September 11th marks the 21st anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks on the United States. We all have our own 9/11 story, and the day means something different to each of us. I would like to share my memories as a responder working as a K-9 Handler with the Connecticut State Police (CSP).
The morning started like any other day with canine training at the old Norwich State Hospital. We had just taken a break to rest the dogs, and I was sitting in my truck listening to the radio when I heard the report of a plane striking the World Trade Center. At first thought, I assumed it was an accident—until I heard a second plane struck the other tower.
Within minutes, my team’s pagers started beeping. It was then I realized something very bad was happening.
I was immediately deployed with nine other CSP troopers to New York City to what would later be referred as Ground Zero. We arrived in Manhattan and set up command at Battery Park with the Port Authority, New York and New York State Police departments. Battery Park became our home for the next 14 days.
As I walked into Ground Zero for the first time, it seemed like time had stopped for a moment. There was so much smoke, fire, dust and rubble; I could not believe my eyes. I kept saying to myself, ‘is this real?’ It felt as if I was on a movie set.
The first few days were utter chaos. Police, firemen, first responders and volunteers, all yelling for K-9 support to help search for survivors. Within two days, the National Guard had secured the area. We were all issued special IDs and required to clear checkpoints before entering Ground Zero.
We had a mission to first save those that could be saved and recover those who had passed. Unfortunately, our operation quickly turned into a recovery mission. We worked tirelessly to recover as many victims as possible to be reunited with their loved ones.
We recovered so many people.
One particular day still stands out in my mind. It was about four days into the search and my K-9 Odin, alerted to a pile of rubble. Crawling into the debris, we found a firemen’s glove with the name Gonzo written on it, a cache of Scott air packs, severed hoses and a command board. The realization hit me.
I was soon surrounded by more fireman than I could count. Together, we searched and found many of the victims. who were the first responders to the scene before the towers collapsed. The day remains a vivid memory – those men and women we recovered paid the ultimate sacrifice. They are among the true heroes of 9/11.
I am still in awe on how our country came together after that horrible incident. Each night, driving out of the devastation, we were greeted by hundreds of people flying American flags and holding signs thanking us for our service; United We Stand. This unity pushed me to work harder each day at Ground Zero and still drives me today to make sure there is never another 9/11 on my watch.
It is why I proudly joined TSA.
I once read it is not what a man does that determines the greatness of his work, rather it is why he does it. Protecting people and saving lives, regardless of conditions, is why we do what we do.
We have an incredibly important mission that, at times, appears to be overshadowed by trivial things. When times get difficult, please reflect upon our why. Remember and honor those that lost their lives 21 years ago.
Thank you for your commitment to TSA’s mission. I am honored to serve with the distinguished members of TSA’s workforce.
By FSD William Csontos, State of Connecticut