Recently I received an e-mail with the subject line, "previously unreleased 9/11 photos." I don't think the photos had actually been kept confidential, but they were breathtaking none the less.
Some of the pictures had been taken from the ground up into the New York City skyline just after the aircraft had struck the twin towers, showing people hanging out of the buildings. It was still amazingly emotionally raw to look at them after eight years. They are real people with real loved ones. Or maybe it is more accurate to say they were real people. I don't want to think of them in the past tense. I want to believe they are all still with us. I want to believe each one of them made it out alive, but I know this isn't true.
As the selection of photos continued, there was evidence of this harsh reality in an image that shows a solitary man leaping to his death. Other photos taken from the air by a helicopter show the first tower going down, and then I realize as an officer how enormous this disaster was.
These billowing clouds of cement and debris covered the city and wiped out the light and life. No one could see. How on earth could the responding officers and firefighters find their way around? I never realized before how much courage they really had to have that day. I have never seen the events from 9/11 from this perspective before. It deepened my respect for all who served that day to help their fellow man.
At the end of the series of photos, after the second tower has collapsed and the dust has finally settled, the helicopter flew over the site where the two great towers had stood, really only moments before. Shadows of images reveal themselves through the gray debris covering everything and you are left with a final picture of rows of fire trucks silently lined up down the street. No one is coming back out to get into them and go home at the end of the shift.
We will never forget.