At the Ouachita Speakers Series season finale, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer Larry Fields told his amazing, sobering story of his work on Sept. 11, 2001 when America was attacked by terrorists. Fields served 37 years as a Port Authority officer.
On the morning of Sept. 11, he was at his station at the 42nd Street bus terminal. Soon, he was told of a phone call that came in saying there was an earthquake, but in another room he saw what was taking place.
Fields immediately called in all Port Authority officers and had a bus commandeered to transport personnel to the World Trade Center. They took off down 9th Street and eventually made their way to the chaotic site. He and six others grouped up and began to enter One World Trade Center, but they paused as falling debris rained down. It was then he and the others saw that it was a white male who had jumped from the building. Fields said when a body hit the pavement it made a loud crashing sound, exploded and the body actually disintegrated on impact.
The men made their way into the building. “There was a feeling of being safer inside the building,” said Fields. People began exiting elevators and were directed to nearby escalators. Fields and others went up one level to the mezzanine.
He told of more bodies falling from above, splattering blood on windows, and paper debris fell as if a part of a snowstorm. Near a window he looked down and saw an African-American woman. He remembers seeing the colorful scarf around her neck and that her ears were pushed forward. It was then he noticed that the back of her head had been crushed and from the neck area down, there was no more body.
Then came a crack in the ceiling, chairs started bouncing and huge chunks of debris came down. He turned to run and saw a mushroom cloud of dust coming at him. Fields thought another plane had come in, but it was Two World Trade Center collapsing. He dove toward the floor, but the blast pushed him along, above the floor, until he eventually landed on the floor.
On the floor he couldn’t breathe, so he pulled his shirt up over his face and prayed as small debris fell.
Suddenly it became very quiet. “For a moment I thought I was dead,” said Fields.
He called for his friend John and began crawling along the floor. The two men heard each other’s voices and worked to come together. “You could not see your hand in front of your face,” said Fields.
He got up, started slowing walking forward and stepped on something soft. Fields thought it might be a body so he said “Are you all right,?” But there was no response so he kept moving. Then he and John connected and got others to grab hold of each other and began to make their way out, not knowing for sure where they were. Then Fields saw a small dim light. Turns out it was a flashlight which helped them to find the mezzanine railing which then lead them to escalators.
He crossed 7th Street and had gone about three blocks when One World Trade Center came down. Soon he heard shots being fired. The thought was that perhaps terrorists where on the ground firing weapons, but it was police shooting out windows and doors so people could get inside.
Fields searched for a land line and found one in a paint shop. He was going to call a police desk when a person said to him, “Don’t you think you should call your wife?” (which he did).
Next he ordered others to go into nearby coffee shops and take water and food for those in need.
Fields said he could go on and on about that terrible day, but ended by saying he went home around 11 p.m., and returned the next day at 6 a.m.
His presentation was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation showing what we all saw on television – the devastation, the first responders, the chaos, the shock of it all. “It was pretty graphic, pretty horrific,” said Fields who then took a few questions.
He was asked if he went through any PTSD? Fields said yes, but it took a while to get into a program. “One day I realized I needed to see somebody,” he said, which he did for a couple of years.
Thirty-seven Port Authority personnel died that fateful day. They are remembered since then on a new patch the Port Authority had made after the tragedy.
Fields closed with three things to remember: no matter what religion one is associated with, develop a personal relationship with God; no matter what age your children are, take time to be with them; and take time to do something special for your better half or significant other.