FROM THE UNITED NATIONS TO THE SALVATION ARMY
By Tad Daley, J.D., Ph.D.
Daley is a Visiting Scholar at the UCLA Burkle Center for
International Relations. He ran for U.S. Congress to represent
Los Angeles and Culver City in a spring 2001 special election
- on a platform emphasizing global challenges to American
security. On the night of September 10, 2001 Tad, whose married
to talk show host Kitty Felde of Los Angeles Public Radio
station KPCC/89.3, flew into New York City to speak for the
first time in his career at the United Nations. Instead he
spent the next several days volunteering with the rescue and
support operations. He also found himself reporting live from
the streets on New York on his wife's radio show on the
other end of the country. Here are his thoughts one year later...
a science fiction geek, and shows like "Farscape,"
"The Outer Limits," and "The (recently canceled)
Invisible Man" on the Science Fiction Channel are high
on my list of eccentric pleasures. But one Science Fiction
show I do not watch is "Crossing Over With John Edward."
Mr. Edward is a
"medium" who claims he can "talk to the dead"
- and that claim is heavily advertised. As I gazed out the
window on a drizzly super shuttle ride from JFK to midtown
Manhattan very late on the night of September 10th, 2001,
it seemed that Mr. Edward's piercing gaze adorned the side
of every bus shelter, along with the show's tag line: "What
if you could talk to a lost loved one just one more time?"
It was a sentence I imagine haunted a great many New Yorkers
subsequent 24 hours.
had flown into New York from LAX to attend the UN's annual
organizations conference. It was the first time in my career
I had been invited to speak at the UN, and I was going to
discuss emerging proposals for an all-volunteer UN Rapid Deployment
Force - to put a stop to genocide when national governments
are unwilling to risk their own forces to do so.
But with both jet lag and a long super shuttle voyage (I
was the last of seven stops), I didn't finally get to bed
in my hotel until about 3 AM. So I slept through the attack.
My wife Kitty Felde is host of "Talk of the City"
every weekday at 1PM on KPCC 89.3 FM, Southern California
Public Radio. Kitty called me about 10:30 AM, told me the
news, and then put me right to work -
dispatching me to be the station's eyes and ears on the streets
of New York.
I headed south on 2nd Avenue. The cross streets between 2nd
and 1st Avenues
were all blocked off - securing the United Nations building
as tightly as
possible. Busses or dump trucks, loaded with sand, simply
sat parked in front
of most of the 2nd Avenue intersections. Officer Andrews at
the corner of
46th and 2nd was extraordinarily helpful - patiently answering
one citizen after another. "Can I get past this truck
to park in my own
garage?" (No.) "Is the Triboro Bridge open?"
(No.) "Is there anywhere I can
get gas?" (You might try the Texaco about 20 blocks south
if they'll let
you go down that far.)
Soon I had my first choked-up moment. Inexpensive, greasy
restaurant, bright white neon lights inside, surrounded by
establishments dark and locked up tight. But here the owner
had put up a big
handwritten sign. "We refuse to give in to terrorism.
We are open for
business. God Bless America."
people I talked to expressed their mourning not just for the
inside the buildings, but also for the buildings themselves.
I'm hardly your quintessential bicoastal Angeleno - this was
my first trip to New York in
over three years. But I've been there often enough to know
that prior to 9/11/01, many New Yorkers cynically dismissed
the Twin Towers as "boring,"
"too tall," "a blot on the skyline." But
not today. "Our beautiful landmarks
are gone," said one woman, tears streaming. "I've
lost two dear friends,"
Many people stood motionless, looking up -- at American fighter
streaking overhead. Few things conveyed a changed world as
vividly as U.S.
Air Force jets engaged in high alert air defense of Manhattan
Island. As I
spoke to one man he paused, waiting for the aircraft's noise
to subside, then
looked at me and said: "Sort of like locking the barn
door after the horse is
stolen, huh?" He was angry. He wanted to talk politics.
He reminded me that
the unchallenged US Air Force had conducted massive air operations
Yugoslavia two years ago without suffering a single casualty.
But the same US
Air Force had failed utterly to defend American air space
a few hours
earlier. "Terrorists be warned," he said, "you
take out two 110-story
buildings and the headquarters of the most powerful military
force in the
world, and we'll be ready and waiting for you. After that."
>From everywhere the smoke column was present - big, gray,
churning out new ruin, a great rising column of spark and
I arrived as far south as I could go before they were stopping
everyone - the
corner of Broadway and Houston. Lined up there was a column
of perhaps 30 or
40 empty dump trucks, all blue with "NYCHA" in big
white letters. The New
York City Housing Authority - a more elaborate operation than
possess in Los Angeles. Cops moved sawhorses from the center
of Broadway, and
the column moved slowly south into the dust, the smoke, and
toward the scene of the great crime.
I headed over to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, which
designated as the major staging area for rescue workers and
Salvation Army appeared to be handling much of the coordination.
quickly put to work unloading trucks and vans laden with work
flashlights, boots, shovels, buckets, goggles, hot food, "javaboxes"
coffee. Even here, a good 50 blocks north of where the fires
there was a haze in the air, and most of the volunteers wore
white dust masks that came 25 to a box. Every 15 minutes or
so we would see a
flatbed truck proceed slowly north on the Westside Highway,
carrying a gray
ash-covered vehicle, smashed beyond recognition.
I spent virtually all my time during the next several days
volunteering and making periodic payphone calls to talk with
Kitty live on
the air at KPCC. I told some of the other volunteers that
I was visiting from
Los Angeles. Everyone reacted to this with intense gratitude,
like I was
doing them some great favor, as if 9/11 was something that
had happened to
their community, not mine. They were astonished when I told
them that the
lines to give blood in LA were even longer than the lines
in New York.
Rumors were rampant among the hundreds of volunteers. The
USAF had actually
shot down four other hijacked airliners on Tuesday. Another
had crashed into
the space needle in Seattle. JFK Airport had reopened on Wednesday,
immediately closed - four men had shown up for a Los Angeles-bound
carrying box cutters, "ready to do the same thing all
over again." At news of
this the next guy over in the hauling chain looked at me,
and said so all
could hear: "Hey California, if I were you, I'd drive
Thursday morning the UN conducted a rump session of its conference
condensing three days into three hours. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan's wife
Nane opened the proceedings. One of the speakers was a young
Katarina Nestorovic, there to talk about her efforts with
the "Balkan Youth
Union." I immediately recalled that some 10,000 souls
slaughtered in a single day by the forces of hate - on July
11, 1995, at a
place called Srebrenica. She bravely began to discuss their
work with young
people traumatized by a decade of horrors in the former Yugoslavia.
a moment she began to stammer. She could not go on. And then
she said: "I'm
here to talk about my work with Balkan youth, but I must say
what happened here two days ago. And the only words that I
can find are thes
e: I know how you feel. I know how you feel."
Perhaps after 9/11, I said to Kitty and her KPCC listeners
afternoon, we can say to Katarina Nestorovic -- and the millions
around the world who have been victimized by some of the unspeakable
atrocities of the post-Cold War world -- we know how you feel.
We know how
Thursday afternoon, on my way back over to the Javits Center,
I walked by an
FDNY firehouse between Third and Lex. The big garage door
was open. Someone
had made a big poster, with about a dozen firefighter photos
on it, and the
words: "We're keeping the light on for you, fellas."
There were several dozen
people milling around outside, speaking in hushed tones.
I started chatting with one firefighter, perhaps 30, who
told me his name was
Fred Zavilskas. And Fred was having a tough time. He had a
wife and two young
kids. So did his colleague Rob Parra - whose photo appeared
on the poster.
Fred and Rob had traded shifts a few days earlier so Rob could
play in a
softball game. That meant Rob was covering Fred's shift when
he headed down
to the World Trade Center fire on the morning of September
Now god knows I'm not a counselor or a minister or any kind
of a guru. But it
just came to me what I had to say to this man. It's really
the only time that
week I feel I said anything spiritually worthwhile. "Fred,"
I said, "you've
got to do three things to get yourself out of this quagmire.
One, you've got
to go see Rob Parra's widow - if she does indeed turn out
to be a widow - and
you've got to make sure she knows about the traded shifts.
Two, you've got to
tell her that her family, and your family, are now one family.
you've got to promise her that you're going to do twice as
much good in the
world as you were previously intending to do. You've got to
do all the good
that you were gonna do. And you've got to do all the good
that Rob Parra was
Thursday night back at the Javits Center, as midnight approached,
we were hit
quite suddenly by a savage wind and rain. We'd already tied
huge tarps to tr
ucks and lampposts overhead, but now stood holding them above
our heads to
keep them from blowing away. Rain streamed down my sleeve.
It was 63 hours
since the attack. "Happy is the bride whom the sun shines
upon," said my
mother's friend Ruth Murphy at her funeral on a torrential
June day in
Chicago in 1979, "and happy are the dead whom the rain
I'm a lifelong Catholic, and on Sunday I went to Edward Cardinal
at St. Patrick's Cathedral. But it was standing room only
outside in the
street, with audio speakers set up all around. I spoke with
female flight attendants, in uniform, who were clearly still
focused on what
had happened aboard those aircraft five days earlier. "Don't
worry," I told
them, pointing my finger in their faces, "it's never
going to happen again.
We have to believe that all of this, somehow, is going to
lead to better and
brighter days. We have to live our lives in the hope that
the worst part of
the 21st Century is already behind us."
In my scholarship and peace advocacy work I talk about cultivating
of global citizenship, about broadening our national patriotism
planetary patriotism, about pledging our allegiance to humanity.
notion underlying the UN Rapid Deployment Force proposal -
the one I was in
New York to speak about - is that citizens ought to be able,
if they wish, to
do something larger than "serve their country."
Citizens ought to be able to
volunteer to serve humanity.
But I won't soon forget the scene outside as Cardinal Egan's
mass came to an
end. I stood on the corner of 51st and 5th, in a tightly packed
Patrick's Cathedral was to my left, Radio City Music Hall
to my right. The
Empire State Building - the tallest building in New York City
- loomed 18
blocks to the south. Immediately behind that, the enduring
smoke column from
Ground Zero churned powerfully upward. And 5000 people in
the street, most
openly sobbing, sang together: "America, America, god
shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good, with brotherhood, from sea to shining
Among the volunteers at the Javits Center much of the conversation
on how to get ourselves down to "the site" (no one,
here at least, was yet
referring to it as "Ground Zero"). The "criteria"
for deciding who got on
the busses that headed down every few hours was amorphous,
ill defined, and
inconstant. Many of the gatekeepers seemed self-appointed,
holding only the
authority granted to them by bright orange vests they had
But virtually everyone at the Javits Center wanted to figure
out how to get
on those busses and get themselves down there. Including me.
I'm a little bit ashamed, even still, of just how intensely
I held this
desire. I told myself that I'd be writing and speaking about
9/11 for many
years to come, that my scholarship and peace advocacy could
only be enhanced
by firsthand experience. I told myself that I could well serve
listeners by calling Kitty from the pile itself. But the truth
primal than that. It was a big, monumental, historic event
and I really
wanted to participate in it. It was, I felt certain, a horrific,
and I really wanted to see it.
By Saturday morning the bus-boarding decisionmaking process
seemed to have
firmed up a bit. They were only taking welders and ironworkers
by then - and
requiring both tools and union cards to prove it. This didn't
seem to hold
out much hope for a desk dwelling academic who bears almost
no resemblance to
"The Rock." But I gave it a shot.
I told the orange-vested woman that I'd been in both London
when bombs had gone off (albeit many miles from me). I explained
received extensive first-aid training - and showed her the
certification card I carry in my wallet. I talked, with only
hyperbole, about the rubble-clearing activities after the
earthquake of 1994 - "the greatest natural disaster,"
I emphasized helpfully,
though not quite sure I could confirm it was true, "in
"All right, all right," she said finally, ground
down, "pipe down and get
The bus full of welders, ironworkers, and me arrived shortly
before noon -
exactly 99 hours since the first plane hit the first tower.
distributed, and we were directed to walk slowly and carefully
shattered but still-standing World Financial Center building,
through water and ubiquitous gray concrete dust.
And then we climbed through a broken doorway, and there it
was, as big as
Dodger Stadium, the twisted and grotesque site of a political
mass murder. I
thought about my 104-year-old grandmother, who entered comptometer
this very Church Street location after graduating from high
school in 1915.
Years later she had gone to work in the North Tower on the
day it opened in
1972, and remained there until her retirement in 1980. (She
revealed then to
her employer that she had lied about her age, and was not
as he thought 73,
but 83.) I looked up at the elegant Woolworth Building - the
in New York before the Empire State Building was built - and
thought about my
parents, both dead, who had met there almost exactly 50 years
Now I had packed mostly suits for this trip, not rugged work
gear. But I had
brought along a pair of Bermuda shorts, a couple of T-shirts,
shoes, and a long pair of knee socks which make me look a
bit like an
18th-century Swiss yodeler. And that's what I was wearing
now, along with
kneepads, gloves, goggles, and a heavy-duty respirator mask
(nothing like the
cheap things we'd been wearing at the Javits Center). I moved
in between two
sturdy-looking fellows with sharp Brooklyn accents. One was
firefighter boots, rubber pants, fire helmet, and a tight
FDNY polo shirt.
Another -- an unlit cigar in his mouth - wore a weathered
police helmet that
said "NYPD Arson and Explosion Squad." They looked
me over. I hesitated.
Finally FDNY says: "You know, there's not a lotta guys
who could pull off an
outfit like that." I got in the bucket line.
It took me awhile to figure out the point to the operation.
The bucket lines
actually existed in pairs - one passing 20-30 pound loaded
buckets back, and
another passing empty buckets forward. "Hey, check out
Ladder 15 over there,"
joked one firefighter. "They got the whole truck hauling
empties." Had there
been no people in the Twin Towers, the authorities presumably
cleared the whole thing away with steam shovels and bulldozers
in a couple of
weeks. But we, of course, were searching slowly and carefully
body parts, and on this day still very much for living survivors.
Everything underneath us was sharp and jagged - at one point
it took me a
good 15 minutes just to get my footing. A couple of times
an FDNY captain
came over and made us shift the entire bucket line, because
beneath our feet was getting too hot for our safety.
Eventually I had to pee. Although I'm sure that before long
to bring in porta-potties, I didn't see any on this day. "See
over there, guy?" said an ironworker near me on the line,
pointing to a door
into the shattered World Financial Center building. "If
I were you, I'd just
go in there and find an empty office."
At several points I noticed papers underneath us as we worked.
I thought long
and hard before even bending down to pick one up. I was there
to work, to
help, to participate - not to hunt for souvenirs. But they
were just laying
there in the mud and the dust, people were walking all over
them, they were
clearly bound for the dump trucks - and in my view they were
artifacts. So although to this day I'm still not certain it
was the right
thing to do, I picked up several and stuffed them into my
"Gail, I have attached the pages from the register as
requested, but not a
copy of the EO2 report
" says a fax on Brown and
Wood stationery, burned
around the edges, and smelling - like everything - of ground
dust. "Important Message While You Were Out," says
the pink telephone message
form. "For: Craig, From: Cindy, Re: worker's comp policy
- one additional
added on due to 3/96 UCT6 Report." "Get Met,"
says Snoopy on a singed
computer mouse pad, "It Pays." I suspect I won't
be the only soul, god
willing, who pulls these yellowed relics out of a drawer to
share with some
children on 09/11/51.
I spent about 18 hours at the site, from noon Saturday to
6 AM on Sunday,
putting in three long bucket line shifts. About halfway through
I borrowed a
cell phone and talked to Kitty and her KPCC listeners again
- about dust,
about fire, about life and death. It was at that point I noticed
that I had
not yet seen a single journalist at the site. No radio reporters
microphones. No print reporters carrying note pads. No TV
cameras in sight.
After midnight I got back in line again. Requests got shouted
down from the
very front toward the back of the line. "Torch! Torch.
Torch." 90 seconds
later we passed a welder's torch up. "Gasoline!"
"Sauzol!" I had never heard this word before. What
could it be? A special
kind of diamond drill? An exotic brand of Puerto Rican tequila?
Then I heard
the word again. "Saws All!" - a hard metal saw that
apparently can cut
through anything. We passed it up. A few minutes went by.
everybody was trying their best.
Then a call for something different. "Dog!" "K-9!"
"Dog!" The dog and her
handler slowly made their way up the mountain of rubble and
steel. She was
wearing rugged doggie boots, but even still, it was an arduous
climb. At two
points, they simply came to a dead stop, and the handler lifted
the dog up
above a massive steel girder, handing her into strong waiting
Then came the next call. "Bodybag! Bodybag. Bodybag."
I'd never seen one
before. It was folded tightly, sort of like a heavy-duty rubber
passed it up.
Now there were probably 1000 women and men at the site itself,
and 20 or 30
bucket lines such as my own. There were bulldozers, cranes,
power tools, lots
of noise. Then the next call came. "Quiet! Quiet. Quiet."
stopped. The women and men stopped. The noise stopped.
And we all stood there silently. And we watched a team of
About the Author
work their way back down the massive pile, carrying the remains
of a 33-year
old woman who had been minding her own business at 8:45 AM
on 9/11/01, who'd
had a fabulously fun day of bicycling with her two teenage
nieces just two
days earlier at the New Jersey shore, who'd had five dates
- no, six - with a
new guy who worked up on Central Park South and was wondering
if she should
bring up the "exclusivity" question, whose mother
had died 5 years earlier
and whose father had still not pulled out of his funk, who'd
Isaac Asimov's "Prelude to Foundation" on the subway
an hour earlier and had
almost gotten through the entire 7-volume masterpiece, who'd
never heard of
Osama bin Laden -- let alone her murderer, Mohammed Atta --
and who, if you'd
asked her at that moment if there was anyone anywhere on Planet
merited her "hatred," would likely have replied:
"Gee - I dunno. Nobody comes
Tad Daley, J.D., Ph.D. makes public appearances on public policy
can be reached at email@example.com. Daley's 9/11 articles
are also appearing this week in LA's Catholic newspaper TIDINGS
and , on September 11th, The Pasadena Star News.