STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This weekend, Americans will remember a moment of unity, the September 11 attacks, a decade ago. The thousands of deaths on the day included the greatest loss of life ever suffered by an American police department. It was suffered by the Port Authority Police Department, the cops attached to the agency that ran the Twin Towers. They lost 37 officers that day.
NPR's Chris Arnold spoke with survivors 10 years later.
CHRIS ARNOLD: This week in New York, former Port Authority Police Captain Kevin Devlin walked out onto one of the plywood construction walkways overlooking what used to be called the pit at Ground Zero. Today, instead of twisted steel and rubble, new buildings are rising up.
Captain KEVIN DEVLIN (Port Authority Police Department): Sometimes I walk past and it's real difficult to look at it. Actually, I haven't been inside the fence in about a year and a half. Strange being in here.
ARNOLD: Back right after 9/11, Devlin - then a sergeant - rappelled down into holes in the rubble to rescue survivors. Then came the long search for human remains. Early one morning the call went out on the radio that they'd begun to uncover the body of fallen Port Authority Police Captain Kathy Mazza.
Devlin, a friend of Mazza's, was driving here for his shift. This is him speaking to NPR back then.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
Captain DEVLIN: When I heard, you know, I was on Chambers Street, and I must have blown every red light going down Chambers, 'cause, you know, it was heart-wrenching.
ARNOLD: Devlin and his fellow officers worked the entire day on their hands and knees uncovering Kathy Mazza, and eventually five other officers. They'd been rescuing people when one of the towers collapsed.
Devlin helped to train Kathy Mazza and watched her rise through the ranks to become a captain and a close friend. Again, this is Kevin Devlin 10 years ago...
Mr. DEVLIN: She was - any male cop on this job, she could make them blush, really blush. She had some really off-color comments that she could throw at you and crack you up. And before she became a cop, she was an ER nurse. She was a tough boss; she could be tough at times. But if you worked, if you were an active cop, she really loved you, and she took care of you. And she was just a really great girl. Sorry. And she was just a really special person, and I really miss her.
ARNOLD: Now, 10 years later, Devlin looks out at the new cement walls rising up out of the pit.
Mr. DEVLIN: You know, I became a cop to do good. I never joined the military. I never thought I'd see what I saw, and do what I did for those months. Physically, it took a toll on me, and mentally. But I am - it was where I wanted to be.
ARNOLD: Devlin ended up getting a serious spinal injury here at Ground Zero. And he still has nightmares, some flash-backs, anger.
Mr. DEVLIN: The anger's always going to be there for me. After bin Laden was killed, people were on Facebook and saying, you know, I can't cheer for the death of another human being. Well, you know what, I'm sorry, I can.
ARNOLD: Former Port Authority Police Lieutenant Brian Tierney also came back here to talk with me and Kevin Devlin.
Lieutenant BRIAN TIERNEY (Former Port Authority Police Officer): You remember Carl Loshefsky, right?
Mr. DEVLIN: How could I forget Carl?
Lt. TIERNEY: Carl Loshefsky. Carl Loshefsky was the guy that you wanted to put behind a plate of glass, and put: in case of terrorist attack, break glass. When you needed Rambo, you broke the glass - Carl Loshefsky came out. But when Carl had to deal with the average citizen and the average incident, sometimes he wasn't the best person for that job. But he was great when you put him in a crisis situation.
Tierney says that's kind of what happened to a lot of the first responders after 9/11. It got harder to deal with just regular life again. The anger would come out at the wrong times. Still, both men say that that's been getting better. And they say that losing so many friends can definitely make you appreciate life in a different way.
Mr. DEVLIN: Oh, absolutely. Every time I drive up my driveway, you know, and think about what Sheila and I have.
ARNOLD: Five years ago, Devlin and his wife Sheila had their first kid together.
Mr. DEVLIN: He just started first grade today. He's like the greatest little gift that we ever got.
ARNOLD: Devlin says Kathy Mazza had been very supportive of him and his wife trying to have a child so late in their life. And years later they discovered that the fertility specialist that Sheila decided to see was actually related to Kathy Mazza.
Mr. DEVLIN: So I think somebody had a little help with us, making sure that Sean was born, and that he's like the happiest little kid. They have a memorial page to her, you know, that people can leave comments. So I left a little comment, I said, you know, thanks for the with Sean.
ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.