© 2023 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

On 20th anniversary of 9/11, a call to remember ‘extraordinary acts of bravery’

A 9/11 ceremony at Foreman Park in Syracuse in 2020.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and it comes less than two weeks since the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. Maureen Casey worked for the New York City Police Department on 9/11, and assisted the first responders. Casey recounted what she saw unfold and talked about the significance of this anniversary, in particular.

Casey, who at the time was a deputy commissioner of policy and planning, was sitting in her office at police headquarters 20 years ago, when she heard and felt the first plane hit.

Maureen Casey

“Turned in my chair to see the gaping hole in the North Tower and while we were waiting to hear about what transpired, I saw the second plane hit,” she said.

Police mobilized and responded to the scene. As the towers fell, the officers kept getting pushed back until Casey ended up in another police facility, helping any way she could.

“Answering telephones to wetting paper towels for police officers who were coming in covered in dust, so that they could just wipe out their eyes and wipe their faces,” Casey said.

In the days that followed, they weren’t recovering bodies. Casey and others had to collect DNA samples from family members, so body parts could be identified. Somewhere around 22,000 pieces of remains were recovered. And as technology improved, those remains are still being identified today.

“I don’t have the right words to say about how giving someone so little could mean so much,” Casey said. “One of the stories I read this week was a mom from Long Island who said whatever they find, however small from my son, I want it, it belongs to me.”

More than 180,000 men and women enlisted in the military following 9/11. That inspired Casey to work with veterans. Today, she is the chief operating officer for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. And although she’s not a veteran herself, she said she’s heard a range of emotions from veterans following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some of that is anger, frustration and questioning their role.

“The homeland was attacked,” she said. “Part of the reason we went to war was to ensure that that didn’t happen again and it hasn’t. One veteran I spoke to talked about this war in Afghanistan as a war of containment. We contained the enemy while there and we have protected the homeland.”

Casey's hope is that the country comes together on this anniversary, like it did after 9/11, and remembers the extraordinary acts of bravery that happened that day and the days that followed.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.