Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who Were Those People Who Died on 9/11?

SIXTEEN YEARS YEARS SINCE the attacks on 9/11 and it still seems like it happened this morning.

I retired from teaching nine years ago. But if I was in the classroom today here’s what I’d be doing. I’d be showing a compilation of film clips recorded in 2001. I taught seventh grade. Today’s seventh graders weren’t even born on that fated day in September. I’d show scenes filled with people falling, falling, from the North and South Towers. What moments of terror those had to have been for desperate victims. And I’d add this detail—because I’d want the kids to have a sense of what it was like for real people. I’d tell them some of those who leaped from those burning buildings were holding hands, perhaps with friends, perhaps with loved ones, where they had been trapped by smoke and flames.

It’s this small gesture that might touch the hearts of kids sixteen years later and provide a sense of what a loss our nation suffered.

Who were these people who died?

Steven Coakley was coming off his regular shift with Engine Company 217 in Brooklyn just as the first plane struck. On five separate occasions as a part of his job he had helped deliver babies. This was different and Coakley and the rest of Engine 217 rushed to the scene. Sal Fiumefreddo, a telephone technician, had a one-day assignment to install equipment at the trade centers. Divorced and feeling lonely, he had met Joan Chao at a backyard barbecue the previous summer. Now, on a crisp day in September, the couple was getting ready to celebrate their first anniversary. Gary Bird was starting a new job with Marsh & McClennan.

Normally, he worked out of Phoenix.

On this day, however, he was scheduled for a meeting at the World Trade Center, beginning at 8:15 a.m.

Let’s remember them. Let’s remember Jill Campbell, the young mother, whose son Jake was learning to crawl. (She didn’t live long enough to find out, but he crawled for the first time that day.) Let’s remember Timothy J. Finnerty. A bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, we can assume he was hard at work on the 105th floor of One World Trade Center. Just three days earlier he had enjoyed himself at his cousin’s wedding. His wife, Theresa, remembered him cutting up, always his style, and doing the “Lawn Mower Dance,” followed by the “Sprinkler Dance” at the reception.

He was one of 658 employees of his company who perished.

AT A FUNERAL LATER, Keith Wiswall spoke fondly of his father—and how much he liked working in his lawn. One day, Keith looked out a window and saw Dad using a shop vacuum to suck up berries from a neighbor’s tree, because they were falling on his grass. David Wiswall was 54 when he died. No one has vacuumed the lawn since.

Kristin Walsh remembers her mother, Nancy, bringing Carol Flyzik home and introducing her as “her girlfriend.” It meant an adjustment but she and her two brothers came to love their stepmother. Flyzik was one of 76 regular passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, headed for the West Coast on a business trip. At 8:46 a. m. she perished when the aircraft crashed into the North Tower. Amy Sweeney was an attendant on the same flight, one of eleven crew members. When hijackers took over she kept calm and contacted ground supervisors, asking them to notify the F.B.I. Her grace and bravery in a terrible time were no surprise to those who knew her. She died without having a chance to see her children, Anna, 6, and son, Jack, 4, grow up.

(Seth McFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, was meant to be aboard Flight 11 but arrived at the airport too late.)

Mayra Valdes-Rodriguez, last seen alive on the 78th floor as she hustled other survivors down the stairs of the South Tower, was known for contagious laughter. She never made it out. We know Maria Benavente removed her shoes to speed her descent from the same building. It wasn’t enough. She still didn’t get out. Bill Biggart, a photo-journalist, rushed to the scene in Lower Manhattan. After the South Tower fell he phoned his wife to say he was safe. “I’m with the firefighters,” he explained.

Nothing at all to worry about.

When the North Tower came down he and the firefighters around him died in the collapse. Joe Maloney, a firefighter and Mets fan was killed. Assistant Fire Chief Gerard Barbara, a Yankees fan, was killed. Mike Carroll, a fifteen-year veteran with Ladder Co. 3, died along with hundreds of firefighters. Since his remains could not be found a friend from his softball team carried a helmet down the aisle at his funeral mass.

Lincoln Quappe, another FDNY veteran, interviewed for a story in March, had told a reporter, “Every fire is scary. That’s the way it is. You’re a damned liar if you say you’re not scared.” Even a little fire could get a guy killed. “It all comes down to fate,” he added. Quappe was responding on 9/11, not to a little fire, but to a huge one, unlike anything he had ever seen.

Fate caught him up and swept him away.

STEVEN CAFIERO FIRST “MET” HIS GIRLFRIEND on the Internet. A year passed before they had a chance to speak in person. In the weeks leading up to 9/11 they were talking about marriage and planning for children. Peter Gyulavary had also been blessed by fate, having met his American wife while she was vacationing in Australia. They settled down in New York City and had a daughter, Geniveve, who turned 13 around the time of the attacks. Eskedar Melaku, came to this country from Ethiopia to attend college and decided to remain in America. Emerita de la Pena and Judith Diaz Sierra were fast friends and co-workers, each serving as maid of honor at the other’s wedding. James Martello, a former Rutgers linebacker, liked to coach his 7-year-old son's football team when he wasn't at work. Sheila Barnes was a fanatic about clipping coupons and saving money.

None survived.

Jerrold Paskins, 57, was in New York on 9/11 to help complete an insurance audit. His remains were identified two months later—when a lucky 1976 bicentennial silver dollar he carried turned up at Ground Zero. Christine Egan, born in Hull, England, was visiting her brother Michael in New York. That morning he decided to take her up to the restaurant, “Windows on the World,” to get a cup of coffee and a view of the city.

Moments before the North Tower collapsed, Michael managed to reach his wife by phone. “You made it,” she responded with immense relief. “No, we’re stuck,” he admitted. They were still on the line when his wife watched in horror on television as the building collapsed.

Orasri Liangthanasarn, a native of Thailand and a recent graduate of New York University, a new administrative assistant at “Windows on the World” died along with the Hulls. No one working or dining in the restaurant on 9/11 survived.

Peter Hanson, a huge fan of the Grateful Dead, his wife Sue Kim Hanson, a native of Korea with a degree in microbiology, and their daughter Christine Hanson, two-and-a-half years old, were aboard United Flight 175, originally scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles. Paige Farley-Hackel was supposed to be aboard. She and her sister Ruth McCourt were taking Ruth’s daughter, Juliana McCourt, 4, on a trip to Disneyland. At the last minute, Paige realized she could use frequent flier miles and switched to American Airlines Flight 11. They planned to meet up in California. Both planes, in a cruel twist, were taken over by Osama bin Laden’s men and sent hurtling into buildings.

HILARY STRAUCH, A NEW JERSEY SIXTH GRADER, was twelve years old on September 11. She had to watch on television at school as the tower where her dad, George Strauch, worked went down in dust and mangled metal and ruin. Frank Martini and Pablo Ortiz, both fathers, could have escaped. Instead, they stuck around and used a crowbar to help free at least fifty people trapped in the North Tower. Beth Logler, 31, ran cross-country in high school. Now she was planning a wedding for December 30, 2001. She wasn’t quite fast enough to make it to safety. Sara Manley Harvey, a Georgetown graduate, had been married a month. The magenta-colored napkins at the reception had matched the roses carried by flower girls. Robert A. Campbell, 25, was a painter and window washer at the World Trade Center. His parents think he was working on the roof that morning. Brian P. Williams was a high school football star back in his Covington, Kentucky, and moved to the Big Apple to find work. Joseph J. Hasson III survived a terrible car wreck his freshman year of college.

Sixteen years later his time ran out in New York.

Brad Vadas found himself trapped in the smoke and ruins on the 88th floor, just above where the plane struck the South Tower. He managed to leave a phone message on his fiancĂ© Kris McFerren’s answering machine: “Kris, there’s been an explosion. We’re trapped in a room. There’s smoke coming in. I don’t know what's going to happen. I want you to know my life has been so much better and richer because you were in it.” He promised he’d try to get out, but to be safe added, “I love you. Goodbye.” Ed McNally called his wife, too, telling her her he was in trouble, trapped by flames on the floors below. He told her where to find his life insurance papers. Then he admitted he’d been planning a surprise trip to Rome for her fortieth birthday.

“I feel silly, Liz,” he added, “you’ll have to cancel that.”

WHO WERE ALL THESE VICTIMS? Rick Rescelora survived heavy fighting in Vietnam but died in the 9/11 attack. Mike Warchola had one shift left until he retired from the New York Fire Department. Port Authority police officer Dominick Pezzulo was trying to free two trapped officers from the wreckage of the South Tower when the North collapsed and he was killed by falling beams. John Perry was turning in retirement papers to the New York Police Department when the first plane struck. He asked for his badge back and raced to the scene. Moira Smith, a blond policewoman, was last seen helping injured victims out of the lobby of the South Tower moments before it came crashing to earth. Ed Nichols, for one, was bleeding from head, arm and abdomen when Smith took him gently by the elbow and led him to safety. Then she turned and reentered the lobby. About that time eyewitness saw melting aluminum pouring out of a gash on the 80th floor where the hijacked aircraft had hit.

In a 911 call shortly after, an unidentified woman trapped high up in the tower reported the floor under her was collapsing. Moments later, Greg Milanowycz, trapped on the 93rd floor, called his father and reported, “The ceiling is falling, the ceiling is falling.” Then the Tower collapsed.

At 9:37 a third plane, a Boeing 757, carrying 57 passengers and crew, crashed into the Pentagon, killing all aboard and 125 Americans on the ground. Cheryle Sincock had been at work inside for hours because she liked to get an early start whenever possible. Husband Craig, a computer scientist for the United States Army, usually came to work later. Now, with the Pentagon billowing black smoke, he found himself caught on the D. C. Metro as it shut down for security reasons. He sprinted two miles, cutting across highways and through Arlington National Cemetery. He would help with rescue attempts until 11 p. m., go home for a brief rest, and return at 4 a. m., hopeful that he might find his wife.

Cheryle didn’t survive.

TODD BEAMER, YOU MAY RECALL, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93. His widow, Lisa, would tell reporters later that Todd “really didn’t do much of anything without a plan.” Her husband was one of the leaders of a passenger revolt to try to regain control of Flight 93 before the hijackers could destroy it.

A phone operator heard him ask others, including big Jeremy Glick, a former high school wrestler and judo champion, and Mark Bingham, an old rugby player: “Are you guys ready? O. K. Let’s roll.”

And roll they did.

Although they couldn’t save themselves they did bring down Flight 93, before it could do any additional damage.

P. S. Had a nice note on Facebook today. Lynzi Beadle wrote:

I will never forget where I was 12 years ago on this day. The first towers were hit when I was in gym class and I didn’t find anything out until English class. Our principal and assistant principal came and talked to our class. I remember being very confused and didn’t fully understand until lunch where everyone was able to see a white screen with the news displayed on it. I’ll NEVER forget this day because of my social studies teacher. I had his class after lunch and he was very upset and explained things clearer to us 7th graders. Mr. Viall set the tone for all of us and I now will never forget how important this day is.
Thank you, to all the men and women that day who sacrificed their lives to save others. Thank you to all the firemen, police officers, doctors, nurses and the brave souls that stood up to the hijackers. Today I ask [everyone] to pray for all the families that have been affected by 9/11. Thanks to all the service men and women who have been deployed overseas to keep our freedom. I’m a very grateful citizen. Thank you! 

A number of my former Loveland students have served in the military since that terrible day sixteen years ago.

Seth Mitchell, for one died in action. Kelly Horton Allen, Chis Tobias, Chuck Garrett, Mark Jacquez, and I’m sure others I don’t know about, have served bravely in the fight against global terrorism that continues today. Many young Americans are serving in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan as you finish this sentence now.

(Missy Hollingsworth, a former student notified me after reading this blog and mentioned three more Loveland grads who served: Drew Hildebrand, Justin Orr and Kurt Davis.)

Checking my Facebook feed: I should add Adam Davis, Todd Huntley, Landon Cheben, Ryan Harvey, Phil McDaniel, Loren Baldwin, Joe Shipp, Erik Conover, Toby Moses, Bobby Wassel and Brady Poe have all served or are serving.

No doubt many others have or are.

We should remember all those who died so tragically sixteen years ago today and all those who serve on this black anniversary day.

Falling victim in New York.

NYFD chaplain hit and killed by falling body.

U. S. Marine serving in Afghanistan, 2013.


If you are a teacher and interested in other materials like this, written for middle school students, visit my page: Middle School History and Tips for Teachers.

Readers might also find my book on teaching moving, funny and informative: Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading my blog post. I used to teach history and we talked about 9/11; so this is part of what my students heard.

    2. That was beautiful Mr.Viall you did them all honor and justice and you are the best history teach I've ever had and all of us who had you were blessed thank you.

  2. I remember that day so well. I watched it as it happened and continued with horror. How could this happen in the United States?
    I am now 70 years old but it seems like yesterday.
    Thank you for writing this.

  3. I currently teach 7th grade history and tomorrow i will be doing my 9/11 lesson. I know today is rough on me byt tomorrow will be even harder as I recount what I went through and what my family and close friends went through. I will show the videos I have and share my emotions with 179 students. I will tell them of my friends who were activated from Texas Task Force and the stories they have shared with me. I will tell them of my father being activated and how my heart broke forever thst day. I think it is important to share these experiences with my students so they can see how History impacts our present life. I will share the victims stories and I will nevet forget

    1. You sound like a great teacher. Keep the memory alive.

  4. Thank you for sharing your blog with us Mr.Viall! I was in your 7th grade class in 1991. Although that was a long time ago, your class is one of very few I actually still have retained some information from! You were one of the best teachers I've ever had and I'm sure the majority of your students would say the same! I always enjoy reading your posts and now your blogs! 9/11 is such an important part of our history, I will forever remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and what I was thinking as it was all happening. I said thank you for a couple different reasons. One, for always being as truthful and accurate as possible. It's so important to remember this day as it happened, not sugar coated or only showing or telling of the parts that won't offend someone. The same as the way you taught in class. Second, for being such an amazing and inspiring, not just teacher but human being. You were always more than 'just another teacher.' You made your students actually want to go to class and oddly enough...learn! Laslty, I say lastly only for the sake of not making this comment much longer because there are definitely more than 3 reasons to say thank you, but just for being you! Although you've retired, you're still just as passionate about educating people as you ever were! It seems when most people retire from such a long career, they completely walk away and attempt to start a new life, a new chapter and close the old one. You still post on Facebook regularly, where you have a lot of your previous students as friends, and get conversations going. You're still educating but in a different forum. I am still so inspired by you! I can only hope that I will have been able to have such a huge impact on even half the amount of people you have! And, just an FYI, some of the other students that served are Drew Hildebrand, Justin Ore, and Kurt Davis. Like you said, I know there are more, some that I can't remember or just didn't know they served. I still take pride in being able to say that I graduated from Loveland high school!

    1. Hi Missy,

      If my memory is right you were a very hard-working, talented young lady. So having you in class was easy. I will add the names you gave me at the end of the post.

      And thanks for the kind words. I did work hard at teaching. I even wrote a book about my career. I made myself the star of the book, of course, ha, ha.

  5. My Facebook friend and former star student Brad King posted one of the best short response on this day I've ever seen:


    After the second plane crashed into the towers, Kristen Philipkoski and I had rushed from Club One, where we worked out most mornings, back to our office.
    I remember so much about that day. But there is one memory permanently burned into my brain: When the first tower fell, I said to nobody in particular: "Every first responder in New York is dead. They were running into that building while everyone was running out."

    I thought of my cousin Chip Carney, who was - and is - a firefighter in Colorado. I knew he was on the other side of the country, but as I watched the destruction and the aftermath that didn't matter.

    I walked back to my desk, sat at my desk for a few minutes, and cried. I was scared for him, filled with sorrow for all those firefighters in New York, and shocked by the destruction happening around us.

    But that is not the legacy of that day for me.

    In the minutes, and days and years since, I have chosen not to focus on the terror that filled all of our hearts on 9-11. Instead, I think of the bravery of the people who rushed into those buildings and never made it out, the courage of those who worked for months in the aftermath, and the love that we all showed towards each other.

    That's how I choose to honor this day.

  6. Brendan Crowe, a member of U. S. History Teachers on Facebook took exception to the picture of the poor man falling, head down:

    "Is this the best picture you could find? It's fucking disgusting. It's one of those moments from that day that wrenches my guts. Your sentiment is good, but the photo enraged and sickened me."

    I've heard that comment before and respect the emotion; but I believed seeing the buildings crumble in smoke and dust wasn't as compelling, particularly for young students today. There were thousands of human beings inside, going down to destruction.

    I consider this similar to a picture of emaciated corpses to represent the Holocaust, both necessary and terrible.

  7. William Dennis Rauch, also a member of U.S. History Teachers on Facebook wrote: "Very powerful!!! Thank you!!!"

  8. I thanked Ashlee Brooke Wooten for sharing my post on Facebook. "I worked to get the humanity of the victims down right," I told her.

    "You did an amazing job," she said.

    And that's the key if you teach: this was a day where humanity suffered a most grievous blow.

  9. Constance Ida, one of my friends, commented on Facebook about the same photo that bothered Mr. Crowe (above): "In most 9/11 commemorative photos, we see smoke, buildings and ash-covered people. Nothing helps me understand the desperation on that day more than this horrendous photo of this man who chose a terrible end to his life over an even worse one."

    That was my intent. To capture the terrible choices and fates facing human beings that awful day.

  10. Shwan Wolf McKinley replied on Facebook to this post: "Mr. Viall so very moving I remember where I was that day also we students are blessed to have had you as a teacher. Your the best."

    If I was still teaching I'd correct his "your." But I thanked him anyway; he's a good young man.

  11. Angie Larimer, another Facebook friend: "Wow. Thanks, John. Read every word."

  12. Lauren Glenn, one of my favorite "Glendale Girls," said in response: "This, tears streaming down my face reading this. I distinctly remember where I was when the news came, freshman year Christian Awareness class and we stopped to pray immediately. Thank you for remembering the individuals you talked about. It makes everything more real when you remember each person who died was someones child, someone's husband or wife or mother or father or sister or brother. My heart still hurts all these years later. Thanks for sharing this!"

  13. Erin Mauer also took note of the photo: "I remember watching him fall before the reporter who was commenting realized what they were seeing and slapped the camera away."

    A truly awful moment.

  14. Lee Ann Berry Goff, a Loveland parent who saw the post responded: "Thank you, beautifully written. I was very surprised and happy to learn that my eighth grade son at Loveland was shown videos of 9/11 today by Mr. Burke. So important to remember."

    Mr. Chris Burke, I know, is a dedicated educator. Can't offer higher praise than that, I don't think.

  15. Nancy Biemiller Boerup, also a friend of a Facebook friend, wrote: "I also read every word and have some grandchildren with whom I shall share this. Thank you."

    I said I was glad I could still "teach," even secondhand.

    Erin Mauer, one of my best former students, threw in: "You'll always be a teacher."

  16. Holly Yarnell Robinson, who I believe is another former classroom star, posted a good link to Todd Beamer's memorial.

  17. Nancy Archey, a fellow Revere High School alum, from the same class as myself, said simply: "Thank you John Viall."

  18. Finally, John Norris, chipped in: "Good stuff, Cuz John."

    I imagine all my former students will remember why I oppose the use of the word "stuff" in writing; but my cousin gets a free pass; and I appreciate his sentiment.

    Anyway, I repost this article now every 9-11, only updating a couple of sentences as the years pass.

  19. My last comment for today is this: As sad as this post is, you could multiply it by hundreds (and thousands if you included the pain and anguish of families who lost loved ones) and then multiply that by millions, to capture the anguish all Americans, and then billions, for all people of good will around the globe felt.

    Never forget; and never forget the men and women still fighting sixteen years later.

  20. Janelle Frazee, another friend of a friend on Facebook, replied, "Wow, everyone should read this." She included crying and breaking heart emojis.

  21. Carolyn Foley Pollack, commenting on U.S. History Teachers' Facebook page: "Thank you for sharing this. Also, the comments below from your former students are lovely. You should be very proud you made such an impact on them!"