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Remembering 9/11: ‘The True Heroes ... Did Not Go Home’

Remembering 9/11: ‘The True Heroes ... Did Not Go Home’Edit

 
New York Fire Department Deputy Chief Joseph Curry calls for rescue teams at Ground Zero three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Wade Brown missed the last van of New York City police officers headed to the World Trade Center Towers the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

The New York City policeman arrived at his precinct after monitoring an election site for the city’s mayoral primary at an elementary school. At the school, an elderly woman told him a plane crashed into one of the Trade Towers. “Everything will be fine,” Brown told her, thinking it an accident.

Then, Brown, a New Jersey National Guard first lieutenant, heard of another plane crashing into another tower. “Obviously, then I knew it was a terrorist attack,” said Brown, platoon leader for the Alpha Company, 2-102 Armor.

Brown jumped into a squad car, negotiating a sea of vehicles through downtown streets to his Bronx precinct. “The whole city went through a period of chaos,” Brown said.

After arriving on station, he realized the two vans officers to the crash site had already left. Brown asked if he could take the next van but a police sergeant said no, the election hadn’t been canceled. The police sergeant sent him back to the school. His station didn’t hear from the 16 officers in the vans for several hours.

Many of Brown’s colleagues just missed getting hit by falling debris. Some had broken bones and cuts. Others suffered from smoke and dust inhalation, but miraculously, all 16 from Brown’s precinct survived. However, 23 New York City police officers did not.

“I did nothing heroic that day,” Brown said. “The true heroes of 9/11 did not go home. Anybody who was there or involved in [the rescue effort] will tell you the best of us did not go home.”

 
1st Lt. Wade Brown looks at pictures of some of the victims of the 9/11 attacks during a recent break at Camp Delta here.

With rumors of more bombings, officers scattered to provide security at Ground Zero, Yankee Stadium and government buildings.

After the cancellation of the election, Brown was sent to guard a hospital. The 29-year-old lieutenant did not step on Ground Zero that morning, but he participated in the hardest part: The search for survivors. Brown joined thousands of firefighters and police officers in “bucket brigades,” collecting debris in buckets. For 10 hours, the New Jersey native searched the rubble for any signs of human life. All police officers in the area, including those on leave made the trip to Ground Zero to assist the rescue efforts.

“The whole 10 hours I was there, there were no body parts, no bodies—nothing,” Brown said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Where is everybody?’ ”

Brown said his squad found little or no remains. He said the effects of 9/11 didn’t fully sink in until months after the tragedy.

“As you heard stories of the cops and firefighters that died down there, it hits you,” the four-year NYPD veteran said. “It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.”

Three years later, Brown said the memories remain strong. He carries them with him as he supports the Joint Task Force mission and helps fight the terrorism that brought 9/11 to America.

“We’ve all shed enough tears for the fallen at Ground Zero,” Brown said. “The best thing we can do now is to live a better, more fulfilling life in their honor.”