Roy Exum: Remembrance Day, 2019

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

‘The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks’ dramatically changed the United States from what it was before September 11, 2001 to where we find ourselves today. All across America on this, the 18th Anniversary of “We Will Never Forget,” there were 3,000 killed by al-Qaeda zealots … and an estimated 3,000 children lost one or both parents. For the past several days I have attempted to resurrect some awe-defying heroism of every-day Americans in what has since been determined as the greatest rescue effort in the history of the world.

It concerns many that children in our schools had not been born before what is simply known as “9/11,” that they have no inkling of how it brought all Americans together in a way not a soul could have predicted yet each and every one relished.

And while it took a relentless worldwide manhunt that never wavered through difference presidencies and spared not a dime in its fury, 10 years later there came the night the White House was surrounded by cheering thousands, some kids perched in trees to join the shouting, when President Obama announced, “We got him!”

“Him,” of course, was the evil mastermind of 9/11, Osama bin Laden. A crack team of Navy Seals attacked his carefully disguised fortress in Pakistan and then rushed his remains to the awaiting USS Vincent, where they were wrapped in a white sheet and unceremoniously chunked overboard. This assured the American people there could never be a shrine or any type of mecca where other deranged terrorists might go … leaving hell itself the only option.

When the first hijacked jetliner struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, a street cop witnessed the beginning of the attack and was the first to call it in to NYPD. That cop, a 13-year-veteran on the force, then raced into the tragedy and she began saving lives. Not by happenstance, when “Sully” performed “The Miracle of the Hudson” in January of the first rescue boat to arrive was “The Moira Smith.” While there is no measurement for our greatest heroes, and especially the 343 fire fighters and 72 police officers who gave their lives for the rest of us, Moira Smith is certainly among the most legendary of all Americans who have made our nation the greatest ever known among the eight major planets in the universe. 

In 2016, a writer named Cheryl Mullenback, who loves writing history books for young adults and middle school readers, released her hugely acclaimed book, “Women in Blue: 16 Brave Officers, Forensics Experts, Police Chiefs, and More.” Her chapter on Moira Smith is arguably the best of hundreds that have been penned about “The Lady With The Flashlight,” as Moira has been memorialized in all five boroughs of New York City.

On 9/11 she is singularly cited as saving thousands, her calm yet authoritative directing the shaken and shocked down the stairways. “Stay calm and don’t look down.” One survivor, executive Martin Glynn, will never forget:

* * *

After we had gone down several floors, we came to a cripple woman lying on a landing between floors. Her walking cane was by her side and she was looking at the people hurrying by. She was yelling, "I'm going to die. I'm going to die." I felt a pang of guilt as I continued past her with the rest of the crowd. My mind flashed images of my wife alone in the bed and my sons without a father. Nothing else mattered, I had to get out. 

When we got down to about the fifth floor, we caught up with the tail end of the main crowd. The trek down the steps became a slow march again. I looked back to see who was behind us. There I saw an Oriental fellow carrying the crippled woman on his back. 

I didn't fault myself for being a coward. Rather, I admired him for being calm and composed in this emergency situation. I thought, “I could have done that too - or at least I could have helped out - but I'm not thinking – I'm panicked". As we stood there in the dimly lit staircase, I was thinking about the carnage I would witness when we came out into the plaza lobby. I was trying to brace myself. To be prepared for the worst. 

We exited the stairwell to a ramp which led toward the main plaza. A slow moving line progressed along the ramp to a down escalator which connected to the underground passageway being used to exit the compound. Moira stood at the end of the ramp directing the traffic down the escalator. She had her flashlight in her right hand and she was waving it like a baton. She was repeating over and over- "Don't look! Keep Moving." 

I immediately had the sensation that I knew what had happened there before. I thought: groups of people had come through here and stopped to look at the horror of the situation. There mass hysteria and the exit paths were blocked. She broke it up and got things moving again. Now she's making sure it doesn't happen again. 

It was a very intense personal experience for me. It was like I was in a scene that I had witnessed before only this time - instead of my wife rescuing strangers - it was me being rescued by Moira. 

I came to the end of the ramp and I was standing squarely in front of Moira, I leaned to the left to try look past her to see the plaza. She quickly matched my motion and blocked my vision saying "don't look." Our eyes made direct contact. My eyes said to her, "I know how bad it is and I understand what you're doing." Her face was full of pain and her eyes said to me, "In this horrific situation, this is the best and only thing I can do.” 

The mass of people exiting the building felt the calm assurance that they were being directed by someone in authority who was in control of the situation. Her actions even seemed ordinary, even commonplace. She insulated the evacuees from the awareness of the dangerous situation they were in, with the result that everything preceded smoothly. 

In my company - sixty one people perished - one hundred eighty survived. Afterwards, I asked several of my fellow employees if they had noticed the woman police officer at the escalator landing. They said, "Yeah - she was directing traffic."

* * *

NYPD OFFICER MOIRA SMITH – A LOVE STORY

[NOTE: This profile is included in a book, “Women In Blue,” by Cheryl Mullenbach. Her marvelous books are written for young adults but her attention to history – what really happened – cements my belief each of her books should be included in every school in the United States. For more on this author, go to www.cherylmullenbachink.com.]

The story begins: “If my mom was back for an hour, I’d talk about everything that’s going on in my life and get her advice, because I feel like her opinion could really help me figure things out,” Patricia Smith muses as she talks about the mother she never knew. Although 16-year-old Patricia doesn’t remember her mother, Moira Smith, friends and family have provided her with countless stories that have made it easy for her to fall in love with the mother she lost because of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when Patricia was two. (Today Patricia is a co-ed at the University of Alabama.)

 They refer to Patricia’s habit of rolling her eyes when her dad, Jim Smith, does something to exasperate her. Moira did the same. And although Patricia did not inherit her mom’s blonde hair and blue eyes, she shares Moira’s philosophy of life. “Life can be annoying and unfair at times, but it can also be wonderful and happy. I really try to look at things from different points of view so I can get some understanding of how that all works—I owe that all to her, I guess,” Patricia says. “Losing my mom has made me realize that things could be better, but they could also be worse.” 

Many of the stories about Moira have come to Patricia from Kathleen Conaghan and Cathy Gallogly, two of Moira’s closest friends. The Three Musketeers—as most everyone in the neighborhood referred to the three girls—met at the age of five. They lived on the same tree-lined street in Brooklyn, New York, in a neighborhood of first-generation immigrant families—many from Ireland, like Moira’s family. The three met in kindergarten, and their friendship grew throughout middle and high school. The Three Musketeers’ relationship was cemented in long, hot summer days playing stickball, Wiffle ball, softball, and tennis. With only one bike among them, two girls balanced precariously on the fender and handlebars while one steered from the seat. They attended Mets baseball games together. 

Sometimes Moira’s mom packed the neighborhood kids into the car for the short drive to Rockaway Beach. Sledding and ice-skating filled the winter months. When the very scary movie Jaws was released in the summer of 1975, Kathleen and Moira happened to be visiting Moira’s grandparents in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. The girls spent an entire day sitting in the front row with their backs to the screen so they could watch the other moviegoers “freak out.” 

Back home in Brooklyn they played extras in the John Travolta movie Saturday Night Fever. And the three spent a good amount of their time playing cops and robbers with the neighborhood boys—the girls being the cops. During these early years as kids Kathleen and Cathy witnessed the first inkling of a love that Moira would carry to the last day of her life—helping people and saving lives through police work.

It was when Kathleen and Moira were at camp in seventh grade that Moira demonstrated her ability to think quickly and instinctively rush to aid someone in need of help. To pass the swimming test, the girls had to swim across the pool. Kathleen wasn’t sure she could make it, so she asked Moira to get in line immediately behind her. Kathleen did make it to the far side of the pool, but as she turned to watch her friend begin the test, she saw another girl had “budged” in line between her and Moira. And the girl was having trouble—it became apparent that she was drowning. 

Before a lifeguard could jump in to help the struggling swimmer, Moira had pulled the girl to safety, saving the girl’s life! When it came time to go to college, Kathleen and Moira enrolled together at Niagara University in Upstate New York, while Cathy stayed in Brooklyn to help care for young siblings after her mother died. By this time Moira had already decided to pursue the only career she had ever considered—police work. She chose a major in criminal justice. She put her dreams on hold for a time to help care for her mother, who became gravely ill. But after her mother’s death, Moira entered the New York Police Department Academy. 

At the academy, Moira completed the training to become an officer for the New York City Police Department. She took self-defense, firearms training, boxing, and driver training. She studied criminal law procedures, police and social sciences, and New York State penal law. She learned about rules and regulations and how to complete the day-to-day paperwork of the department. She made many friends, and in December 1988 Moira left the academy ready to begin the career she had always wanted. “She took my Yankee hat off and tossed it across the room. She was a Mets fan,” Jim Smith said about the first time he met his future wife. 

Both were New York City police officers, and they soon became a couple. Jim fell in love with Moira’s adventurous spirit and her passion for travel. They took much-needed breaks from police work with vacations in England, Ireland, France, Belgium, and Monte Carlo. Moira rode a camel in Tangiers, and together they ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. “As we waited with thousands of other people for the bulls, we could see the people in front of us begin to turn and run at us in a mixture of joy and sheer terror,” Jim recalled. “Why did she do it? For the simple thrill of it. She also enjoyed the pageantry and spectacle of it all.” 

The exciting holidays were interludes to the day-to-day work of policing the most populated city in the United States. Moira’s first assignment was policing the subways that snaked under the city. It was a dangerous job, but her fellow officers said she was a good cop “who was always on top of things.” 

“A crush of sheared metal and battered passengers.” 

“The first car was sheared in half lengthwise . . . striking the wall of the subway tunnel . . . slashing through steel beams.”

 “A tangled metal mass.” 

These and other reports in August 1991 described “the worst New York subway disaster in 63 years,” which occurred just as Moira was heading home after an eight-and-a-half-hour tour. As she ran through the Union Square station, she encountered a motorman, who Moira learned later had been driving the train. She asked what had happened, and when she learned details of the crash, she ran into the tunnel to assist in rescuing passengers trapped underground. Throughout the early morning hours Moira helped set up a triage unit and administered first aid to victims. After working for 24 hours straight, Moira finally went to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. 

Charges were brought against the motorman when police determined that he had been drinking and left the scene of accident. Moira’s testimony helped convict the man. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. She received the police department’s Distinguished Duty Medal for saving dozens of lives that day. For a time Moira worked in the 13th Precinct Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit (SNEU)—a plainclothes unit that dealt with low-level narcotic trafficking. It was her job to arrest people she witnessed buying and selling drugs. 

One day a fellow officer brought Moira a business card that was intended for buyers of marijuana. The card promised, “We deliver.” When Moira called the phone number on the card and asked to buy the drug, the man on the phone indeed agreed to deliver at a designated location. He described the vehicle he would be driving, and Moira made arrangements to meet the drug dealer. She called for assistance from a fellow officer who was patrolling in the area—her husband, Jim! When the vehicle approached the location where Moira waited, Jim was ready to stop the driver on reasonable suspicion.

As Moira opened the door of the suspicious vehicle, an overwhelming aroma of marijuana greeted her. This gave the officers probable cause to search the vehicle, and they proceeded to do so but found no drugs. Moira and the other officers were perplexed. Then she turned on the air-conditioning controls—but no air came out. That’s when she pulled off the vents and began to pull out bag after bag of marijuana from the dashboard! 

By 1999 Moira and Jim had a daughter, Patricia, and Moira was ready for a change in her policing duties. She moved into community policing, where she had fewer chances of interacting with dangerous criminals. She worked to control crowds at labor disputes and protest rallies. She visited shut-ins who needed attention or who just wanted to talk, and she took elderly citizens on shopping trips in the police van. She also represented the police department at community meetings. 

Moira was patrolling the 13th precinct on September 11, 2001, when she witnessed a plane striking one of the two World Trade Center towers. After sending a radio message to headquarters (the first officer to do so), she gathered other witnesses and took them to the precinct station before rushing downtown to the towers. Many of the details of that day and Moira’s experiences will never be known, but survivors and a picture have told part of her story. One man told of seeing Moira directing throngs of people as they made their way down the stairways of the South Tower. She kept the crowds moving, using her flashlight and baton to wave people along. He said Moira seemed “in control of the situation” as she repeated over and over, “Don’t look! Keep moving.”

Edward Nicholls was making his way from his office on the 102nd floor of the South Tower when Moira spotted him. He had been injured and was with a group of people when she took his arm and guided him out of the building to a triage area. A photographer captured a picture of the two—the last photo taken of Moira, who was killed by the soon-to-collapse building. She was the only female NYPD officer killed on 9/11. Edward’s time with Moira was brief and chaotic. He struggles to find words to describe the encounter: “No words are appropriate. She showed tremendous courage—and made the ultimate sacrifice. A heart of gold.” 

In those few moments, a stranger had captured the essence of Moira. Moira’s childhood friend Kathleen Conaghan had known Moira most of her life. “Until every person was out, I knew she would be there,” she says about her friend’s actions at the World Trade Center. As the tragedy unfolded that day, Kathleen thought about Moira saving the girl who almost drowned at summer camp and her determination to follow her dream of becoming a police officer so she could help others. She thought about their last visit, when she “gave Moira a big hug and said, ‘I love you.’” 

Moira Smith followed her dream to a career she loved. And although it ended in a tragedy, she is kept alive through the strangers whose lives she touched and through the friends and family who gave Patricia the mother she never knew. What if by some miracle Kathleen was given one more precious hour with her friend? She says, “I would take one minute and give the rest to her daughter, Patricia.”

- - -

The last Officer Moira Smith was seen she was running into the South Tower to rescue others. Within moments, the Tower collapsed. On Wednesday, March 20, 2002, Moira Smith’s remains were found at 5 a.m. by rescue workers at Ground Zero. Within days a street where she grew up, was named in her memory: Moira Smith Way is located at 74th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Brooklyn.   

* * *

THE DIFFERENCE IN MONDAY & TUESDAY

On Monday there were people fighting against praying in schools.

On Tuesday you would have been hard pressed to find a school where someone was not praying.

On Monday there were people who were trying to separate each other by race, sex, color and creed.

On Tuesday they were all holding hands.

On Monday we thought that we were secure.

On Tuesday we learned better.

On Monday we were talking about heroes as being athletes.

On Tuesday we re-learned what hero meant.

On Monday people went to work at the world trade centers as usual.

On Tuesday they died.

On Monday people were fighting the 10 commandments on government property.

On Tuesday the same people all said ‘God help us all’ while thinking ‘Thou shall not kill.’

On Monday people argued with their kids about picking up their room.

On Tuesday the same people could not get home fast enough to hug their kids.

On Monday people picked up McDonalds for dinner.

On Tuesday they stayed home.

On Monday people were upset that their dry cleaning was not ready on time.

On Tuesday they were lining up to give blood for the dying.

On Monday politicians argued about budget surpluses.

On Tuesday grief-stricken they sang ‘God Bless America.’

On Monday we worried about the traffic and getting to work late.

On Tuesday we worried about a plane crashing into your house or place of business.

On Monday we were irritated that our rebate checks had not arrived.

On Tuesday we saw people celebrating people dying in the USA.

On Monday some children had solid families.

On Tuesday they were orphans.

On Monday the president was going to Florida to read to children.

On Tuesday he returned to Washington to protect our children.

On Monday we emailed jokes.

On Tuesday we did not.

It is sadly ironic how it takes horrific events to place things into perspective, but it has. The lessons learned this week, the things we have taken for granted, the things that have been forgotten or overlooked, hopefully will never be forgotten again.

On Monday – pray and be thankful

On Tuesday – pray and be thankful

On Wednesday – pray and be thankful

On Thursday – pray and be thankful

On Friday – pray and be thankful

On Saturday – pray and be thankful

On Sunday – pray and be thankful

Author Unknown

Submitted by Richard

* * *

Lessons from 9/11: The ‘little’ Things

Listed in: Inspirational Stories 

As you might know, the head of a major company survived the tragedy of “9/11” in New York because his son started kindergarten.

Another fellow was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.

One woman was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off in time.

One was late because of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.

One of them missed his bus.

One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.

One’s car wouldn’t start.

One went back to answer the telephone.

One had a child that dawdled and didn’t get ready as soon as he should have.

One couldn’t get a taxi.

The one that struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning, took the various means to get to work but before he got there, he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. That is why he is alive today.

Now when I am stuck in traffic…

miss an elevator…

turn back to answer a ringing telephone…

all the little things that annoy me…

I think to myself…

this is exactly where God wants me to be at this very moment.

The next time your morning seems to be going wrong,

the children are slow getting dressed,

you can’t seem to find the car keys,

you hit every traffic light…

don’t get mad or frustrated;

God is at work watching over you.

May God continue to bless you with all those annoying little things – and may you remember and appreciate their possible purpose.

-- Author Unknown

* * *

“As I gaze out of my apartment windows today, against the backdrop of a cloudless crisp blue sky, I look directly at the World Trade Center Memorial and the new 1776ft tower. To my right, I see that Lady everyone knows. She sparkles against the Hudson River and I grasp the unbelievable beauty I am surrounded by.

“The beauty of what has come from such destruction. The beauty from the stories told, the heroes of this city who risked their lives for strangers. There was true goodness in that terrible place on that terrible day. As the towers were burning, melting, near collapse, we saw a thousand Americans show up to lead what is now known as the greatest and most successful rescue effort on American soil in all of American history.

“On that recognizable Lady, The Statue of Liberty, reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  Since she arrived in America in 1886, she has been reminding us to respect our differences. On September 11, 2001, we had no differences. We were Americans. And this sacred ground outside my window has come to symbolize so much…Freedom, Hope, Love, Heroism and most importantly, The Future.”

royexum@aol.com


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