HARRISON, N.Y. - Chuck Sharpe was on his way to New York City when the Sept. 11 attacks were unfolding. As a member of the New York National Guard, Sharpe was told to report to Ground Zero soon after learning of the attacks.
He now lives in Harrison with his wife Holly Rockoff-Sharpe and submitted his memory of the tragic events of Sept. 11 to The Daily Harrison.
"What I wrote isn't everything I recall," Sharpe said. "It's too much to detail."
Below is Sharpe's account of where he was and what he did when he heard the news.
Send us your stories by emailing town reporter Phil Corso at PCorso@TheDailyHarrison.com .
I was on my way to the White Plains Train Station, heading to Downtown New York City. My co-worker was giving me a ride from our office and as soon as we pulled up to the station, my wife called my cell.
She asked if I was going to the city. I replied yes. She then pleaded with me not to go. This didnt make any sense to me, so I asked why. She finally said that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers.
The moment she told me, I tuned the radio to 1010 WINS. I then told my coworker to head back to the office. By the time we got back in the office, the second plane had struck the other tower.
At that moment I knew that this was a planned attack. Another coworker had setup a TV in the office area and we watched in horror and disbelief.
As a member of the New York Army National Guard, I called my Armory and spoke with the on-duty staff. I was instructed to get my gear and report ASAP.
While on the phone, the Pentagon had been attacked and I could hear the worry in the Sergeant's voice. I knew I had to get there fast. Considering my assigned Armory was in Freeport, N.Y. and I lived in Rye at the time, I figured it wasnt going to be an easy drive because I heard that all the bridges and tunnels in the Metro Area were being shut down.
I made it home, put on my uniform and grabbed my gear. Not knowing it, I said goodbye, for the last time, to my gravely ill dog Brutus, who was suffering from cancer. Days later, he had to be put to sleep.
I raced down I-95 and by the time I reached the Throgs Neck Bridge. It was shut down and several cars were stuck at the toll plaza. The only thing I could think was to jump out of my car and wave to catch the attention of police at the plaza. Because they saw I was in uniform, the police made a path for me to get through and let me over the bridge.
By the time I reached the Long Island Expressway, the westbound lanes were completely empty and the eastbound lanes were very light. By the time I reached the Armory in Freeport, I realized I made it from Rye to Freeport in 20 minutes. Simply unheard of.
We organized ourselves and towed several water trailers to the fire department down the street. The firemen had already setup the hydrant and we filled the tanks. Once we were done, all we could do was wait.
Later that night, we were ordered to proceed to the Lexington Avenue Armory in Manhattan. Once we reached the L.I.E. and headed west, the only thing everyone looked at was the plume of smoke coming from the downtown area and heading toward Brooklyn. When we reached the Armory, we were ordered to stand down and wait for orders.
Those orders didnt come till the next morning. As we were getting ready to head downtown, we were ordered to leave protective masks behind. The claim was that the individuals in charge didnt want us to scare the public.
At 5 a.m., we were transported to the Battery Park area by NYC Buses and were ordered to march into the area via West Street. They handed us paper construction masks and said to put them on just before we reached the area.
While marching, we all noticed that the air smelled as if electrical components were on fire. It was very strong, but as with any other smell, once exposed to it for a while, you simply dont smell it anymore.
Then came the dust on the ground. Slowly it progressed, as we marched in from a light layer on the ground, to what seemed like six to eight inches. At one point, I stepped in what appeared to be a puddle, but immediately found out to be a pool of blood.
As we approached the destruction, the entire area looked like something out a Sci-Fi Horror movie. The portable construction lights illuminated the area and shined through the debris like nothing Ive ever seen. It just didnt look real.
Initially, we were ordered to hold a position on West Street, just north of the area. It was complete chaos. No one knew what to do. We didnt know who to keep out and who to let in. The only thing we could think of was to check IDs.
Guys from FEMA were dressed in BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) pants and black T-shirts that read FEMA and were walking around with video cameras. We didnt know what to think of them. So again, we checked their IDs and let them pass.
The debris removal had already begun. Dump trucks were coming in and moving so fast, nobody could keep count. We later found out that the trucks were taking the debris to Staten Island.
After being on-site for about an hour, I had taken my mask off for a moment to wipe the sweat from my face. I then realized that the whole rim of the mask was black. We werent even in the debris field yet. So you can imagine what the air quality was like.
I put it right back on and asked for more to have in my pocket. Later that day, we were pulled from the area and were given a new order. The National Guard and NYPD were to hold a perimeter of the area and not let anyone in that didnt need to be there. Especially press photographers because they were trying to take photos of anything they could. Including discovered bodies.
Our sector of responsibility was the waterfront near Vesey Street. This included protecting the FDNY fire boat that was docked and providing river water to help fight the fires in the area. We declared the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel as our base camp and would stay there for rest breaks.
While there, we would be glued to the television that was playing CNN. The restaurant staff stayed and cooked up everything they had because they were afraid the power would go out at any time and also wanted to make sure the food was eaten rather than spoiled. I gotta say, they were good cooks.
Im not sure what day it was, but just as my squad returned from a patrol, everyone started yelling to get out that another building was collapsing. We all ran out the door and down the street. One of my squad members, Specialist Tyrone Walker, had a bad knee and started limping. I grabbed him and put him over my shoulder and ran another block and a half. We stopped and waited.
We then heard the sound of Tower 7 coming down. A small dust cloud was produced, but nothing like the dust cloud created by the Twin Towers when they came down.
A couple of other things that stand out in memory are the volunteers that walked around the area. They gave out food and water to whoever wanted it. Everything from socks, underwear, shirts, boots and oddly enough, cigarettes were made available in various locations of Ground Zero.
Another rest site made available was Stuyvesant High School. While going there one time, I noticed that the Rye Ridge Deli van was there dropping off food. I never got the chance to say thank you to the owners Rye Ridge Deli for that. THANK YOU.
The patrols lasted for another seven days and then we were relieved by another National Guard Unit. I believe it was the 258th Artillery.
We made our way back to the Lexington Avenue Armory and had a debrief by our Battalion Commander LTC Slack. He simply told us to go home, cleanup, be with your loved ones and prepare yourselves for war.
We were federally mobilized a couple of months later and were ordered to provide security to the United States Military Academy at West Point. I spent 10 months there and simply put, I was proud to do my duty.
After coming home, our commander again gave us another debriefing. He said that we will most likely be deployed overseas at some point in the near future. And we were to prepare our families for this eventuality.
Due to timing and some nudging from wife Holly, my enlistment was over and I decided not to reenlist. A couple of months later, my unit was federally mobilized again and this time they were off to Iraq.
I later found out that nine of our men were killed while there and some of my former battle buddies were wounded in battle. There was even a book written to describe the actions of the 69th Infantry Battalion from 9/11 to Iraq. It was written by Captain Sean Michael Finn and is called "The Fighting 69th."
Thats my abbreviated version of my story. Hope you think it is worthy to be posted.
Thank you and God Bless the United States,
Till they all come home
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