Very Few of us who were alive will ever forget where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. For me, it was at my office in Downtown Toledo. The news broke somewhere between when I left a parking garage I parked at a block or so south of my office at a former firm I was a partner in and when I arrived in the office.
I walked into our third floor lobby to our staff huddled around a TV in our large conference room. My office was the first by it. Not long after word broke of the plane hitting the Pentagon a client showed up for his appointment.
He was a World War II veteran and I asked him if he wanted to go forward with our meeting. He asked if I did. I said sure, this was my generation’s Pearl Harbor, but we were safe in Toledo and I couldn’t do anything that minute to help anyone.
Later that day, when we finally got everyone to go home, I joined my wife and my two years and four month old daughter. We watched video after video, but one hit me the most and my wife couldn’t get why it, of all the other horrors of the day, hit me the worst.
A man had a camera and was blocks away when one of the towers collapsed. The wave of ashes and debris blew over him as he ducked under a car. The picture below is of victims covered in that. But it wasn’t the sights of the video, it was the sound. Specifically a piercing chorus of sounds.
I have spent decades now representing injured first responders. Thanks to my position on Toledo City Council, I had the honor of chairing the Public Safety & Criminal Justice Reform Committee of Toledo City Council, and even at an event called Fire Ops 101, got a one day taste of the job. I knew about the emergency locator beacons, being the son and great grand son of volunteer firefighters back then and that the sound was several hundred New York Firefighters in distress all at once. I knew the toll in the those who ran to that danger was going to be staggering.
Within about 24 hours, as I could see the men & women of the 180th Fighter Wing flying a combat air patrol to protect us from any attempt to hit us from Canada, I had an idea what I could do to help. We had a young associate who really wanted to do will and probate work. I am a Navy dependent and but for a really thick set of glasses would have served in the JAG Corps right out of the law school. I therefore new, we were going to be undertaking the most massive deployment of troops in decades. So I contacted the local Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and National Guard units and asked to talk to the JAG officer assigned. As expected, to say they were overwhelmed by the coming task was understatement.
So thanks to a great team of partners, that associate and our support staff, we decided to offer to any local active duty or reserve military personnel a free will and durable power of attorney and discounted ones for their families. And we did hundreds. But within a day of our story hitting local media, firms throughout our area joined us.
A month or so later, I signed up for Trial Lawyers Care, which was started by the now American Association for Justice. Because of the scale of the tragedy of 9-11, with people killed in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia and a web of possible ways to get families help, a clearinghouse was set up with training and insurance to cover us. We would provide free assistance with workers’ compensation claims, social security survivors claims, and eventually claims to funds for those injured on the ground.
That December, my wife and a team from our church got to do something constructive on the ground. She and two others trained as grief counselors went to a church, blocks from Ground Zero in New York and offered prayer and comfort to those working the pile of what was the World Trade Center, the picture with the candle was shot just outside the work area. The team wanted to record and be a little light in that darkness.
Since then, my family and I have been twice to where Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, PA, before our Air National Guard unit, which was drilling and had F-16's ready to launch, could shoot it down. And we visited the Ground Zero Memorial in New York and the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, VA. If you’ve never gone to them, they are truly holy ground. You can almost feel the energy, not of the horrible evil that cost so many lives that day but of the courage and heroism that saved many more.
As the quote from the Roman poet Virgil on a wall at the memorial in New York says “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.”. Today we remember those who died that day and over the years since including 343 firefighters, 23 police officers, 37 Port Authority police officers, who ran to the danger instead of from it. And the more than 2,200 civilians the couldn’t rescue and the 50,000 plus they did.
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