September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Memory:BAY SHORE MIDDLE SCHOOL
Wednesday September 11, 2002
1st Anniversary of the Attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
SEPTEMBER 11TH REMEMBRANCE
Kenneth Summers, a Brightwaters resident, spoke at an emotional remembrance service at Bay Shore Middle School on September 11, 2002. Ken is among the more fortunate individuals who were at work at the World Trade Center that fateful day. He was severely burned that day but is alive and able to tell his story. We are grateful to Ken for sharing his emotional story.
Good morning! Over the last 200 years our country has suffered many tragedies. In 1836 there were cries to Remember the Alamo. In 1898 it was Remember the Maine. In 1941 Remember Pearl Harbor. I dont think that there is a person from my generation in this audience who doesnt recall where they were on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I know where I was. I was an eight grader, much like yourselves, when the announcement came over the loudspeaker at school. The world was devastated by the news. An entire nation was despondent and many people thought that this was the end of our nation.
But they were wrong.
As a nation we persevered and prospered. We went on to fight a war in Vietnam that almost divided our country. Yet despite this and the loss of over 58,000 men and women, we continued to hold our heads high. We valued our freedom and democracy above all else and as a nation we pledged to protect the weak and defenseless from the tyrants who threatened to take that all away.
On the morning of September 11th I caught my usual 5:30am train from Bay Shore that got me to the World Trade Center at about 7:10am. I immediately went up to my office of Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield that was located on the south side of the 27th floor in One World Trade Center (the north tower). At about 8:45am I left my office to go to the post office. After stepping out of the elevator in the lobby, I passed through the security turnstiles, the inner glass push doors and then out through the revolving glass door of the west entrance to WTC I. This brought me out under the glass-covered overhang where the taxis and cars drew up off of West Street. As I was in the revolving door going outside I heard a loud rumble that sounded more like an empty 18-wheel truck slamming on its brakes and skidding to a stop than it did an explosion. I had no idea at the time that anything was happening to the building. There was no indication of smoke, flame or the smell of fuel.
I had walked no more than 10 feet Out of the revolving door when I looked to my left and saw a co-worker of mine running north along the west side of WTC 1. He was ducking down while he ran and used his hand to indicate to me that I should look up. I did and saw numerous items coming down from the upper floors of the building. I remember thinking that a bomb had probably gone off in the upper floors. Not spending more than a second to evaluate the situation, I ran back to the revolving doors to get back into the building to avoid being hit be any falling debris, Immediately after entering the revolving door I seemed to notice a discoloration of the air of the lobby. I had but a split second when suddenly the temperature inside the door increased tremendously. I must have seen a flicker of flame for I put my hands up to my face and then the explosion followed. The glass shattered into my face and the next thing I recall was that I was lying outside near the planters in front of the revolving door. There was black smoke and flaming debris all around. I believe that the doorframe was wrapped around me. I did not notice anyone else in my vicinity but I guess I was too stunned to notice.
My hair was on fire, as was my shirt, which I quickly extinguished with my hands. I had no idea of the severity of my injuries. I knew I was severely burned, but I got myself up immediately and started to walk away from the building. I walked out onto West Street and asked everyone I saw if they could help me. I proceeded to the southwest corner of Liberty and West Street, across from WTC 2 and the Marriott Hotel and sat down on the steps. I had been sitting there about 5 minutes when I heard the increasingly louder whine of a jet engine and suddenly a loud explosion as the 2nd plane flew into WTC 2. I did not see the plane but debris and flames came out of the west side of WTC 2 directly toward where I was sitting. The crowd screamed and started running behind the World Financial building. Amazingly, I got up or was dragged by someone and ran with them.
I had run behind the World Financial building for about 50 feet, when a man named Steve Newman came up to me and offered to help me. At the same time a girl in a gray business suit asked if she could help. I told her I needed a cell phone. She had one, pushed it in front of me and asked what number I wanted to call. I gave her my wife Nadines work number at Bay Shore Middle School and I got through to her co-workers on the first try. They got my wife and I told her that I was alive, that I was severely burned but that I would make it. I told her that Steve was offering to help get me medical attention, that I loved her and that I would get back to her later from wherever I ended up. That was the single most important thing that I did that day and I was greatly relieved that I accomplished it.
Steve told me that he was the son of a doctor and that he would stay by me. He told me he felt that I was going to go into shock. My bums were painful but not terribly so as I was probably already in shock. Steve felt that the best thing for us to do was to get to New Jersey using the ferry from the World Financial Center docks. I agreed with him and we started walking toward the ferry along the Hudson River wall. As we stumbled along we came upon a fireboat tied up along the Hudson River seawall. The firemen spotted us and yelled, We Got One, and jumped off the boat to help. So far they had not seen any other injured people. The firemen brought an oxygen mask and put it over my face. I asked for water and they gave me some to swish in my mouth. They also tried to clean me up a little with a wet cloth but stopped when they realized that it might be too painful. After several minutes, I asked them if they could take us to New Jersey on the fireboat. They replied that they were ordered to stay where they were. Steve and I informed them that we then must get to the ferry. They protested but wished us good luck.
Steve and I, accompanied by a fireman from the fireboat, proceeded to walk north on the Hudson promenade toward the marina. I recalled looking at my building and hearing what I thought was an explosion. I saw a cloud of debris going past my building. To me, I thought it was another explosion and I yelled to Steve that they were trying to bring WTC 1 down by exploding another bomb in the underground parking area. Unknown to me, the roar I was hearing was the collapse of WTC 2 which I could not see since the building of the World Financial Center blocked my view. I recall that the crowd parted like the Red Sea when they saw us approaching the ferry. There were thousands of people trying to escape Manhattan and still everyone cleared the way. There was no panic. They let us pass right up to the edge of the ferry dock. The ferry had just pulled away from the dock and when they saw me standing there, they, nosed back in and Steve and I and several other people jumped on board. The debris from the WTC 2 collapse did not reach us at all. I did not look back towards the city and was unaware that WTC 2 had collapsed. It would be two more weeks before my wife and daughter would inform me of what really happened that day.
From the ferry I was taken by ambulance to the Jersey City Medical Center. The hospital wanted to airlift me to the burn unit at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey but all aircraft were grounded that day. Later in the evening of September 11th I was accompanied by my daughter as I was moved by ambulance to Saint Barnabas where I stayed a little over three weeks. During my stay at Saint Barnabas I underwent four skin graft operations to my hands and my arms and have been recovering at home ever since.
The events of September 11th are a tragedy of world proportions. Never before have so many people been affected by an event. It touched all of our lives whether we witnessed it first hand or overdosed on the endless replays of television and newspaper coverage. It has indeed shaken our confidence, our ability to get on an airplane, ride a subway or even go into the city. But though we suffer now, we will surely rise from the ashes. While I recovered in the hospital I was told stories of the American flags that draped the overpasses and adorned cars and homes. I recall that it was one of the greatest comforts that I experienced on my drive home from the hospital a month later. To know that I had the support of so many people gave me renewed strength to get through this ordeal. People discovered the need to offer their prayers and support, both emotionally and financially, to those of us who have suffered or lost. Organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the United Way, to name a few, received donations from Americans and people all over the world, in amounts that were unprecedented in our nations history.
If my own personal experiences during my recovery over the last year are any indicator of our communities strength and support then we are all well on our way to a full recovery. Since the very beginning good friends and strangers have always been there for my family and me. From the former limousine owner who snuck my wife onto the Belt Parkway to get her to my bedside at the hospital in New Jersey to the Bay Shore students who came and raked up all my leaves this past fall we have received such generous support. We have had tearful strangers with flowers appear at our front door offering their sympathies and members of my local congregation helping my wife Nadine put some order to the chaos in our lives. The casserole patrol to our home was endless. At times I felt that we would never have to cook again. As I faced a new uncertain world upon my return, there were good friends who just stopped by to talk and assure me that I was not alone in my fears. Other friends got me out of the house for a ride to the beach on a beautiful windy day, filling my heart and soul with the passion to become a part of the world again. For all of these acts my family and I will be forever grateful.
My life has changed dramatically since that day. I suppose because of my injuries that my emphasis has really been to get better again and I dont deny that this is my main objective. Things that I truly enjoyed so much in the past such has playing the piano, or golf or tennis are not available to me right now and may never fully be in the future. However, with my situation come new challenges and opportunities. Opportunities to help others like they have helped me with things just as simple as the willingness to listen as they share their pain or as complex as helping someone sell their home and move away. My family has been the recipient of so many acts of kindness during this past year and I urge you to continue this tradition to those less fortunate than yourselves. You will be amazed how great it will make you feel to offer your time and services to someone in need.
I still have a long road ahead and I anticipate at least 3 more surgeries for my hands starting with the first in October. I dont look forward to these surgeries which will most likely put me out of commission for another 6 months or more, but I do look forward to the relief from then pain they may offer and hopefully enhanced functionality for my hands. I would be a liar if I said that I was not bitter towards the people who did this, but I also accept that this is the only life I will get and that I received a second chance where many people did not. I am thankful to be alive by Gods graces and I realize that harboring hatred serves no purpose in my recovery. I want my life back and I intend to get it.
What lay ahead no one can predict. To tell you that something like this can never happen again would be untrue. However, you have seen with your own eyes the response of our nation and the world to this outrage and if any country can rise to meet this challenge it is the United States. I also realize that I cannot do everything alone and maybe you cannot do it alone either. Therefore I urge any and all of you who are still suffering in the aftermath of 9-11 to seek some help if you feel you need it. This help came come from talking with your family and/or even your friends. The professional guidance counselors here at school and other outside organizations such as Project Liberty are also there for your support. I was young once myself and I know how stubborn I was and how important it was to put on the appearance of invincibility. But when you hurt, just know that you are not alone and there is help available, so dont be embarrassed to need or accept it.
In closing, I need to stress that the only lasting thing that these cowards managed to accomplished a year ago today, was to strengthen the resolve of the American people and the world. Part of this resolve is the importance of the role that our families and friends play in our lives. Honor your family like you honor the flag of your country and there will be no enemy that can defeat you.
I want to thank the Bay Shore School District for the privilege of allowing me to speak before you this day. I would also like to express my love to my wife, family, friends and strangers for all of their understanding, love and support during this most challenging time in my life.
Thank You and God Bless America
EPILOGUE JUNE 2003
I had my surgery to reconstruct my right hand in November 2002 and on my left hand in January 2003. I have greatly increased movement has a result, but FAR from perfect. I still attend Occupational Therapy 3 times a week. I returned to work in February 2003 which requires me to go into NYC at least 2 times a week which makes me rather uncomfortable but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I have spoken many times about my experiences to individuals all over the world. To this day, they are dumbfounded that there were injured victims. This reaction amazes me, but in reality it is true, since among the 1,100 people injured that day (mostly with respiratory and ocular injuries from dust and floating debris) there were only about 40 people who were hospitalized for more than 2 days and 37 of us were burn victims of which only about 20 survived.
I have not played golf yet nor have I skied (I am 53 I started skiing when I was 3). I am starting to play the piano again with great difficulty, but it is good therapy. I found that I have a fairly decent tenor voice and thus joined my church choir which I really enjoy. I have had the opportunity to give my speech or a modified version on two other occasions. I enjoy speaking and look forward to speaking at future engagements whenever they arise. I am always well received No Pitty Thank You and I KNOW that my words have made a difference to hundreds of people, since they have told me so. I am here to help if you need me.
Today the sun is out and I am going out to enjoy it. It is great to be alive. Enjoy life!
EPILOGUE OCTOBER 2003
There was an article in Newsday, a Long Island paper, entitled Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. This story detailed the routine of three of the WTC burn victims. Wow, was this story ever on the mark except that sometimes I feel that it is more like Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back. I had my reconstructive surgery and skin grafts to my left hand on Sep 30th as anticipated. I guess my one step forward could be considered by the fact that I did not have to have surgery on my right hand yet! I can only say that I wont be swinging those golf clubs for a long while. This graft, which was supposed to be a piece of cake, was larger than my last two grafts. Hopefully the final result will be worth it. Back to OT on Monday (10/13/03). Good news is that I get a break from work for several weeks. Every cloud has a silver lining (or so they say Id like to know who they is).