It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining, the sky was clear and New York Police Officer John D’Allara was on duty.
At the World Trade Center, up on the 84th floor of the South Tower, Michael Taddonio and Stephen Dorf were starting their day with EuroBrokers. A few floors up, Bradley Vadas was starting his day with Keefe, Bruyette and Woods. Gregory Milanowycz, who had just returned from vacation, was also back to work with AON Corporation.
The day was off to a good start, but it wouldn’t last.
At 8:45 a.m., EDT, on Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed as an American Airlines Boeing 767, loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel, crashed into the North Tower.
“You wouldn’t believe what I’m watching,” Vadas said, in a phone conversation with his fiancée, Kris McFerren. The conversation was part of a New York Times story published in 2002 called “Accounts From the South Tower."
Fifteen minutes later, Dorf called his sister, Michelle. “Did you look at the TV?” he asked her.
“I put on the TV and saw the other (North Tower) burning,” she told the reporter. “He was very hysterical on the phone.”
Officer D’Allara, along with other police, fire and EMS workers, rushed to the World Trade Center, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, to aid the victims and lead people to safety. At the towers he headed in to help.
Workers in the South Tower watched in shock and horror as the North Tower burned, but then, 18 minutes after the first place was hit, a second plane appeared in the sky. United Airlines Flight 175 turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and as the world watched in disbelief, it slammed into the South Tower.
For those in the South Tower, there was no disbelief — the horror they were watching in the North Tower was now their horror.
“It was terrible,” Dorf’s sister recalled. “I felt the fear in his voice.”
Dorf, Vadas, Milanowycz, Taddonio and thousands of others were now struggling to find safety and get out.
“Dad, the smoke is really thick,” Milanowycz told his dad, Joseph. He had called him from the 93rd floor at 9:29 a.m. His father had called 911 for him and the others trying to survive together. “It is really getting hard to breathe.”
For those watching everything play out on TV, the struggles, the calls, the final breaths taken by those inside the towers could not be felt, but it was obvious that America was under attack.
Both planes had been hijacked by radical Muslims and flown into the towers. Another hijacked plane was crashed into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The horror, the pain felt by the watching could not come close to what was happening inside.
“It doesn’t look good,” Milanowycz said to Marica De Leon who Joseph had given the phone to while he tried calling 911 again for his son. “It really, really doesn’t look good here. This is bad. It is hard to breathe.”
Taddonio had made it to the 91st floor.
“I’m fading, we can’t go any more,” he told his mom on the phone. “I don’t think I’m going to make it. Tell the kids I love them, and I love you mom, and tell dad I love him.”
At 9:59 a.m. EDT, the South Tower collapsed. At 10:28 a.m. EDT the North Tower came down.
Officer D’Allara was one of 74 law enforcement officers lost, 343 firefighters were killed and Michael Taddonio, Gregory Milanowycz, Bradley Vadas and Stephen Dorf where among the almost 2,800 people killed in the towers on 9/11/2001. In all, almost 3,000 innocent lives were lost to a cowardly terrorist attack.
The next day, America responded by dusting off flags that for many had been in closets for years. Across the country, the Stars and Stripes flew at half-mast on front porches, in front of businesses, throughout the country. The only kneeling was in prayer.
A nation divided, as is normal, came together. The political differences were lost as Americans came together to grieve and try to move forward as one nation.
Today, we are once again divided. Our divide today seems too vast to ever be brought back together, but if we do not, the terrorists win. However, in remembrance of Michael, Gregory, Bradley, Stephen, Officer D’Allara and all the others lost on Sept. 11, 2001, could we now put aside our differences, agree to disagree and come together once again as one unified, yet diverse, nation?