This essay, published on Tuesday, September 11, 2007, is exclusive to Notablog. Comments welcome (post here).
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[REMEMBERING THE WORLD TRADE CENTER: 2001; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005; 2006; 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 ]
TO BUILD AND REBUILD
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Towers, from the Staten Island Ferry, May 12, 2001
Photo by Chris Matthew Sciabarra
It was six years ago to this very day, a Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 ... a clear and sunny late summer day in New York City.
Charles Pomaro, "Charlie" to his friends, Assistant Principal at Brooklyn Technical High School, was teaching an engineering modeling class. It was closing in on 9 a.m., when suddenly one of his colleagues came rushing in to tell him that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Charlie didn't believe it... until the teacher brought in a television so that they could all watch the horrific events unfolding on the news. He remembers how angry, confused, and upset he felt. "How could someone be so stupid as to crash into the Twin Towers? What happened?"
When the reality of the situation became clear, Charlie, like other native New Yorkers, took it even more personally than most. Born in Boro Park on another September day in 1954, he had lived in some of the city's most colorful Brooklyn neighborhoods: Sea Gate, Bensonhurst, and Bay Ridge. During the summer of 1972, right after he had graduated from the same school in which he was now an Assistant Principal, Charlie had started working at the World Trade Center site, as a laborer for DIC Underhill, a concrete contractor. "I had worked pouring concrete from the 45th floor up to the roof. I can remember days when we used to eat lunch on the roof (before it was closed off to the public)." For 3 to 4 years, Charlie had worked "making forms so that concrete could be poured for the floors." During this time, he had "learned different aspects of carpentry and concrete applications," and by 1976, he was laboring as a mason tender, working with brick layers. "I was the person who supplied bricks and mortar to them," a job that came in handy when he later opened his own contracting business. "It was very exciting working on the WTC."
In retrospect, he "never had any idea that it was anything other than a safe building. We were told that it was hurricane- and earthquake-safe. The building was made to sway approximately one foot in all directions to compensate for high winds," he says. "Back then, terrorism wasn't a thought in anyone's mind." And the thought that anyone would fly a plane into the towers was simply insane.
So when the WTC collapsed, Charlie was unable to put into words what he was feeling. "It was very emotional for me." As one of those who had helped to actually build the WTC, "I felt a little piece of me go with it." The loss was compounded further when he learned later that his good friend, Joe Sacerdote, was killed at the WTC, along with other employees of Cantor Fitzgerald.
With the collapse of the Twin Towers, Charlie lost no time leaving Brooklyn Tech to pick up Aimee, one of his two daughters, from the Mark Twain School in Coney Island (students were not being released without parental supervision). Once his daughter was safe, he immediately volunteered to help with the recovery. His volunteer work was coordinated through the office of then City Councilman Marty Golden. The volunteer efforts included transporting food, medical supplies, and equipment to Ground Zero so as to assist the city's quest to find and aid survivors. Over the next four or five days, Charlie worked with other people from his Brooklyn neighborhood to bring these supplies to the WTC area. "Neighborhood restaurants made trays and trays of food that we convoyed down to Ground Zero to feed Police, Fire, and Emergency Service workers. We had special tools manufactured for the welders so they could cut through the steel facade without having to be on top of it," Charlie recalls. "People came from all over the country with truck loads of supplies.... There were times when we took medical supplies into the heart of Ground Zero where a building was made into a make-shift hospital."
Charlie remembers standing with boxes in his arms, glass still falling from adjacent buildings. "The scene down there was like being in a deserted back lot at Universal Studies. It was very eerie. The streets were covered with soot and all you could see were sparks from the torches used to cut the metal structure away. There were fires burning all over the place. It looked like a war scene. As we caravanned into Ground Zero, you could see groups of firefighters leaving the rubble as other groups were getting ready to go in. Guys were happy to see us because we had food and water for them. We even brought dog food for the rescue dogs, who were also covered with soot and happy just to have water."
At the time, Charlie did not worry about contaminants or toxins nor did he even care if there were any in the air. "I just wanted to help with the clean up." Although he has experienced various physical effects that have stemmed from being at Ground Zero, Charlie points out that he "was psychologically affected for about a year or so. I was unable to sleep. I would have weird dreams and wake up in a cold sweat. There were days I would cry for no reason at all."
Those tears were witnessed by Charlie's family. His daughter Andrea remembers seeing her father come home from his days of toil at Ground Zero. He was "covered in dust and debris, the look of fatigue and pure sadness in his eyes as he—the strongest man I have ever known—looked up at us and broke down into tears because of the horrific things he had just witnessed. That was the moment that the truth of the pure devastation that was 9/11 became real to me. My father, a man whose two hands had the strength to build such a strong and magnificent structure as the Twin Towers, was standing in front of me filled with such sadness that he could do nothing else but cry and lend his two hands and his heart to help clean up the pieces of a shattered building and the shattered lives that were created with its collapse."
The act of remembrance has made this pain more bearable. Every year, Charlie participates in a Bay Ridge memorial service that takes place on the 69th Street Pier. "Every year," he states, "I relive that catastrophic day and I remember the faces of the men who gave their all to help those who were lost, hurt, and in need." He and other neighborhood activists founded a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which is known as CERT1NYC. The group learned much from the Los Angeles Rescue Squad and Community Awareness Teams; their organization is now recognized by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). CERT1NYC is a second responder team that is called upon by first responders (Police, Fire, Emergency Services) to assist in traffic and crowd control and whatever else is needed during times of blackouts, snow storms, hurricanes, and so forth. "As of this date," Charlie explains, "we have over 125 members trained as second responders." He hopes that the group will never be called into action because of another terrorist attack on the city he so dearly loves.
But, like other New Yorkers, he remains uncompromisingly defiant. "I believe that we should build the next structure as high or even higher than the World Trade Center," a symbol of the city's fortitude.
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