Everyone remembers where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. Mike Bellone and Bob Barrett know exactly where they were then and for the next 257 days. They were at Ground Zero, helping with the recovery efforts as New York City worked its way through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
This past week, both men were back at the site of the World Trade Center disaster, commemorating the 11th anniversary of that dark day in American history.
Barrett was a member of Ladder Co. 20 in Lower Manhattan on that day. Sept. 11 just happened to be his day off. But when he heard the news from TV, he hustled over the Brooklyn Bridge and joined in the battle that took the lives of more than 300 firefighters, including 15 members of his own company.
It was during the recovery campaign that Barrett met Bellone, who was an EMS worker volunteering his time. Over the ensuing months, the two became friends and have been collaborating ever since.
“That’s the way God works,” says Barrett. “I lost my friend from the Fire Department that day, but I met Mike who has become my best friend since.”
Together, the two played a part in the rescue of almost 400 bodies from the rubble that was the World Trade Center.
Bellone has arranged for crosses to be made from the steel that was used to construct the WTC, and he has distributed them to families of victims of the attack on America.
Today, the Brooklyn-born duo travel around the city and country with the organization they founded, Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC). They talk with children and their communities about the effects of critical events such as Hurricane Katrina, the Columbia Shuttle disaster and of course, Ground Zero.
I had a chance to sit down with the two men on Sept. 11 just after they attended the anniversary observances at Ground Zero. During the interview which aired on Currents this past week, Bellone spoke about some of the long-term effects that the smoke and pollution from Ground Zero have caused. His lungs have been damaged and he sits rather than stands during speaking engagements, but both Bellone and Barrett would rather count the blessings they have in their families and the fraternity of New York’s Bravest.
Following the taping of our TV segment, both men sat in the news room and autographed copies of the book they wrote to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
In it, Bellone writes, “There have been struggles when I close my eyes at night and see flashbacks of the scene at Ground Zero that no person should have to face. Something as simple as seeing a chandelier or a certain chair at an unrelated event will trigger the emotion, the smells and sounds of Ground Zero.”
And for Barrett, he writes that the saddest thing is to see the children who lost parents at the World Trade Center. “How does one survive without that love, advice and guidance?” he asks.
Not waiting for the answer to that question, Bellone and Barrett have decided to do something to make a positive out of a negative.
Bellone and Barrett are the epitome of the slogan that has become the rallying call of 9/11: “Never Forget.” And we won’t as long as heroes like Bellone and Barrett continue to remind us of what they have seen and heard.