Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who Were Those People Who Died on 9/11?

Fifteen years since the attacks on 9/11 and it still seems like it happened this morning.

I retired from teaching five 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 were in diapers 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 twelve 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 but 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 twelve years ago.

I thank them all for doing their duty.

Falling victim in New York.

NYFD chaplain hit and killed by falling body.

U. S. Marine serving in Afghanistan, 2013.


  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. 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.