How Much Freedom Should We Trade For Our
John M. Lambkin
can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.
Charge of the Light Brigade,
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in
New York City has raised the question; how much freedom should we trade to
achieve security? There will be many economists, social scientists, and business
groups who will attempt to extrapolate the monetary, business and social costs
to our society in any reduction of our personal freedom.
Before we begin to assess those costs I would like to share with you an
essay on bravery and personal loss that cannot be so easily calculated, yet must
like many throughout the country, as well as the world, watched in stunned
silence from the safety of my home as two jumbo jets crashed into the World
Trade Center towers on that bright September morning. Once again terror had hit
New York City. Watching as
the second plane banked and dove into the South Tower, I knew this was no
accident and that I would be going to work. As New York City Police Officers,
assigned to the Emergency Service Unit we consistently handle various accidents
and emergencies, but we never envisioned this level of horror. This elite team
of police officers, who are all well trained and dedicated to saving lives,
would see true evil that day. I
remember that ominous winter day in 1993 when the Twin Towers were first
attacked by terrorists. Seeing the
immense crater and devastation that resulted in that onslaught made us think
that the Towers were able to take so much, but still would be there when the
dust cleared. How wrong we were.
unit has been sent to airplane crashes and disasters before but never would the
price be so extraordinary. As I
drove into the city my mind was filled with thoughts of my colleagues and
friends. Did they make it out? Did all the people who worked there get out
before the towers collapsed? Driving over the George Washington Bridge I looked
southward and all you could see against the azure sky was a malevolent gray
cloud covering the whole of lower Manhattan, like a shroud that descended and
encircled the tip of the island. I
knew that my friends were in those buildings helping get everyone out to safety.
That’s what we are trained to do and we do it knowing the dangers.
the first tower was struck units from all over the city began to mobilize and
mentally prepare for what had happened and for what they would now be called to
do. The men from Emergency Service
Truck One on East 21st Street in Manhattan would be the first to arrive.
Dominick Amendolare, the truck sergeant, would take his team of men into the
North Tower to rescue those still remaining within. Why he took the North Tower was just a twist of fate, which
would save all their lives.
Rodney Gillis, from Truck Eight, would take a squad of men into the South Tower,
as would Sgt. John Coughlin. With
Police Officers Brian McDonnell, Steve Driscoll, Vincent Danz, Ronnie Kloepfer,
Santos Valentin, Thomas Langone, Wally Weaver, Paul Talty, Jerome Dominquez and
Detective Joe Vigiano, they all would help to save hundreds of lives that day,
but they would trade their lives for such heroics. At 9:56am, all of our worst
fears would be realized; the South Tower collapsed entirely.
In an instant eight women would lose their husbands, two their fiancés,
parents their sons, and twenty-four children would never see their fathers
Officer Kenny Winkler was outside on the corner of Vesey and Church Streets,
next to Truck One when he heard the deafening roar, like a freight train. He
looked up to see what appeared to be confetti flying, but was actually the steel
of the South Tower raining down. He hurriedly crawled under the truck narrowly
escaping the downpour of steel death. What he did next, in the ensuing
confusion, saved the lives of Dominick and his men, as he was able to radio and
tell them to leave the North Tower, which was now in danger of collapse.
Dominick’s team of Cliff Allen, Roger Mack and Dave Norman were up on
the 31st floor when they heard Kenny’s call, but they had to ask what part of
the tower came down. Kenny was quite clear when he said sadly, “The whole
building is gone”.
the team began their descent downward they passed numerous firefighters,
stopping several times to administer oxygen to them and to let them know all had
been ordered out because of imminent collapse. On the 31st floor Dave Norman saw Firefighter Dave Weiss, who
had recently been honored for a daring water rescue in the East river, and told
him that the South Tower had fallen and everyone was getting out. Weiss said
that they would not be long and would be right behind him. Sadly, Dave Weiss,
and those firefighters with him, never made it out.
the team worked their way down they met up with Sgt. Michael Curtin, supervisor
from Emergency Service Squad 2. With him were Police Officers John D’Allara,
Mark DeMarco, Bill Beaury and Detective Claude “Danny” Richards.
Mike’s squad had heard the radio call and were on the third floor and
going down, when they told the other team they are getting out.
DeMarco and Beaury were now running along the concourse level as debris
is falling around them. Mike, John and Danny were still behind them as they ran
into the Custom House. As soon as
they got into the building, at 10:28am, the North Tower came rolling down upon
them. DeMarco says, “Everything got black and as I was being
covered with wreckage I just prayed for my family and asked God to make it quick”.
what seemed like a lifetime, Mark and Billy, now choking on the hot concrete
dust that had surrounded them, got up and began to feel their way out.
They are in total darkness; the Custom House had been ripped open by the
steel beams from the North Tower creating a massive breach in the center of the
building. Mark, in the
pitch-blackness, placed a hand on the wall and for no real reason went to his
left and as they inched along they made their way to West Street; had Mark
turned right from where he was he would have unknowingly walked into the abyss
created by the tons of falling steel. He missed death by mere inches.
down onto West Street Mark asked, “Where are Mike, John and Danny? They all
should be right behind me.” No one can give him an answer. Mike would be the
first to be found in the Custom House on March 6, 2002, Danny would be next on
March 29, 2002 and finally John on April 11, 2002. Once again, two more women would become widows and five more
children would lose their Dads.
at ground zero around 11:00 o’clock that morning, I was absolutely stunned at
the devastation and chaos I encountered. Concrete ash covered everything; bits
of clothing, paper and metal parts dangled from the trees. Fires were raging,
and people were running in confusion, yelling that there are more planes on the
way. Steel I-beams protruded grotesquely out from the neighboring buildings. All
that was once the heart of these Towers had been ripped out and strewn about the
& Rescue teams were formed and sent out into the sixteen-acre site with one
mission, to find people. Working
our way into the thickest part of this carnage did not seem like the brightest
of ideas, but we had people to find. That’s our job. The next several hours
went by in a blur of activity. We were standing hundreds of feet in the air atop
twisted steel beams, the surrounding buildings are all aflame, and structures
are still collapsing. The constant threat of death hung in the air, but we still
search for the thousands of victims who never made it out. Throughout the day we
all were hearing different reports on the missing people. It is heart wrenching
not knowing where your friends are. Were
they under all that twisted steel, pulverized concrete and fire?
then the members of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit would work non-stop at
ground zero, digging, sifting, and raking looking for all those that were lost
that day. The lost were people with hopes, dreams and lives to be lived, not
just remains to unearth. Once found they were placed gently into stretchers,
flags were draped over them, and then saluted a final goodbye as they were
escorted out of ground zero. I will forever remember the smell of death, wet
concrete and burning steel that constantly assailed my olfactory sense.
physical and emotional effect of all that has occurred has yet to be fully
realized. After the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma the divorce level
alone of those involved in the rescue rose by three hundred percent and that
recovery effort took only a month. What will the cost of this extended recovery
be? Of the fourteen ESU cops who died only five bodies would be recovered; the
remaining nine may be lost forever. The pain and suffering that each family and
their friends have to bear is enormous. Only time will tell what damage this
hurt will inflict upon all of our lives. In a span of just thirty-two minutes
thousands of people would die and the lives of many more would be forever
the next eight months there would be many funerals where men and women would
weep openly at the inspiring eulogies given by wives, children, parents and
friends. The strength and courage shown by these families is amazing, but you
look and see a deep pool of sadness in their red, tear stained eyes.
This unit would no longer have Mike’s strong guidance, Wally’s
gentleness with animals, Santos’s love of a joke and John’s quirky sense of
humor. Brian’s stoicism, Tommy’s expertise, Vinny’s spirit and Ronnie’s
love of the game - all gone. Jerome loved to ride, Paul was the ultimate family
guy and Steve loved being a cop. Joe Vig was just larger than life, Rodney had a
smile that could light up Manhattan, and we miss them all very much. We loved
all these men, they were our family, and now we will not be able to share laughs
and life’s precious moments with them ever again. How do you calculate the
loss of so many close personal friends?
This is an essay for my friends, all brave men, who willingly ran into those burning towers and participated in the largest rescue mission ever in the history of New York City, rescuing thousands. They traded their very lives so that we would be able to go on with ours.
When debate arises on what we would be willing to trade to be secure, think of these men and ask, “Would I trade my life for freedom?” They did.