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Cleaning Up Sept. 11 Ashes Was 'Like A Communion'
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Cleaning Up Sept. 11 Ashes Was 'Like A Communion'


It is Friday morning, which is when we hear from our series, StoryCorps. For several years now, StoryCorps has been recording interviews about September 11th. Today, we have two stories from the recovery effort at the World Trade Center.

Jack Murray watched this disaster unfold from the roof of his apartment building. He's a welder by trade, and Murray made his way to Ground Zero, volunteering to cut steel.

Mr. JACK MURRAY: If you were going to find somebody that day to go down there who was pragmatic and clear-headed, I was not that guy. I honestly thought that the world was going to come to an end. Maybe it seems silly now, but I thought today's the last day I'm alive. And so I thought, OK, well, I'm going to go downstairs and see if the neighborhood corner bar is open. I was just going to sit there with other people and see what was going to be done.

One of the owners of the bar came directly over to me, and he said, you know, Jack, you're a welder. I've got construction experience. There are people suffering and someone needs to do something about it. Do you want to go with me? I said, well, OK, let's do this. And we were among the first 20 steel burners to go in there.

Later on in that first night, I had this thought that I was standing on this gigantic funeral pyre going into the earth, and that with all the heat that kept coming out from underneath the debris and the fires that would come up, I realized I was probably breathing in the ash and remains of some of the people. It was kind of like a communion for me.

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INSKEEP: That's Jack Murray remembering September 11, 2001. John Romanowich spent four months at Ground Zero, working for the Department of Design and Construction, the city agency in charge of cleaning up. He first arrived at the site just days after the attack.

Mr. JOHN ROMANOWICH: I remember stepping off a bus that took us there, and I had seen enough of it on television to know what to expect. But that initial impression was as if we had walked out of the audience and became part of the show, like we had crossed into a different reality.

I was working from three in the afternoon until 11 or midnight. By the time I got home, my wife and daughter were sleeping; when I woke up, I was alone (unintelligible) to have breakfast. One day, I was getting ready and my identification to be able to access the site was gone. My daughter had taken my ID to school.

Well, the next time that we were both home and awake, my daughter asked me to forgive her for taking it, because she was just proud, that she wanted to show her friends who I was. I think most of us consider ourselves just to be ants crawling around on the pile. But in her eyes, I was a big deal. I was going to Ground Zero every day.

Going back to a regular, normal job, a regular, normal existence; that was a real adjustment, because we all eventually got to where that was where we felt normal. And we didn't ever feel right when we had to leave, when we had to go home. So, that was like you were getting cut from the team.

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INSKEEP: That's John Romanowich at StoryCorps in New York City.

These interviews will be archived at the Library of Congress and at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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