Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Hero Husband Found at Last,"

October 21, 2001, Jewish World Review, "Hero Husband Found at Last,"
by Jimmy Breslin

The line of men in red, white or blue hard hats went up the path through the wreckage of the old World Trade Center to the smoke at the top of the gray hill. It was one of four clouds of smoke coming from deep in the guts of the ground. This smoke rose to the top of a 40-story financial building.

There were about 200 men on the hill in white, blue or red hard hats and they were passing down five-gallon buckets. At the bottom of the hill, two men stood with a four-foot by three-foot screen and the buckets were emptied onto the screen and they shook the screen as if they were trying to find coins at the beach. They were looking for any trace, any identification of the dead in the gray wreckage. Often they would shake the screen and get a hand, a piece of a heel.

At 1:30 yesterday afternoon they were digging in the smoke at the top, and somebody came up with a credit card for Officer Vincent Danz. He was in the wreckage right under them, they all agreed. The hands reached into the gray rubble.

By 3 o'clock a truck from emergency service unit three in the Bronx pulled into the lot and parked at the foot of the hill. If it was Danz's body, it was theirs to carry. He had been part of a high-rise rescue team.

"That's the widow," a sergeant, Ricky Kemmler, said.

A few steps away, a light-haired young woman who wore a short tan coat and a white hard hat stood with her hand being held by Joseph Dunne, who is the deputy police commissioner.

"She lives on the Island. They called her," somebody said.

"She already had a memorial service for him. I was there," Andrew McGinnis, a sergeant, said.

"In Farmingdale," another one said. "It was the first one for an officer."

"I think she's from Ireland. She had the guts to get up and speak at the memorial. She has three kids. I know she said something funny about meeting him in a bar."

"I met my two wives in bars," I said.

The widow, Angela Danz, was silent and there was no talking around her. Her eyes were red-rimmed but she was not close to weeping. This is the toughest breed of them, a young woman who now raises three kids, with the oldest 8, while living in loneliness.

She stood in the mud and before her was the coliseum where her husband fought his last fight for her. The wreckage strewn everywhere looked exactly like it was, buildings dropped from the sky. A few high thick stubborn metal teeth of the south tower were still rooted in the gray mud.

The remains of a wall of the north tower leaned backward, as if resting against a fence.

Off to the right, yellow smoke came up in billows. Water from a hose attached to a hydrant that somehow had lasted was played with great force at the yellow smoke. It did not stop.

A large machine, a grappler, dug into the earth around the yellow smoke. As the grappler came up with its jaws clamped on pieces of steel and mud, the yellow smoke subsided for a few moments. Then it burst angrily out of the spot.

A dozen cranes waved angrily high in the smoke. Everywhere in the mud, generators barked and dozens of back hoes and grapplers chewed on the disaster.

She watched with strength stronger than the buildings that killed her husband. She was out of the old coal mine disasters, with women waiting at the top of the elevator for news of their husbands in a fire below.

Except this time, Angela Danz knew that her husband was dead. She had already eulogized him in a church. Right now, the least they could do was get her the body.

On the hill in front of her, twin lines of men went up the hill, that is several stories high. Then at the top it hooked to the right. The head of the line was lost in the smoke.

Now a police commander in white uniform shirt climbed to the turn in the line, kept going and disappeared into the smoke.

"Esposito," somebody said. He is Joseph Esposito, the chief of the department.

"I never saw a guy that big get down and work with the men," one of the cops said.

Up on the hill, the white, red or blue hard hats bobbed and at the top they formed a little circle around something and then burst like a soap bubble. Some hard hats went to one line and the rest to the other. Now they took off their hard hats and saluted.

"It looks like they got him," the sergeant, Kemmler, said.

The cranes and ground machinery stopped. The generators were turned off.

"It looks like we had a good day," another enthused. They dig all day, day after day, and do not find many bodies.

"If that's what you call it," somebody said.

Dunne and the widow walked a few steps to the emergency service truck parked at the bottom of the hill.

At the top; Esposito's white shirt appeared. He was in front of a gurney that was cloaked with an American flag.

Somebody called, "They want police officers up on the line."

McGinnis and Kemmler walked up the hill and got on a line.

Now Esposito walked first down the slope. Walked slowly, for they could not slip with the gurney. Men in the lines on either side saluted.

At the bottom of the slope, Esposito had the pallbearers step at an even slower funeral pace.

Dunne and the widow went to the back of the truck.

Esposito led the men with the gurney to the back of the truck.

Now there was no motion or sound for several seconds. They prayed over the body.

Then Dunne and Angela Danz came from the back of the truck and walked away.

The hard hats filed along the truck and formed an honor guard for many yards from the front of the truck. A patrol car moved in front.

All saluted. The patrol car roof light went on and the big emergency truck followed through the mud. It went past the great hole that looked down on what had been a subway station. Then they went out onto the streets and headed for the morgue on First Avenue with the body the widow and his emergency outfit had wanted so much.

No comments: