Sunday, July 17, 2011

Those Closest To Us

Former Marine Stevens Garcia
John ‘Jack’ O’Marra was having a heck of a morning. The drive from Morristown, New Jersey takes time enough on a regular day; on this clear, temperate morning the trip would take turn after fated turn.
 
 
‘A colleague of mine, Keith, was also scheduled to attend the nine o’clock meeting,’ Jack explained as we stood outside the Resurrection Parish Church in Randolph. ‘He called me and told me he couldn’t make it, but I still had to stop by his office to get some paperwork he had for the meeting.’ There Jack got caught up in a ten-minute conversation with someone in the lobby before walking in and listening to Keith’s boss offering up a lengthy apology for Keith. Then he walked into Keith’s office and received another apology from Keith himself. It was already eight o’clock by the time Jack arrived at his own office in Morristown.
 
 
‘I called the guy running the meeting, to tell him I was going to be late and to have him leave me a building pass.’ At 8:10 he left his office, driving down Route 24 to I-78 then onto the Turnpike extension. ‘The traffic was heavier than usual, leading up to the toll booth. Then after going through there’s twelve lanes of traffic merging into two before the bridge going over into Bayonne – and in one lane was a disabled car.’ By the time Jack made it into that one lane of traffic, heading over the Newark Bay and in view of Manhattan, smoke was already billowing out of the North Tower.
 
 
Listening to hectic, unconfirmed reports of a plane then two hitting the towers, Jack drove back to his office in Morristown where everyone was watching the events unfolding on TV. He was one of their many colleagues scheduled to be at one of several meetings in the WTC that morning. ‘When I walked in everyone looked like they were seeing a ghost.’
 
 
Throughout the day Jack kept calling the Manhattan office, to see if anyone had been found. ‘I spoke to one woman several times, and finally she said Listen, please understand…No one has been found. No one. That was when it all hit me.’
 
 
Jack’s company, Marsh & McLennan, lost 295 people that day.
 
 
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Jon parked the cross in the street outside his father’s house, at the bottom of the driveway. It was a modest gathering, multinational and multicultural, not by intention but rather through friendship and friendly association. Yohei was living in 2001; after moving to New Jersey in 2010 he visited ground zero. ‘I couldn’t speak,’ he said. ‘I can’t explain, I just stood there.’ Former Marine Stevens Garcia returned to the US last year after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. ‘We aren’t vengeful,’ he said. ‘That’s what makes us great.’ He held his dog tags in one hand as he stood next to his wife and his two-month-old son. ‘We were hurt, we’re pushed, tested, but we stay strong.’ He dropped one tag into the cross; the other he will give to his son someday.
 
 
‘This is for Daphne,’ Andy said, holding his written message in one hand. She’d gone down to the bottom of the building, but then went back up again. Andy climbed up onto the back of Jon’s truck and dropped his note in. ‘I feel this is my way of saying good-bye.’ Over the weeks and miles, this has become a widely-shared sentiment.
 
 
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Bharani Bobba was on the subway, going to work at the world financial center across the street from the twin towers, when the train conductor made a strange announcement. Chambers Street, last stop. Chambers Street is the stop right before the World Trade Center. Then in the manner of a question not meant for the passengers’ ears his voice came through again: There was an explosion in the trade center?
 
 
‘On the street everyone was looking straight up,’ Bharani explained. ‘I could see the north tower had a hole in it. The strange thing was, everyone slowly kept moving on.’
 
 
'From Chambers I crossed the West Side Highway, heading for the office. But then I saw a plane up ahead, looking way too low in the sky, close enough that I could clearly see United Airlines on the side.’ Bharani said there was a weird silence as the plane disappeared behind the North Tower. ‘Then I saw an explosion and there was sound again – the sound of a woman screaming.’
 
 
‘I’ll never forget seeing the first firefighters going down toward the towers,’ he went on to say. ‘In their faces was a lot of determination, no fear.’ There was a lot of smoke at this point, but he couldn’t see flames. Then it looked like pieces of the buildings were falling off. After a moment he and everyone around him realized: it was people jumping out of the windows.
 
 
‘Walking north I tried to call my family but the phones were already out. In the Village everyone had their car doors open and their radios on. A guy in construction clothes fell to his knees and started crying at the news of the first tower going down.’ After that, Bharani said, there was nothing to do but go home and hug his wife.