September 11, 2001 The Great Rescue of 9/11

The “Miracle of Dunkirk” involved the evacuation of 338,226 stranded soldiers from the beaches of France, the largest waterborne evacuation up to that point, in history.  Seventeen years ago today, the boat lift rescue from the tip of Manhattan, was half again that large.

World War Two began with the Nazi conquest of Eastern Europe, in 1938. Within two years, every major power on the continent was either neutral, or subjugated to the Nazi regime.

France was all but occupied by May 1940.  The battered remnants of the French military fought a desperate delaying action while all that remained of French, English and Belgian military power in continental Europe, crowded the beaches in desperate flight from the Nazi war machine.

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The “Miracle of Dunkirk” involved the evacuation of 338,226 stranded soldiers from the beaches of France, the largest waterborne evacuation up to that point, in history.  Seventeen years ago today, the waterborne rescue off the tip of Manhattan, was half again that size.

9/11/2001

At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, five Islamist terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center, instantly killing all on board and an undetermined number in the building itself.  At 9:03, another five terrorists crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower.

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We now know that attacks would be carried out over the next few hours, against the Pentagon and a place called Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  At the time, there was no way to know that further atrocities wouldn’t be carried out, against New York.  The tunnels and bridges out of Manhattan were shut down almost immediately after the attack and the roads gridlocked, trapping hundreds of thousands of scared and disoriented civilians on the island.  Most wanted nothing more than to get out.

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From Here is New York collection: Gulnara Samoilova, Untitled, 2001. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Here is New York

As first one tower collapsed and then the second, lower Manhattan became a witches brew of airborne chemicals, borne aloft in vast and impenetrable clouds of dangerous compounds and pulverized construction material.

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“Within one minute of the North Tower’s collapse, the mammoth cloud of thick dust engulfed most of the southern end of Manhattan”. H/T 911research.wtc7.net

As the dark, vile cloud swallowed the city and blotted out the sun, Mayor Rudy Giuliani came on the radio.  “If you are south of Canal Street” he said, “get out. Walk slowly and carefully.  If you can’t figure what else to do, just walk north.”

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Those who walked or ran to the north made their way through clouds of choking, toxic dust to the Brooklyn Bridge, about the only way out of Manhattan.

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The half-million or so who went south, soon found themselves cornered in the 25 acres of Battery Park, trapped with the Hudson River to their right, and the East River to their left.

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At first, a few nearby boats offered assistance.  Ferries, tugs and private craft.  The Coast Guard put out a radio call for anyone in the vicinity.  Dozens of tugboats were the first to answer.  Soon, hundreds of boats were racing to the scene.

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These were strangers helping strangers.  Virtually every vessel was captained by civilians.  For all any of them knew they were heading into a war zone, yet still, they came.  Hundreds of boats carried nearly 500,000 people out of that place to Ellis Island, Staten Island and New Jersey, equivalent to the entire population of Toledo, Ohio.

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The greatest marine rescue in history unfolded over a period of nine hours.   The Dunkirk boat-lift had taken nine days.

Coast Guard Admiral James Loy said it best.  “We grabbed the Staten Island Ferry, the tour boat that goes around the Statue of Liberty and anything else that floated.  And at the same time, we had rallied the wherewithal to take a half a million people, scared and frightened to death, through the Battery and off the southern tip of Manhattan.  That’s an extraordinary story.”

Afterward

The way I remember it, the wreckage of the World Trade Center burned for a hundred days.  With roads impassable and water mains broken, New York City fire boats pumped river water to firefighters at “Ground Zero”.  Other vessels were converted to floating cafeterias and first-aid stations.  Still others shuttled personnel in and out of lower Manhattan, for the better part of two years.

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2,996 innocent people lost their lives when those nineteen swine attacked us that day, more than the United States has since lost in seventeen years of war in Afghanistan. Among those were a stunning 412 emergency services personnel, those who ran TO the disaster, as the rest of the city ran away.  343 of them, were New York Fire. Sixty were Police Officers, from NYPD, New York Port Authority and New Jersey Police Departments. Eight were Paramedics. One was with the New York Fire patrol.

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Fred George, Ash Wednesday, Dusk, 9/12/01, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Here is New York

6,000 more were injured.  10,000 children lost a parent or were orphaned, entirely.  The list of fatalities among first responders continues to build to this day, with cancer and other illness claiming a third again among this population, compared with any randomly selected group.

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The body of Father Mychal Judge is carried from the scene, the victim of countless unfortunates who chose to jump, rather than burn alive. Father Judge was killed while administering Last Rites.

One of countless stories to emerge from this day, concerns one of those many firefighters who lost his life, while doing his job. In a way, he’s one of the lucky ones. His family had a body they could bury, and not just a smear of DNA, left on a ledge.

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The night before the funeral, this guy’s wife and his buddies “stole” the body, casket and all, with the connivance of some people at the funeral home. They brought him to their favorite beach, and there they spent a last night together, drinking beer and telling stories. The next morning, they brought him back to the funeral home, as they had promised. Their loved one was buried that day, with full honors.

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Susanne P. Lee, Untitled, 2001. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Here is New York

I don’t know this man’s name or that of his wife, and I’m not sure that it matters. The greater sense of this story, for me, is that of a short life, well lived.  A story of love, and friendship, and loyalty.

May we all be worthy of the friendship, of people such as these.

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Tip of the hat to insh.com (interesting shit), from which most of the photographs in this essay, were borrowed.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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May 26, 2018 I Drive your Truck

They are so young and so few, who pick up the tab on behalf of the rest of us.

Jared-C.-Monti-2If you’ve raised a child, you are well acquainted with the triumphs and the terrors of giving those little tykes the sword with which they will conquer their world.

We all have those special dates we mark on the calendar. The birthdays. The anniversaries. For some among us, there are other dates. Moments in time, which very few of us are required to remember. Dates which not one of us wants to recall.

Most of us go about our business, knowing but at the same time forgetting, that we are a nation at war.  There are families among us, who must mark such a date every year. The date when that child was taken from us.

On June 21, 2006, Sergeant Jared Monti’s 16-man patrol was ambushed by a 50-member  force of insurgents, on a high mountain ridge in Afghanistan. Pfc. Brian Bradbury, 22, was mortally wounded early in the fight, and lay on open ground close to the enemy position.

Never a man to leave a fallen comrade behind, twice Sergeant Monti exposed himself to overwhelming fire from three sides, in the attempt to rescue Private Bradbury. A rocket-propelled grenade ended the third such attempt.  Jared Monti was 30.

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In 2011, Army Sergeant First Class Jared Christopher Monti was awarded the Medal of Honor for the action which took his life. The first Massachusetts soldier so honored, since the war in Vietnam.

The following year, singer songwriter Lee Brice released “I drive your truck”, a song that went to country music song of the year in 2014. The “I” in the title, though he didn’t know it at the time, is Paul Monti, Jared’s father and a retired science teacher at Stoughton High School, in Massachusetts.

It’s Jared’s truck.

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Several years ago, Paul was denied permission to place a flag on his son’s grave, at the National Cemetery in Bourne, here on Cape Cod. The authorities don’t like to be left cleaning things up.

Paul took it up the chain of command until he received permission. He could put the flag in, as long as he agreed to take it out a week later.

And that’s what he did. On every grave in the Bourne National Cemetery.

Today, ‘Operation Flags for Vets‘ is a semi-annual event, recurring on Memorial Day and again on Veteran’s day weekends.  Later this morning, upwards of two thousand volunteers can be expected to join with the Monti family to place flags on every one of over 70,000 graves in the Massachusetts National Cemetery.  A week later, they’ll be removed.

There is something that restores and recharges my soul, to be in the company of so many Patriots.

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Medal of Honor citation

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

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Jared Monti’s Medal of Honor presented to members of his family by the President of the United States, 2011

“Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a team leader with Headquarters and Headquarters troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in connection with combat operations against an enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21st, 2006. While Staff Sergeant Monti was leading a mission aimed at gathering intelligence and directing fire against the enemy, his 16-man patrol was attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Staff Sergeant Monti quickly directed his men to set up a defensive position behind a rock formation. He then called for indirect fire support, accurately targeting the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within 50 meters of his position. While still directing fire, Staff Sergeant Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank his patrol. Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one of his soldiers was lying wounding on the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti twice attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade. Determined not to leave his soldier, Staff Sergeant Monti made a third attempt to cross open terrain through intense enemy fire. On this final attempt, he was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his fellow soldier. Staff Sergeant Monti’s selfless acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Staff Sergeant Monti’s immeasurable courage and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army”.

September 11, 2001 The Farmer and the Pilot

Twelve days a month, John Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform, flying jumbo jets out of Logan Airport.  He’d always return to the land he loved.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a great wave of immigrants came into the United States, 20 million Europeans or more making the long journey to become Americans.

Among them was the Ogonowski family, who emigrated from Poland to make their home in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, along the New Hampshire line.

The earliest members of the family received invaluable assistance from Yankee farmers, well acclimated to growing conditions in the harsh New England climate. Four generations later, the Ogonowski family still tilled the soil on their 150 acre “White Gate Farm” in Dracut, Massachusetts.

Ogonowski 2Graduating from UMass Lowell in 1972 with a degree in nuclear engineering, John Ogonowski joined the United States Air Force.  During the war in Vietnam, the farmer-turned-pilot would ferry equipment from Charleston, South Carolina to Southeast Asia, sometimes returning with the bodies of the fallen aboard his C-141 transport aircraft.

Ogonowski left the Air Force with the rank of Captain, becoming a commercial pilot and joining American Airlines in 1978. There he met Margaret, a flight attendant, “Peggy” to her friends. The two would later marry, raising three daughters.

Twelve days a month, Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform, flying jumbo jets out of Logan Airport.  He’d always return to the land he loved.

Family farming is not what it used to be, as suburban development and subdivisions creep into what used to be open spaces. “When you plant a building on a field”, he would say, “it’s the last crop that will ever grow there”.

Ogonowski 3Ogonowski helped to create the Dracut Land Trust in 1998, working to conserve the town’s agricultural heritage. He worked to bring more people into farming, as well.  The bumper sticker on his truck read “There is no farming without farmers”.

That was the year when the farm Service Agency in Westford came looking for open agricultural land, for Southeast Asian immigrants from Lowell.

mrkimcilantroIt was a natural fit. Ogonowski felt a connection to these people, based on his time in Vietnam. He would help them, here putting up a shed, there getting a greenhouse in order or putting up irrigation. He would help these immigrants, just as those Yankee farmers of long ago, had helped his twice-great grandfather.

Cambodian farmers learned to grow their native vegetables in an unfamiliar climate. They would lease small plots, growing water spinach, lemon grass, pigweed, Asian basil, and Asian squash. There was taro and Laotian mint, coconut amaranth, pickling spices, pea tendrils and more. It was the food they grew up with, and they would sell it into nearby immigrant communities and to the high-end restaurants of Boston.

Ogonowski farmThe program was a success.  Ogonowski told The Boston Globe in 1999, “These guys are putting more care and attention into their one acre than most Yankee farmers put into their entire 100 acres.”

So it was that, with the fall harvest of 2001, Cambodian immigrants found themselves among the pumpkins and the hay of a New England farm, putting on a special lunch spread for visiting agricultural officials from Washington, DC.  It was September 11.

By now you know that John Ogonowski was flying that day, Senior Captain on American Airlines flight 11. He was one of the first to die, murdered in his cockpit by Islamist terrorist Mohammed Atta and his accomplices.

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It’s a new perspective on a now-familiar story, to think of the shock and the grief of those refugees from the killing fields of Pol Pot, on hearing the news that their friend and mentor had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

The White Gate Farm was closed for a week, but the Ogonowski family was determined that John’s dream would not die.  Peg said it best:  “This is what he was all about. He flew airplanes, he loved flying, and that provided all the money, but this is what he lived for. He was a very lucky man, he had both a vocation and an avocation and he loved them both.”

John Ogonowski had been working with the Land Trust to raise $760,000 to purchase a 34 acre farm in Dracut, previously slated to be developed into a golf course with housing.  Federal funds were raised with help from two members of Congress.  The “Captain John Ogonowski Memorial Preservation Farmland” project was dedicated in 2003, a living memorial to Captain John Ogonowski.  The pilot, and the farmer.

February 26, 1993 World Trade Center

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so

Ramzi Yousef arrived at JFK International Airport on September 1, 1992, traveling under a false Iraqi passport. His companion Ahmed Ajaj tried to enter with a forged Swedish passport, and was arrested. Though his entry was illegal, Yousef was claiming political asylum. He was given a hearing date before an INS magistrate, and admitted.

After setting up residence in Jersey City, Yousef connected with the blind Muslim cleric Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman at the Al-Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn. There he was introduced to his co-conspirators, immediately beginning the assembly of a 1,310 lb urea-nitrogen hydrogen gas enhanced explosive device.

Yousef was injured in a car crash in late 1992, and ordered many of the chemicals for this device from his hospital bed. It’s surprising how easy it was for these guys.

img_0422The plan was to attack the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, toppling it into the south tower and taking them both down.

The conspirators believed they’d kill 250,000.

The yellow Ryder van entered lower Manhattan on the morning of Friday, February 26, 1993, driven by Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil. The pair pulled into the B-2 underground parking level under the north tower, lit the 20′ fuse, and fled.img_0423

As with the device used in the Beirut barracks bombing of 1983, this was a fuel-air explosive (FAE), designed to magnify and sustain the blast effect by mixing fuel with atmospheric oxygen. The main charge was surrounded by aluminum, magnesium and ferric oxide particles and surrounded by three hydrogen gas cylinders, to intensify the fireball and afterburn of those solid metal particles.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency conducted a study of fuel-air explosives, reporting: “What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents”.

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so.

img_0424The terrorist device exploded at 12:17:37, hurling super-heated gasses from the blast center at thirteen times the speed of sound. Estimated pressure reached 150,000 psi, equivalent to the weight of 10 bull elephants.

The bomb ripped a 98-foot wide hole through four sub-levels of concrete, killing five Port Authority employees and A dental products salesman, who was parking at the time. The real death toll was seven, if you’re inclined to include secretary Monica Rodriguez Smith’s seven-month pregnancy. She was killed with her unborn baby, while checking timesheets.

Another 15 were left with with traumatic blast injuries. 1,042 more were injured, many inhaling the thick, acrid smoke filling stairwells and elevator shafts.

Power went out instantly trapping hundreds in elevators, including a group of 17 kindergartners, on their way down from the south tower observation deck.

Engineers believe that the terrorists would have accomplished their purpose of toppling the building, had they placed their explosive device  closer to the building’s concrete foundations.

300 FBI agents combed through the rubble of the underground parking garage, finding an axle fragment containing the Ryder van’s VIN. Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the vehicle, reported the van stolen and was arrested on March 4, when he came to get his deposit back.

Mahmud Aboulhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Ahmed Ajaj and Nidal Ayyad were convicted of carrying out the bombing, in March 1994. Mastermind Ramzi Yousef and van driver Eyad Ismoil, were convicted in November, 1997. Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was deported to Jordan.

Abdul Rahman Yasmin, the only person associated with the bombing who was never prosecuted in the United States, was interviewed for a 60 minutes segment in 2002. He was being held prisoner in Baghdad at that time. He has not been seen or heard of, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “The Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdul Rahman, was convicted in October 1995 of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to life +15 years. He died in prison last week, at the age of 78.img_0426

A granite memorial fountain was erected above the site of the explosion and dedicated in 1995, bearing the names of the six adult victims of the attack. Under the names appear this inscription. “On February 26, 1993, a bomb set by terrorists exploded below this site. This horrible act of violence killed innocent people, injured thousands, and made victims of us all.”

The fountain was destroyed with the rest of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.img_0425