Dons recall personal experiences 15 years after 9/11
September 26, 2016
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On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 suicide hijackers altered the course of American history forever when they comandeered four Boeing passenger airliners to execute the deadliest terrorist attack in United States history, killing 2,977 people, destroying the west flank of the Pentagon, and leveling the Twin Towers and 7 WTC of the World Trade Center.
Fifteen years later, Americans, as well as members of the Cathedral Catholic High School community, remember the events that took place on Sept. 11 and the heroic actions of many people who died that day.
“No one can overstate how terrible the loss of so many lives was and how dramatically it affected so many people,” Larry Morgan, father of Cathedral Catholic High School student Nicole Morgan ’17, said. “And it’s still affecting people today.
“Not only through the inconvenience of transportation and border crossings, but also in the lives of so many first responders in New York who have developed cancer or other maladies as a result of their involvement in the rescue missions on that day.”
The majority of current CCHS students were too young to remember Sept. 11 the day it happened, and some freshmen were not even born yet. However, the impact created by Sept. 11 extends beyond age.
“My parents consider themselves a part of the 9/11–War on Terror generation, so I feel that I am a part of it too even though I was two years old,” CCHS student Stephanie White ’17 said. “I remembered 9/11 this year by taking a moment to sit in silence and reflect.”
As the popular phrase goes, everyone who was old enough to remember Sept. 11 knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when Sept. 11 happened. Morgan recalls his experiences, but his story dates back fifteen years before Sept. 11 happened.
Morgan worked on the 71st floor of the North Tower as the district sales manager for AT&T in 1985. He never felt at risk while working at the World Trade Center, and he didn’t know anyone who worked at the World Trade Center during the 1993 truck-bombing.
In 2001, Morgan was moving from Singapore to Amsterdam when he watched the first plane crash into the North Tower on CNN.
“I was holding a meeting with all the European executives at my current job, and we were in the lobby of the hotel where there was a TV,” Morgan said. “CNN was playing, I was standing and waiting for a bus, and we looked up and couldn’t believe our eyes. Then we got on the bus thinking it was just an accidental crash, but then the second tower was hit.
“So, we immediately cancelled our excursion and went back to the hotel. I rented a conference room, got food for the group, and set up a television inside for everyone who wanted to watch.”
While Morgan was in Denmark, the rest of the Morgan family was momentarily in California prior to moving to Amsterdam. Mr. Morgan tried scheduling flights for his family’s move to Amsterdam, but the flights he scheduled were canceled on nine different occasions.
Finally, when the family actually left for Amsterdam, they ran into some trouble at London-Heathrow Airport.
“I left my baby bag in the bathroom by accident, and exited a secured area before I realized what I had done,” Morgan said. “I panicked because it had my wallet and my passport in addition to all of my baby things, and I had a baby in a stroller with me. So we went back towards the security gate. We saw several people heading towards us, one of them holding my backpack.
“I was so relieved because the standard procedure was to destroy any unattended bag with explosives.”
The Morgan family fortunately did not personally know any friends or relatives who died during Sept. 11, but the same cannot be said for the countless families and friends who knew or were related to victims and were abruptly tasked with understanding what happened.
Dennis A. Cross was Battalion Chief for Battalion 57, and his office was in the firehouse for Engine 235 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. At 60 years old, Cross had 37 years of firefighting experience under his belt by 2001, and he wanted to be the first fireman to complete 50 years on the job.
“My dad was a very loyal, protective father,” Laura Cross, daughter of Mr. Cross, said. “No matter how old I was, I knew I was safe when my dad was around. He was a very loyal and committed family man, not only close to my mom and us four children, but also with his mom and his two siblings.
“He was very humble and often quiet. Give him a hammock or lounge chair and a newspaper and he was a happy man.”
Mr. Cross was described as a handyman who never liked to hire anyone to fix anything for him. Whether it was fixing cars, plumbing, tile, or woodwork, he would do everything himself, and if he didn’t know how to do something, he would go to the public library and learn how to do it.
“He was very good at woodwork, creating his own fancy moldings for the house and wood crafts as gifts,” Ms. Cross said.
Mr. Cross also loved nature and often took his family on camping trips, and when he got a boat, he would take his family camping on his boat at Fire Island.
Mr. Cross was highly passionate with his job, and his love for firefighting stemmed from when his father, a firefighter who died at a young age. Upon returning home from the Vietnam War as a sharpshooter in 1964, Mr. Cross was assigned to Engine Co. 2 in Manhattan and married his wife JoAnn Cross, who he met through friends when he was 15 and she was 12.
Brian Cross, son of Dennis Cross, was in turn inspired to become a firefighter as well.
“At the age of six, how else do you show your dad that you respect what he does,” Denise Cross Feldman, youngest daughter of Cross, said. “Of course you run downstairs, after he gets home from work and you stick your head in the hamper to smell his uniform, drenched with the smell of fire and smoke.
“With every breath I took in, I felt strong like my dad. I felt special and proud that I had a dad who risked his own life each day to save the lives of others.”
Mr. Cross was often called to fill in the role of deputy chief, a position higher than Battalion chief. He reported as an acting deputy chief on the morning of Sept. 11 and was in charge of setting up and running a command post near the South Tower.
Mr. Cross was last seen entering the North Tower on Sept. 11. At 10:28 a.m., the North Tower collapsed.
“My dad was with Captain Timothy Stackpole…their bodies were found relatively close,” Cross said. “Five other men from E235 were killed in the North Tower, none of their remains have been found or identified. Engine 235 lost a total of six men on Sept. 11. They are referred to as ‘the Monroe six’ because the firehouse is on Monroe Street.”
The other five firefighters who made up “the Monroe six” included Lieutenant Stephan Bates, firefighter Lee Fehling, firefighter Lawrince Veling, firefighter Francis Esposito, and firefighter Nicholas Chiafalo.
The identification process initially following Sept. 11 was obviously complex and tedious. In order to shield the media from covering the body identification process, workers and volunteers worked at night in collecting human body parts, tissue, and DNA.
To this day, there are still around 10,000 bone and tissue fragments that were recovered from Ground Zero that have still not been identified, Ms. Cross said.
Mr. Cross’ body was recovered and brought to the Bellevue Morgue on Sept. 18, 2001.
“On that ride to Bellevue, the city was quiet, solemn, covered in dust, covered in debris, plastered with pictures of the missing, a slow motion movie that Hollywood can never replicate, never,” Ms. Cross said. “The morgue was polite & respectful, but informed us that no one was going to see anyone that comes out of ground zero.
“For ten years I struggled, I just wanted to hold his hand, I just wanted him to feel that I was there; I wanted to whisper in his ear that ‘it’s okay Daddy, I am here.’ For me, not being able to see and touch him was what I struggled with.”
The funeral service for Mr. Cross was held on Sept. 22 in Islip Terrace, New York, to which an estimated 3,000 people attended.
Perhaps one of Mr. Cross’ favorite pastimes was running. He jogged with his wife, when he was frustrated with his job, and he participated in running marathons. He was looking forward to competing in the annual 5k race around Thanksgiving in 2001 in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
“Since my dad was such an avid runner, we organized a 5k memorial run to honor him,” Ms. Cross said. “We held it every year for the first ten years following 9/11. The course was through the neighborhood where we lived and where you would very often see my dad running.”
After Ms. Cross stopped holding “Eagle Runs,” she decided to take part in the Goruck Challenge, an event run and organized by men who have been military special forces.
“I wanted to do an athletic event to honor my father,” Ms. Cross said. “The challenge is very military-based in nature. It’s very difficult, so the past three years I switched to do mega hikes on the weekend near Sept. 11. The past two years, my brother got involved. He and I completed a 33 mile hike in Pennsylvania on Sept. 10, 2016.”
Ms. Cross’ younger son A.J. was only three years old when his grandfather died on Sept. 11.
“He used to say that when he was old enough, he would go find Poppy and bring him home,” Ms. Cross said. “These feelings never left my son’s heart. His desire to join the military always remained in his heart and he is now currently in the United States Marine Corps Boot Camp.”
Mr. Cross lives on in memory through friends, family, and the firemen he worked with for so many years. He is survived by his wife, four children, and 10 grandchildren. He would have completed 50 years of firefighting service in 2014.
As for the CCHS community across San Diego, more than 3,000 people attended the sixth annual Sept. 11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel last Saturday.
More than 1,300 people participated in the actual climb in which participants trekked up the 30 stories of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel multiple times in order to make up for the 110 floors in both the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center.
Groups of climbers wore badges bearing a name of one of the 403 first responders of Sept. 11. Each climber touched a steel remnant from the Ground Zero wreckage and rung a bell, reciting the person’s name they were climbing to honor.
This year’s Memorial Stair Climb raised $130,000 which will be contributed to charities such as FirefighterAid, Firefighter Cancer Support Network, National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, and Psych Armor.
Sept. 11, 2001 was a day that forever changed America and impacted the lives of millions, but a larger lesson can be learned from Sept. 11.
“We learned a lot, but one of the things that I’ve noticed is that it was one of the few times that we came together as a country,” CCHS student Isabel Valencia ’17 said. “It didn’t matter if you were a different race, different color, anything like that. We came together as one and we were able to save as many people as possible.”
Fifteen years later, in a world bombarded by global terrorist attacks and the threatening presence of terrorist factions such as ISIS, the world must remain strong like it did on 9/11.
“You can’t succumb to terror,” Morgan said. “You have to continue to live your life. If you don’t, the terrorists win.”