By VERNON SIDERS
Davidson Police Department
On Sept. 11, 2001, I worked as a police officer with the NYPD. I was assigned to a patrol working 1st shift (also known as “3rd Shift” here in the south). My hours were 11:15 p.m. until 7:50 a.m. At the time, I was driving home to Brentwood, Long Island, when the first plane hit the tower.
As I drove, my mother called me on my cell phone, telling me to turn on the news when I got home. When I arrived, I turned on the television and froze … a plane had just struck one of the twin towers, and it didn’t look like an accident. My mother told me that my sister was working across the street from the towers and nobody had heard from her.
I instantly jumped into my car and started driving towards Manhattan, disregarding all traffic laws. I had a police light for unmarked vehicles to assist me in getting through traffic, however, everything was at a standstill. I had to park somewhere in Queens County and walk over the bridge to my destination.
I started calling my sister’s cell phone, but there was no answer. I assumed the worst, and started to lose control of my emotions — I had to get into the city to find her. I thought to myself, “Everybody is running away from Manhattan, and here I am running towards it.” That’s what police officers do, we run into danger while others run away from it. I consider it my duty to sacrifice my life to save another, no matter what.
Luckily, a cab driver drove by and picked up my sister and a few of her co-workers to drive them away from that area. I didn’t learn this until 3 days later, so you can imagine what was running through my mind without any cell phone contact at all. Apparently, the cell phone tower was damaged, so I couldn’t call her.
My best friend’s sister called me to inform me that a close friend of the family was in the towers at the time on the 91st floor. Her name was Tara Hobbs and she was on the phone with her fiancé just before the plane crashed into the building, and then the phones got disconnected. Her body was never found.
I finally arrived at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan around noon. People were gearing up with emergency supplies and clothing, and registering there. I felt no need to register; I didn’t want to stand in line. All I wanted to do was start working.
I jumped on a bus loaded with iron workers and police officers headed to ground zero for rescue and recovery. As we arrived, we all exited the bus and stood still, focused on the disaster in front of us. It looked like we were standing at hell’s gates.
All of us started to cry as we all held hands to pray. Mountains of metal set afire, asphalt melting under our feet, the smell of human remains and jet fuel burning. The flames lit up the sky to the point that it looked like daylight. I looked to my left to see an old church building with its roof on fire, the trees that surround it on fire, and the tombstones located in the church’s cemetery all on fire. I asked myself, “Is this the end of the world?”
I could hear people crying and yelling for help, but I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination. We never found anyone alive that night. I joined a chain gang of officers and rescue workers removing debris from the point of collapse. Each couple of hours, I would take a break to drink fluids and eat fresh fruit supplied by the EMS personnel.
What amazed me was the level of order in what was seen as pure chaos. I’m talking about the diversity. I mean all different types of people working together without fussing and fighting, no senseless conversation, just working together to accomplish one objective: find the bodies of those that survived or not. There were many moments of silence. All you could hear was the crackling of flames, and eerie wails from the wind blowing that sounded like people in bondage suffering in intense pain and anguish. You could see and smell the burning smoke for miles and miles.
I continued to work there for the next couple of days to finally collapse from exhaustion that Friday, September 14, around late morning. I was hoping to see President Bush as he arrived to address all of us. I was too drained to stand, and was coughing up whatever I took into my lungs. They told me I had developed asthma-like symptoms.
I later registered with the 9/11 health registry and received medical care for the next 2-3 years to be completely healed by the Grace and Mercy of God and medicine combined. By the 15th, my reserve unit with the Marine Corps was activated. I spent the next couple of months going back and forth to ground zero to provide security and assist with clean-up, both as a police officer and as a Marine.
I joined my pastor and other clergymen by going to the local small businesses with donations to pay their employees who were now out of work due to the tragic events. You should have seen their faces when we gave them money they didn’t ask for. We also prayed for them and provided support in many ways.
In September 2002, I was deployed to Camp Pendleton, California, for training ops, later to be discovered as battle prep for the invasion of Iraq. In January 2003, I was activated and deployed to Kuwait in preparation for the invasion. We crossed the border in March…but that’s a story for another day…
It’s a real pleasure and joy to serve the Town of Davidson as a police officer. It’s a dream come true. I love the people and the people love me. Their children are my children, and no harm shall befall them — not on my watch. My new family here in the department and town hall is second to none. I enjoy interacting with my co-workers and staff.
Together we display a united front in crime prevention, good quality public service to our community, and setting a high standard of professionalism for our police department for the entire world to know. I will make and take every opportunity to contribute to this wonderful organization as any need arises. Teamwork is the essential for success.
Through it all these past several years, I lost many close friends, co-workers, fellow Marines, and not to mention, family, and it still hurts me to this day. I will never forget those lives lost on that day and afterwards. May God help us all.
Fidelis Ad Mortem,
Police Officer V. Siders Jr.
Davidson Police Department