I was given the opportunity to organize an important even for my school. This summer I am working on a dedication ceremony for a display with several items that were used during the clean up in the aftermath of 9/11.
As part of the planning, I wanted to invite the man who generously donated the items to our school. While I was expecting that he had a story to tell, I was shaken by the incredible man that I shared a few minutes with today.
He was a recalled to service in the national guard after 9/11. He was stationed at Fresh Kills Land fill across from Ground Zero where he and his group were part of the efforts to remove and sort through the rubble that was the towers. He was told upon returning to Ft. Dix to sanitize the materials, but realizing their importance, he did not. Instead he saved them, waiting for an appropriate time to donate them to the school in the town where he grew up, Weymouth Township. While working at Ground Zero his team sorted through rubble trying to find traces of biological material that would help families find out about their loved ones.
This was only the first part of the story…
Working in the conditions following the 9/11 attacks has given him cancer, twice. While he survived the first type, he is unlikely to survive the second. Instead of feeling sorry or sad, he is grateful. He is grateful that he has had the opportunity to live as he has for these past 13 years. He only told me about the cancer because he may be in poor health by September of this year, but regardless, he plans on attending.
It was not just this man’s service that touched me, but his attitude. He talked about how he was a soldier, and sometimes soldiers don’t make it back alive. He felt lucky to be alive for all these years and grateful for the medical advances our country had made available to him. This man personifies everything I try to teach young students about the greatness of American spirit in the weeks following that horrific day. We, as a people, were united in the face of terroristic acts. This man embodies the greatest single aspect of what it means to be American, that, in the face of great struggles and horrors, we are not paralyzed by fear, but mobilized by love.