Steve's account of 9-11-2001
by Steve Golding©
The following is the accounts
of September 11, 2001 as seen through the eyes of Steve Golding
as he pulled up to work that morning in the Financial District
below the World Trade Center. Our deepest condolences go out
to Steve and his friends who have suffered such a tragic loss.
To see their friends die before them by such a shocking event.
Please tell everyone you know they should read this.
OK, here goes. I've worked
in the city (Manhattan) my entire adult career. I worked for
Frank B. Hall Insurance Brokers in the Financial District; the
former HQ of TWA in Midtown Manhattan before the airline was
taken over by Ichan; and for the Helmsley Organization in Midtown
before moving to their Chelsea location. I've worked hard and
climbed the ladder so to speak. For the last 3 years I have
been driving into work, having attained a perk--my own reserved
I live in Brooklyn. Born
and bred. Having paid my dues, I do not start work until 10
AM every day now. And so it was on September 11th. I had just
come out of the Battery Tunnel and made my left hand turn onto
the West Side Highway and rolled up to the second stop light.
I was running a little late. The light turned green and I started
to go, passing the twin towers on my right hand side. In Front
of the Trade Center Marriott. Just as I got in front of them,
the ground shook and then I heard an explosion. I thought to
myself what the hell was that and I checked my review to see
if it was a gas pipe that exploded. Then debris started raining
down on my car.
I gunned it and got about
a block and a half away before all the emergency vehicles started
coming; many of them coming toward me the wrong way. Traffic
snarled. I knew that I wasn't going to get any further. I pulled
off the road and I took the car to a small garage and left it
there. I walked back to the West Side Highway because its a
main artery with a straight shot to my job at 23rd & 5th.
I look back toward the twin
towers. There was smoke rising from one of the towers. I walked
toward it, in disbelief. People were jumping. A lot of people
were jumping. I saw some of them land. I felt sick. I thought
some dimwit had run either a helicopter or small plane into
the twin towers. I saw the second plane coming. It never dawned
on me he was going the wrong way. I thought to myself that he
was flying too low and wondered why. Then he turned into the
second tower. He made his wings go one way and then the other.
He went through it. The nose stuck through the other side for
a nanosecond before you saw the biggest explosion that you would
ever see. You instantly knew you were under attack. This was
no accident. This was no dimwit. This was inhuman. You were
in total denial. It was not happening. I was home, asleep, and
having some sick dream.
I made it up to the site
in minutes to see if I could help. A cop told me if I wanted
to truly help, I would move north, away from the scene. He was
scared but calm. I started away. But every few feet I would
turn and look, not believing it really happened. I started listening
to peoples radios that were still in their cars, or others who
had transistor radios.
The South Tower, the second
one hit, came down. I just stood there for a minute, an hour,
a day. My mind was saying get the hell out of there, but my
mind wasn't communicating with the rest of me. It was like a
movie. A bad one at that. It looked like the whole top of the
building slid a little and then someone turned on a faucet and
debris started pouring out of it as it slowly disappeared.
Plumes of smoke/debris were
coming at me. Huge. Never saw anything like it. I took off.
I went down one road and there was that plume coming straight
for me, I turned and went another way but it was still coming
at me. From all ends. I must've turned down a small alley-like-road
where the buildings stood end-to-end because no matter what
door I tried to seek shelter, it was locked. The Plume was overtaking
There was an older lady screaming
in the middle of this alley/street and the monster was about
to get her. I grabbed her and shoved her to the back end of
a DHL van that was parked. I threw my suit jacket over her head.
"Lady, we're gonna be alright. Take 3 deep breaths and
hold it." I curled up by the Van. The debris hit.
It was humid, sticky, hot.
It was white-grey-black in less time than it takes to read this
line. I was holding my breath but I hadn't closed my eyes. They
felt like fine grade steel wool, 0000 strength were in them.
I couldn't see. I had my hands out but couldn't see them. I
must've looked like I was imitating Helen Keller. I couldn't
hold my breath anymore. I let it out and gasped for breath.
My mouth was immediately filled with the foulest tasting stuff
you couldn't ever imagine. For the moment I couldn't breath.
I threw up. Cleared my mouth and took another breath. I threw
up again and then pulled my shirt over my face and then breathed.
I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Or suffocate.
For a long while I just leaned there, trying to regain some
I kept blinking my eyes.
My vision was blurred but I started to be able to see through
the darkness and I felt my way around. The lady was gone. So
was my jacket. I laughed. It was a new suit. Oh well. maybe
it helped her live. I hope so.
I was pushed this way and
that way by cops, fireman, people with colorful vests on. I
was walking through body parts. Shoes with feet still in them.
Arms, clumps of matter. The paper was everywhere, more than
I have ever seen and I've been to my share of ticker tape parades
in this city.
I don't know when the north
tower came down. I just know that it did by the sound and the
activity and the second plume of debris. I was covered in ash.
It didn't dawn on me until later that some of the stuff I was
covered in was the remains of incinerated bodies. I have showered
many, many times trying to get clean again. The thought that
some of the hijackers remains covered me is more for me to be
able to bear.
I got down to Broadway, near
City Hall but not quite on Park Row. There's a park attached
to City Hall. It's about 3 blocks from the twin towers. I got
near the tip of that park when I was grabbed by a female EMT.
She kept screaming at me to look at her. She had a flashlight
and was trying to put it to my eyes. She was wearing a mask.
She washed my eyes out. Her partner took tweezers and while
she held my head he removed stuff from my eyes. My left eye
was blood red. My right eye was almost swollen shut, but I didn't
know it. I don't know if they used saline or water but it stung
like hell whatever they used. Very much like one of the pictures
except that there was no ambulance there; they were just working.
I don't even know where they kept their supplies.
They worked on me for a few
minutes or a year. I don't know which. After each time they
worked on me, they would shine the light and ask me to tell
them how many fingers they had and who was the President. I
told them they each had 10 and the President of what? They said
it's good I had a sense of humor but that they needed to know
what I could see. How many fingers were they holding up. I got
it wrong the first couple of times and they went back to work
on me. My eyes now started to feel a little better but stung
like hell. They felt like sandpaper instead of steel wool. When
I got both questions right, they told me to get to NYU Hospital
or if I was feeling up to it my own doctor. They gave me a bottle
of water. I left.
I made it to my office but
scared the hell out of everyone there. I looked like I was badly
injured. I washed some of the stuff off my face but it started
to cake into mud. I had to get home. I left. Manhattan was closed
down. There were thousands upon thousands of people in the streets
but there was no subway, no bus. My car was in a garage that
might no longer be standing for all I knew. I followed the crowd,
helping some who were giving up and just sitting there. We managed
to come out of the cloud that was covering the Brooklyn Bridge.
When we got out of the cloud
we stopped to look back and could see nothing. A photographer
tried to snap my picture as I leaned against one of the steel
cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, lighting a cigarette believe
it or not, and looking back toward Manhattan. I slapped his
camera away and it fell off the bridge. He didn't even curse
me out. I mumbled sorry and I moved on.
I got into downtown Brooklyn.
Trying to make the subway was useless because hundreds of thousands
of people were going into the subway. I knew it would be chaotic.
I walked further downtown and a gypsy cab beeped his horn. As
in transit strikes, I asked how much to go to Sheepshead Bay,
maybe 15 miles away. 140.00. Deal.
I got home and looked in
the full length mirror. I looked scary. The thought crossed
my mind that had I been the cabdriver I wouldn't have picked
me up and I certainly wouldn't think that I had the 140.00.
I wasn't even mad at him. I took a shower. Long. Hot. I scrubbed
myself. I let the water run on my eyes. The stinging felt great.
I turned on the news. I grabbed
a drink. A stiff one. Why did they do this to us? My phone rang
and it was family to make sure that I was OK. I could not make
calls. I felt very isolated. I listened to the news almost all
night. I caught a couple hours of sleep and drove into work
the next day using my nephews car. I didn't get into work until
I started tallying the friends
that I had at the trade center. 16, 17, 18... 30. My cousin.
As strange as it sounds, I was able to make some calls from
my office. I called my cousin Charlie's house. Carol told me
she hadn't heard from him since right after the first plane
hit. He called to tell her that some idiot ran a plan into the
tower and that he was evacuating. He'd call her when he got
out. That call never came. He had worked for Euro Traders.
The same with my friend Elkin.
(His picture is in the montage.) A friend of Elkin's called
his own wife. She heard Elkin's voice in the background. He
was saying, "We have to punch through this wall; we can't
get through the door. Make sure she calls Cella to tell her
I'm OK and getting the hell outta here." His friends wife
called Cella and relayed the information. No other call came.
He worked for Carr Futures and he leaves his wife and 3 year
old daughter Nicole. He loved being a daddy.
Over the next few days things
were very chaotic. That guardsman that you see in the montage
with his M-16 pointed to the ground, he was stationed at 23rd
and 5th which is my building. For the first few days you could
not go further south than 23rd Street. Then they moved it to
14th Street. You look down the block and you see the shell of
the twin towers (the photo with the arrow pointing to the shell).
Since I have dealt with the government on the POW/MIA (Prisoner
of War/Missing In Action) issue for the last 30 years, my aunt
and uncle decided that I was the one who would deal with the
city on Charlie. I brought his toothbrush and hairbrush to the
Armory and filled out the 8 page questionnaire.
Then I found that more friends,
firefighters, had been taken as well. My friend Bronco had come
to my office a week before the attack. He was wearing this fire-retardant
sweat shirt and I told him it was a cool shirt. The Thursday
before the attack, he came back to my office and tossed a shirt
at me. Just like his with my name on it. He was lost on Tuesday.
I haven't been able to wear that shirt yet.
My sister's kids swim in
Ray's pool and his kids swim in my sister's pool. About 8 years
ago they had a block party that I attended. Ray was the organizer
of the block party. He and I hit it off. From that time on whenever
it was time to plan the block party he would always call Terry
and ask her "What's your brothers schedule," and would
plan it accordingly. When our own homegrown terrorist McVeigh
had bombed the OKC building, I knew that Ray went with the NYC
contingent to help. What I hadn't known was his last name. Downey.
He wasn't just one of the guys that went, he led them. He was
a Battalion Chief and I didn't know that that Ray was the Ray
Downey that they flashed all over the news until I saw his photo.
I was going to Charlie's
house almost every day and his kids, Stephen and Emily (6-8)
would ask me if I was going to bring daddy home. It broke my
heart. The following Sunday I went to Chelsea Piers and told
the person in charge of the volunteers over there that they
had to let me do something because I was going crazy at Charlie's
house. I ended up giving food to the rescuers. At one point
in the middle of the night I took a break. I went toward the
water and looked back toward the smoke that still was billowing
from the trade center. I lit a cigarette.
A firefighter came and stood
next to me but I hadn't noticed him until he said, "You
got that 10,000 yard stare going on." (A reference to those
in a warzone.) We started talking. After a while he asked me
if I wanted to go down to ground zero. I told him that my badge
(color coded) would be spotted and they wouldn't let me further.
He took off his coat and draped it around me and then handed
me his helmet. We walked down together. Seeing it, I don't know
how I possibly survived.
The fires burned for 20 days
at full force. The city was covered in smoke and ash. The smell
has hung over us to the point that we are almost used to it
now. And part of that smell was incinerated bodies.
As the war on terrorism started,
I knew that the focus would change from responding to an unwarranted
attack on freedom to those who believe that the United States
is using this as a way of controlling oil. In fact, you wouldn't
believe some of the e-mail I am getting. I knew that American
resolve may wain in the face of indigenous Afghani suffering
and I knew that I had to create something to help sustain our
resolve. I built the first draft of my memorial on Charlie's
computer. Some of the language I edited out when I started getting
e-mail from kids.
And let's talk about that
for a moment. 8,000 children in grades pre-K to 5 had to be
evacuated from schools in the shadows of the twin towers. Another
6,000 JHS kids, grade 6-8. Another 15,000 grades 9-12. I don't
have the data on college. However, I can tell you that the Board
of Education claims that 10,000 public school kids lost one
or both parents. There's no data on the private or parochial
school kids. So how many of those that had to be evacuated and
bore witness to the attack went home to be comforted by their
parents to find that one or both of them died in the attack?
My personal death toll reached
1 cousin, 36 friends. Of them, 20 are "missing." Pulverized
or incinerated. My hope is that they never knew what hit them.
I know that Charlie did and I know that Elkin did. We buried
a piece of Elkin's jawbone. Charlie has never been found. We
have to live with their horror and think about their last thoughts
as they fought to find a way out of that hell. This has come
close to breaking me and I am usually a strong individual. For
the last 7 weeks I have been going to funerals and memorials.
I just got back from the Memorial at Ground Zero. I am thinking
that this should be my last for my own sanity.
I still have that sensation
of shaking inside. My hands are steady and I am still seething,
still angry and still hurt. I suppose with time that sensation
of shaking will subside because I know, also, that we will overcome
this blow that we took. But I don't want to overcome it to the
point that we forget. Overcome it, but not forget it. And that's
the whole reason why I did the page and continue to maintain
And that's my story. As much
of it as I can tell or as much as I care to tell. There are
images that I will never forget; the husband and wife holding
hands as they jumped into oblivion, the other jumpers. The guy
that was shimmying down the grid used by the window washing
apparatus, we were all cheering him and then some debris hit
him and he fell headfirst. He's one of the pictures, hands behind
his back. I only hope whatever hit him knocked him out first.
Those that jumped turning not to flesh and blood but grey-brown
matter. The plane going into the building and being swallowed.
The tower coming down as if someone turned on a faucet and drained
it from existence. The emergency personnel running, driving,
dashing up to and into the World Trade Center while the rest
of us were doing everything we could to get away. Look at the
picture of the lone firefighter running up the stairs while
a sea of people were going down.
I guess we should be thankful
that more than 30,000 people inside the buildings were saved.
Another 15 - 20,000 saved from the other buildings that came
down. A 57 story building also came down, but you hardly heard
about it. And there were the hundreds of thousands of us on
the ground that surely would have perished had those buildings
fallen over rather than imploded straight down. Like I said,
I guess we should be grateful, but all I feel is numb and seething
and anger and hurt all at the same time.
Every day when I get to work,
I look where the twin towers used to stand proud, magnificently
thinking that any moment I will wake up from this horrible dream
and we will be back on September 11th.
With the anthrax scare going
on, I know that our lives have been forever changed. So in a
way, those bastards did what they hoped to do. And now that
they got our attention, let's hope our resolve is sustained
for the long and difficult road ahead. Terrorism must be wiped
off the face of this planet.
And there it is.