Friday, September 10, 2021

Insight: An epiphany that should resonate with all ages

A piece of the World Trade Center is on display
in front of the Laconia Police Department in
Laconia, New Hampshire to pay tribute to the
victims of that tragic terrorist attack.
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently watched the six-part TV series on Hulu called “9/11: One Day in America” and a flood of memories came rushing back to me about that fateful day in American history and my own connections to the attacks that day.

For those who haven’t seen that series, it was created by National Geographic and includes unseen footage from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and interviews with firefighters, survivors, loved ones of victims, civilian rescuers, police officers and helicopter pilots. What I watched was stories of incredible courage, the will to endure and to embrace life, tragic circumstances and above all, the indomitable human spirit.

There are portions of the series that choked me up and brought tears to my eyes 20 years afterward, and unbelievable tales I had never heard before on the evening news or read about in newspapers or magazines.

When it was finished, I came away with a profound sadness for those who lost their lives to such senseless acts and a greater understanding of what happened that day and how ordinary people took extraordinary measures to help their fellow man.

One such individual, Chuck Sereika, I had met in 2009 in Vero Beach, Florida. He was introduced to me as someone who had been at the site of the World Trade Center in 2001, but that was all I knew about him. He operated a home cleaning business and I only spoke to him for a few minutes.

My impression was that Chuck Sereika was a normal guy trying to make a living like everyone else. But in watching this series on Hulu, something clicked, and I then realized what a hero this ordinary man was.

On Sept. 11, Chuck Sereika was in his apartment in New York City and was trying to resume a normal life after giving up his career as a paramedic. The stress of that job fed an addiction and he quit and was not long out of a treatment facility on that tragic day.

A phone call from his sister alerted him to turn on the television and watch the events unfolding live. His sister asked him if he was there and helping and that question prompted him to take his paramedic uniform out of the closet, put in back on and go the World Trade Center site to see if he could be of assistance.

He got there as the darkness of evening fell and walked through the piles of twisted metal and girders with two U.S. Marines trying to find survivors from the collapse of the buildings. Standing on the smoldering metal was so hot that he could feel the rubber on the bottom of his boots melting.

But soon the group followed cries for help to a smoking hole in the ground. Sereika climbed down 20 feet below the surface and found Port Authority policeman Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin trapped but alive. It began a massive effort to dig them out and free them from the metal beams pinning them down there. All while Chuck Sereika stayed with them, rendered them whatever assistance he could, and gave them hope that they could survive, which they did.

To think that I had met this man and not known his story at the time left me saddened and appreciative of what ordinary people can do when facing trying times.

When I moved to Laconia, New Hampshire and was working for The Citizen daily newspaper, one of my duties in covering the city of Laconia was to cover the Laconia Police Department. Each time I visited the police station on Fair Street while working on a news story, I passed a modern statue of twisted metal outside at the entrance to the sidewalk.

One day in 2014, I happened to stop and read the inscription and was shocked to learn that it was a piece of the World Trade Center. A foundation gave pieces away to cities across America so its residents would never forget the events of that day and what it means to be an American.

I must have passed by hundreds of times before ever stopping to read the inscription and realizing that part of history was so close by to where I was living and working at the time.   

Ultimately, watching the series about 9/11 left me wondering about what all of the political strife, apprehension of each other, rage and anger and non-stop criticism of each other on social media and on television produces.

We are all Americans and blessed with freedoms other nations and people envy. If the lessons of 9/11 have shown us anything, underneath the politics, the divisive society we live in today and our distrust for our fellow man, it means nothing compared to the common bond and the precious life we as Americans all share. <  

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