Bin Laden’s Death Doesn’t Give First Responders Closure
It was just before midnight when the phone rang. The voice on the other end was excited and emotional: “They got the bastard who tried to kill me. They got the bastard.” It was Charlie Giles, a retired paramedic, a 9/11 first responder and a victim of Osama bin Laden. “This is a great day. Thank you, God!”
The call came minutes after the White House announced that Navy SEALs in Pakistan had shot and killed the man responsible for bringing the World Trade Center towers down in 2001. Charlie was in the mezzanine of the South Tower attending to a fallen firefighter when he heard people yell, “Get out. The building is falling.”
Charlie Giles survived, but at a great cost. His body is infected with the poisons born of intense heat, steel, concrete, glass and human flesh. All of those things were found in a black substance that lined Charlie’s lungs. There are thousands of other first responders suffering just like Charlie. The poisons of 9/11 have killed 1,100 first responders in the years since 9/11. Many more will die in the years to come. They are the continuing legacy of bin Laden’s evil.
“I wanted him to suffer like he made me suffer” is what 9/11 first responder Ken George told me. Ken was in the hospital for heart complications when the Navy SEALs were given the go-ahead for their mission. Ken, a former employee of the New York Department of Transportation, was on the pile that was the Twin Towers on 9/11, and he returned every day for months: “I am going to die. And when I do, know that bin Laden killed me.”
When we met at ground zero this week, George told me, “I just wish it didn’t happen so quickly. He ruined my life and caused my family pain. I wish he felt more of that pain.”
Former NYPD officer Anthony Flammia likes the way Osama bin Laden left this world: “The last thing he saw was an American with a gun.” Flammia also spent months “on the pile.” He hasn’t felt the effects of the poisons, but knows that could change. Fellow NYPD patrolman James Ryder stood at ground zero and named a dozen fellow responders he watched waste away: “So many friends have died, so many more are dying. It makes the killing of bin Laden bittersweet.”
“Bittersweet” is a word you hear a lot from first responders. What you don’t hear is “closure,” a word overused this week by TV reporters and commentators. But not one 9/11 first responder I spoke with feels closure, as their suffering is far from over. They don’t use the word justice either. “Justice is a word for politicians,” former NYPD detective Glenn Klein told me. “For me this is vengeance.”
“I am happy that the man who has made me suffer and has taken so much of my life is now at the bottom of the sea,” adds Charlie Giles.
“I’d like to think that the 9/11 first responders in heaven would get a shot at Osama, but bin Laden’s not going there.” That’s what Ken George said as he looked up to the sky where the great towers once stood. “I can promise you one thing. There ain’t no virgins for him.”