By Pam Teel
September 11, 2001 was a day that changed all Americans lives forever. A day when the security of our nation was taken away from us, bringing us to the realization of just how vulnerable America was in the face of terrorism. We all watched, glued to our television sets with what seemed like a movie unfolding; none of us wanting to believe that this was real life and this act of terror was happening right here on American soil.
This book, “From Landfill to Hallowed Ground” is a firsthand account of the actions of the first responders who jumped to duty just after the South Tower of the World Trade Center was hit, and the realization by then Sergeant Frank Marra of the NYPD, and millions of others after the second plane crashed into the North Tower, that this was no misfortunate accident.
Beautifully written with the help of family friend Maria Bellia Abbate, the book is Mr. Marra’s tribute to all those victims who had fallen that fateful day, and to all who still carry and forever will the memories of 9/11. It’s also a tribute to those who made it out of the two towers and for all the others in nearby buildings, running for their lives, as debris came down around them. The streets were full of chaos and it was up to the NYPD to try to keep it all together as best they could.
Mr. Marra recalls how he helped load the ferries with people who were covered from head to toe in white cement dust, some too shocked to speak, many on their cell phones calling home. Some were even nursing minor wounds. A few stayed on to go back to look for friends or relatives who were also caught in the attack, who might still be boarding other ferries. Each one that boarded had a story of his or her own to tell. Mr. Marra spoke to one woman who was covered with jet fuel. She told him she was in the lobby waiting for the elevator when they heard a loud boom and then it sounded like thunder coming closer to them. The jets fuel tanks split open upon on impact, sending the fuel down the elevator shaft, buckling the elevator doors, and sending a blast of fire, (like a bomb going off), that shattered all the glass in the South Tower lobby. She was one of the lucky ones who escaped. Had she had been on the elevator, she wouldn’t have been there to talk about it.
Makeshift morgues were set up in sports stadiums and elsewhere, but after a while it was clearly evident that there were few bodies to find. Everything was pulverized. It quickly went from a search and rescue to search and recovery. A decision was made to take the debris by barge and truck to the then closed Staten Island landfill where Mr.Marra spent the next six months helping to sift through the debris. Tents were set up as the large sifting machines helped them sort plane parts, personal effects such as jewelry, wallets, etc., and most importantly, human remains. There were over 4,500 human remains recovered by the NYPD. Those that could be identified by their DNA were presented to the victims’ families. There were sections for victim’s cars and a section where all the crushed fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles were piled onto each other. It became known as Fire Truck Row and became a frequent place where other rescue fighters went to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
Every police officer in the NYPD eventually ended up working at the landfill sifting through the rubble looking for any human remains they could find. Sadly, with all of the hard work of the NYPD and other private companies hired to help with the search and recovery effort, they weren’t able to recover nearly enough to help many families find closure. As for Mr. Marra, “Even after writing this book, I will never have closure. The book was therapy for me, but I don’t go a day without thinking about the things I witnessed and the people that were lost. The landfill doesn’t look like the same place that we worked in years ago. The tents are all gone and the cars and vehicles all crushed and removed, but there are still unidentifiable remains mixed in with the soil of what now has become a park, double the size of Central Park. I would like to see some kind of a monument put up on this site to pay respect to those whose final resting place was right here at the landfill. I no longer see a dump when I pass by; I see a holy ground, a hallowed ground.”
Retired lieutenant Frank Marra and Ms. Abbate, both Millstone Township residents, will be holding a book signing at McGinns Bar and Restaurant on Route 537 in Jackson, on February 28th, at 8:00 pm. The book release is scheduled for March 10th. You can preorder the book directly from Amazon.com.
To all those NYPD Officers who went above and beyond their duties sacrificing countless hours sifting through the rubble in unsafe conditions and in helping to restore some sort of sense of balance back to the City, we thank you. NYPD, you truly are the best!