Most of the students at Waccamaw Middle School were newborns, babies and toddlers when America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
They do not remember.
That is why the school held a special assembly Tuesday — the 11th anniversary of that tragic day. It was a chance for the students to hear a first-hand account of what the day was like in New York City.
Former New York Police Officer Felix Cruz — now an officer in Horry County — was on duty when the planes brought the towers down.
As the WMS students listened very attentively, Cruz spent about 50 minutes talking about that day that has now been etched in the memories of those who were old enough to understand what was happening.
One of the first things he noted was although he was a 29-year-old experienced officer at the time, no amount of training could have prepared any officers for what took place.
“We did not know what we were getting ourselves into,” Cruz said. By the time he arrived on the scene, both of the Twin Towers were leveled.
“We did not know if the subway system was going to be attacked. We were terrified. I won’t lie to you. We were all scared,” he recalled. “But we had a job to do and that was to keep people safe.”
Cruz said he and his group of officers were on the scene until around 10 p.m. that night, then slept on the floor at the precinct office and were back on the job by 3 a.m. Sept. 12.
“There was debris everywhere. There were airplane parts. There were body parts. There were green and yellow gasses in the air. The fires were still burning. There were New York City Police vehicles smashed,” he told the students. “The sights and the smells are something I will never forget.”
Cruz said one of the most gut-wrenching things was hearing the cries of people who were trapped and dying underneath the rubble of the towers.
“We knew we had a lot of people underneath the rubble. And we did not have the machinery to get the rubble and those beams off of them. The worst feeling in the world is to know you can’t get to people to help them,” Cruz said. “You knew they were dying down there. That sound is something we will never forget.”
He said he spent a lot of time on rooftops looking for both suspects and body parts.
Cruz got choked up after a slide presentation that gave the students a chance to see the sights from New York from that day.
Cruz said it was the American people that gave him and his fellow officers the strength to pull through the ordeal.
“They were cheering us as we were leaving. I will never forget how proud I was to be an American. You were the glue that we needed.”
He told the students the reason for his visit was to encourage them to talk to their teachers and parents about 9-11.
He also took questions from the students. The number of people who died is well known.
One student wanted to know how many people survived. Cruz, of course, had no way to know the answer.
Another student wanted to know if the date 9-11 was chosen because of 911 symbolizing an emergency in America.
Cruz said no and explained the terrorists had tried to bring down the Twin Towers in 1993. He said it’s possible the date was chosen because it was election day in New York.
By Scott Harper
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