywhere,” says Anne McDermott, an author. “People hanging up photos, that had started looking for family members, you just knew it was so futile.”
But John Driscoll, politician and former Army National Guard officer, said it was the memory of man’s capability of evil against innocent civilians that will always stick in his mind.
“There were two other people who got on the same bus stop with me every day. I knew them only by first names but I knew they were Irish. On Sept 11, just like every morning, we get off at that stop. I went East, they went West, into the World Trade Centre. But that day both of them were killed. I often think about that – what an awful thing, they were just innocent people, just minding their own business. For that I can never understand that day.”
Mary Murphy, Reporter for WPIX-TV, New York City speaks exclusively to Sinead Nolan about her own Forever September Morning…
“On the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, I was off from work. It was my regular day off, but I had taken the week off, because my son Anthony who was 5 at the time was starting kindergarten. I had just showered and washed my hair and dropped my son at school, before going to vote. Just before 9am, I was in the car with my husband, when my mother called me on my cell phone. I thought she said, “Did you hear about the train crash at the World Trade Center?”
When she repeated herself, I realised it was a plane that had just gone into one of theTwinTowers. My husband drove me to the number 7 subway line in Flushing, Queens. When I got onto the train, a few minutes later, the conductor announced the trains would not be running. I walked to Northern Boulevard in Queens and hopped a bus. All of a sudden, my cell phone rang. It was the wife of a man I knew who survived the first, World Trade Center bombing. Her name was Sally DeLeo.
Her husband, Vito DeLeo, had crawled out of the rubble on February 26, 1993, when a rental truck packed with explosives blew up in the underground garage of Tower 1. We had stayed in touch for more than eight years. Now, Vito DeLeo, a father of two, wasn’t answering his cell phone, and Sally was frantic.
The bus did not take me all the way to the Queensboro Bridge in Long Island City, so I hitch-hiked a ride from an older man in a pick-up truck. He dropped me off at the base of the Queensboro Bridge, which goes over the East River into Manhattan. Thousands of people were running towards me, to get out ofManhattan. I was one of the few racing into Manhattan on foot.
Everyone was running around on automatic pilot, while our weekday news anchors were trying to make sense of what had happened. I started anchoring with my colleague, Marvin Scott. We started to see closer footage of the towers coming down along West and Liberty Streets in Manhattan, with people running for their lives, covered head to toe in white soot. I was anchoring on the news set, when we started to hear that more than 300 fire-fighters were possibly dead.
I remember getting a call from Vito DeLeo’s wife the next morning about 6 am, asking me if I had heard from Vito. Sadly, I told her no. I also remember hearing about firefighters I had covered on previous news stories from years past being listed among the missing.
Five years ago, I went to Ireland with my husband and Anthony, who was 10 at the time. I met with an Irish camera crew, and we shot a story about an Irish nurse, originally from Kinsale, who planted 343 trees on her family’s land in memory of the 343 firefighters who had been killed on 9/11. We called our story, “The Healing Trees” because a number of 9/11 families from America had visited the site and found the area to be very soothing.
The images I will always remember from 9/11 are the photos that started being posted on walls near the morgue, by Bellevue Hospital. People were wandering around the streets looking for their loved ones, but they eventually came to the realisation that if they didn’t hear from them that first night, they were probably lost forever.
You can listen to the podcast of “That Forever September Morning: Memories of 9/11” at www.irelandhouse.as.nyu.edu