Through the Dust, The Living Victims of 9/11

Fifteen years after September 11, those who were there are still trying to understand how to move on.
Through the Dust, The Living Victims of 9/11 Jonah Markowitz for Newsweek

Fifteen years ago, lower Manhattan lay beneath a dust cloud from the collapsed World Trade Center towers. Today, the defiant One World Trade Center stands tall in its place, but many of the first responders still feel the long, dark shadow of the terrorist attacks that changed the course of American history.

Those who responded and volunteered in the wake of the attack are still trying to understand what happened and how to move on. They wonder what we have learned from the attacks while some live with the effects of exposure to toxins which have ravaged their bodies, and others question the pervasive fear that still looms over the country and it's role in American politics.

Antony Miranda, a retired NYPD sergeant, worked for eight months clearing WTC rubble, where he found glimmers of healing. There was "a vision of hope in the response. All over America, there was no separation between us. But somewhere along the line we've lost the truth of what happened, and we lost the truth of purpose. There was a unity message there."

Charles Diaz was saying a prayer when he broke his arm and felt the first tower collapse around him. "[I] figured that was it, it was over," but his thoughts turned to his daughter's sweet sixteen party, scheduled for later that week, "That was my surviving thing... I had to make it out of there for [her party]." He had rushed to help from his post in Staten Island as a first responder; now he lives with bone marrow leukemia, a 9/11-related cancer with no cure.

Not far from Miranda and Diaz, for 18 straight hours Nick Rotondo shuttled police, firefighters and equipment to and from ground zero on his MTA public bus. He noticed in the months after 9/11, driving a bus in NYC had changed significantly. "If you saw even anything, a bag or something, you had to call in." Most of the time it was nothing more then the remnants of someone's breakfast, nevertheless, "Everybody was on pins and needles." Police started stopping his bus to ask if everything was normal, sometimes boarding in groups to look things over.

This month, memorials and ceremonies will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the tragedy. As a nation, the US will recall that day and honor its victims, but in that reflection are hunderds of survivors still searching for a meaning and an opportunity to understand how we, as a society, can offset 9/11's damaging legacy.

Arthur Gudeon has practiced podiatry in Rego Park, Queens for the past 56 years. After the towers came down, he immediately started volunteering his podiatry services. Working out of George Washington’s pew in the St. Paul’s Chapel just across from Ground Zero he treated foot injuries suffered by the men and women working on the pile. When asked about the political climate post 9/11, Gudeon opposes “the Trump mentality and stopping all Muslims from coming into the country." He looks to his own office assistants, who happen to be Muslim, as examples that contradict the rhetoric. He has become very close to the family of his employees, and he says they have made it clear to him that “It’s not a Muslim thing, it’s an extremist thing.”“I think Trump is something of a post-9/11 phenomenon. He uses [9/11] for his demagoguery, bigotry and racism”“I’m going to vote for the ones I feel are trying to get more towards the unity…not focus on the retaliation end of it because you’re never going to get anyplace with that. No matter what you do, there is always going to be another group that’s going to take over [for] the group that you’ve retaliated against.” Jonah Markowitz for Newsweek