Special Breed

Where were you and what were you doing when those terrorists flew the jets into the twin towers? I remember where and what I was doing and I remember watching the second jet slice into the tower live on TV.

I knew at that moment that our world had changed; our innocence taken from us. I saw on the news when people began jumping from the upper floors rather than waiting to burn alive in the fires. I watched later as the towers collapsed, and sat amazed as the massive dust clouds boiled down the streets engulfing people as they fled.

We all saw the photos of the people staggering out from the dust clouds covered in gray powder. The powder was all that remained of the buildings. Those pictures will be forever etched in my mind. I will never forget! There were so many photos that even today bring a tear to my eye and make me pause. I’m sure we all remember the photos of the skeleton of the building silhouetted at ground zero. The photo of firemen raising the flag the next day.

Of the photos that went public two make me stop what I’m doing. They are of two jumpers. One is even known as the “falling man.” They are so horrific that out of decency they are not shown often.

There are other photos that I remember from ground zero. They were taken by a couple officers I know and worked with. Immediately after the collapse of the towers, when it was thought there would be more survivors in the rubble, several groups of police officers from Chicago and elsewhere around the country jumped in their trucks and cars and left for New York City. They spent the next couple days helping move rubble. Some, who had brought uniforms, helped with traffic control while the NYPD officers did what they needed to do.

These officers went on their own. They didn’t wait for the department to ask for volunteers or wait for someone to get a bus. They tossed their duffle bag in their vehicle and headed east. One such officer who worked for me took a camera with him. It was a 35mm camera, not a digital one. He took several rolls of photo’s while he was there.

Many of the pictures showed the rubble and the building’s skeleton laying about. As I went through the photos a week after he returned I couldn’t help but tear up. His photos showed the dedication as well as the devastation. He had photos of firemen, police officers and construction workers sitting exhausted on stairs with bottles of water. No one was talking. There were no smiles. There was that hundred-yard stare that we all have heard of. A combination of sadness, exhaustion, and silent determination written on their faces.

This wasn’t another difficult job, it was personal for them. They’d lost family and friends in this terrorist attack. Over the years I’ve heard stories from friends and family of how they had missed being in the building, or how their cousin was never found in the rubble. It was very personal to so many Americans that day.

I stopped when I got to one of the photos. It put so much in perspective. It was a photo of an upscale men’s clothing store. I don’t remember the name but I do remember the front of the building was a beautiful red granite stone with the store’s name on metal letters. Spray painted next to the company name someone had left the message MORGUE in big white letters. There was an arrow pointing off to one side.

This store was a perfect example of America. The property must have been worth millions on September 10th. Days later no one batted an eye when someone painted on it with spray paint. I’m sure it was a welcome sight to those working who needed to find the morgue.

I’ll be happy to always call this officer as well as all the other officers who ran to help that week in NYC, my friends. They are a special breed. They took an oath to serve and protect and they live by it. I am as proud of them today as I was then.

Where most of us vowed to never forget, it seems too many of our people have forgotten or chose to forget. They chose either for convenience or profit. I don’t care why, I am saddened that they did. I’m sure that this is a large part of what has happened in our country over the last two or three years that is so distasteful.

Monday morning as I sip my coffee from the comfort of my chair, I know I’ll be watching replays of the jets crashing into the towers. I know I’ll be teary eyed and I know I’ll thank God there are people like the officers I know who charged off to help that day 16 years ago. I know some of us will never forget.

Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union, serving as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.