The 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks can be a time for reflection, honor and memory.
Thomas Hart, a Business Agent and President of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 94, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss his memories of being in New York City on that fateful day, his search for four union Brothers who ultimately perished in the disaster and how the Sept. 11 tragedy brought New Yorkers and the country together in a moment of unity.
A fateful day no one will ever forget
Hart remembers Sept. 11, 2001 as a beautiful, sunny day. He was in Queens that morning handing out and posting leaflets in support of an upcoming labor party election. Leaving the borough to attend a meeting in the Bronx, he got a phone call from his boss telling him a small plane hit the World Trade Center.
Travelling over the bridge to Manhattan, Hart could see a gaping hole in the tower, which was on fire. Judging by the thick cloud of smoke, he knew it was not a small plane that hit the tower and the crisis was bigger than people were reporting. Hart then witnessed the second plane hit the south tower and he knew the whole situation would quickly spiral out of control.
He went into his scheduled meeting, which was interrupted when someone announced the first tower had collapsed. With an engineering degree and a background in construction, Hart could not believe it. When he watched clips of the collapse on TV and soon realized many people were going to die. He immediately thought of his 80 union Brothers and Sisters working in or near the towers at the time.
Hart teamed up with his coworkers with the intention of heading to Ground Zero to see if they could help. They were blocked by authorities — the city was on lockdown. They decided to turn around and go home. It took him five and a half hours to return to his family. With trains, buses and taxis shut down, many of his coworkers were unable to return home.
New Yorkers united to help
Hart and his coworkers spent the next three days looking for survivors, including the four union Brothers who were never found. He remembered promising their widows he would do everything he could to help.
It was a numbing experience, one he never wants to go through again, but in a strange way it was also beautiful, Hart said. People were helping each other in any way they could.
He remembered getting a ride down to Ground Zero by a stranger in a truck. The whole situation was turmoil, but Hart’s background helped in going through the wreckage. He remembered talking to a fire department captain, telling him everything he knew as they targeted a location where many firefighters had perished.
The unity of New Yorkers coming together in the following days continues to inspire him today. In the polarizing chaos of the pandemic, people have divergent and opposing views, particularly when it comes to masking and vaccines. America is truly great when people stand together, when they can put their beliefs and trust in their shared humanity, Hart said.
Hart encouraged listeners to take this upcoming day of remembrance and remember the nation’s commonality.