For all of the footage that we have of the 9/11 attacks in New York, nothing is as powerful as the very human stories that are told by the people who were there. From the people that narrowly escaped the World Trade Center towers, took calls from persons trapped in the upper levels of the buildings or watched from afar, each story captures the pain and emotion of a day that no one who lived through it will ever forget.
The same is true for my friend Jerry Kane. Now working with the Harris Corporation in their land mobile radio business, on 9/11 Jerry was Detective Sgt. Kane of the NYPD and assigned to the Police Commissioner’s Office. Like thousands of “New York’s Finest,” and other first responders, Jerry was at the World Trade Center doing what he could to save lives. In the midst of so much carnage and chaos, the years of training and experience he and every other first responder had would be tested in ways no academy program could foresee.
The good fortune for him that day was the fact he narrowly survived to go home to his wife and sons – something that nearly 3,000 other people would never be able to do.
His story of that day is like thousands of others. It is one of horror, profound heartbreak and good fortune. The good fortune for him that day was the fact he narrowly survived to go home to his wife and sons – something that nearly 3,000 other people would never be able to do. His story, though, has another dimension. It is a tale of morality and immorality.
For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve encouraged him – and my other NYPD, New York City, and Washington friends – to write down his experiences of that day. While none of them will forget that day, recording those experiences, whether by written word, video, or some other medium ensures that the lessons big and small, overt and covert can be shared with others so that no future generation will ever forget or ignore the magnitude of that day. Jerry’s done that, and in a way I never heard him express it before.
In a message that he sent to his family and friends prior to the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, (and that he’s given me permission to share with all of you), Jerry captures not just his experiences in surviving the collapse of the towers, but the lessons he learned in the aftermath.
Here’s what he had to say:
From: Kane, Gerard
Sent: Wednesday, September 07, 2011 12:10 PM
To: Kane, Gerard
Subject: September 11
Ten years ago I didn’t know any of you and would have never predicted that I would be in the Land Mobile Radio business. Back then, as many of you know, I was a Detective Sergeant and was preparing to deploy to Washington, D.C., in the third week of September to support the Metropolitan Police during the planned World Economic Forum.
On September 11 I was already pretty seasoned. I had been in a shoot-out, delivered a baby, rescued a few people in a fire and one from under a train. I thought I had seen it all and with typical New York confidence thought that nothing could faze me.
During the attack I was lucky enough to survive being fairly close to the South Tower when it collapsed and then wrapped my head in my suit jacket to keep from choking on the dust. I managed to crawl and then stumble about two and a half blocks to St. Peter’s RC Church at the corner of Church and Barclay Streets where a high school kid (and now a submariner in the U.S. Navy) named Jonathan Stewart pulled me inside. After a few confusing moments as I was reconciling the fact that I had just nearly died and was now in a church I was able to switch back in to “Sergeant” mode and started directing the half dozen able bodied adults to begin pulling in injured off the streets and rendering first aid.
Soon afterwards I met a man, name unknown, who showed me exactly why America will always prevail.
While inside the church I gave Jonathan my knife and had him remove the cloth that covers the altar and directed him to cut it into strips, soak them in water and give to those who need it so they can breathe outside the church. When he ran out of that cloth I told him to use the priest’s vestments, citing my status as a former altar boy when he hesitated. At this point a man was there, a businessman, not a firefighter or cop, just someone who worked in the area and was caught up in the attack. He was in need of comfort as he was completely gray from head to toe except for small spots of red near his eyes. Jonathan, already authorized to cut up anything he needed took a vestment from a hangar and went to slice it while telling the gentleman that he would soak the cloth in water so he could wrap it around his face.
The man hesitated, saying that he didn’t think we should be cutting the priest’s vestments. I assured him it was OK but was struck then and still am by that courageous statement.
Here was someone who was in obvious need of relief and we were offering him a simple but effective remedy for a portion of his misery, his ability to breathe, yet he didn’t want to take it because it crossed a moral line he wasn’t comfortable with crossing. Here was the most amoral event in the past 50 years and still this man maintained his morality and verbalized it so. I eventually convinced him to take it but understood right at that moment that it is people like that, regular everyday Americans, that make this country so great.
This week I will be remembering many of my friends that died ten years ago. So will all of you I am sure. I will also remember an unknown person who showed me that we should always maintain our morality even when we are faced with cataclysmic immorality. It’s the thing that separates us from our enemies and why America will always prevail.