Saturday, September 12, 2020
9/11 Memories and Department Update
A MESSAGE FROM THE DEPARTMENT ADJUTANT
By James W. Casey
Adjutant, Department of New York
I attended a small ceremony Friday in Cohoes to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. It brought back some memories that I don’t think will ever leave me and I want to briefly share them with you.
On the morning of 09-11-01, I was home on Long Island making last minute adjustments for our Department Commander’s visit to Queens County. It was newly elected Department Commander Gibby Mitras’s first official visit on his 62-County journey through his year. We had planned a visit to the local VA Hospital at St. Albans and the State Veterans Nursing Home next door. Lunch at a local post and a tour of some war memorials in the area would round out the day’s events. A dinner and installation of the Queens County officers at Antuns Catering Hall would culminate the evening nicely.
Well….it didn’t quite work out the way we planned. Gibby got a phone call the night before that he was being called to Washington D.C. for a Legislative hearing but would be back in time for the dinner. Queens County Commander Manfred Brandt decided to go on with the tour for Helen Mitras and Sally and Dick Johnston, his aide.
The pickup was uneventful in Richmond County, but as they were crossing the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn, the first plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers. At that moment everything changed.
New York City went on lockdown, and all bridges and tunnels were shut down. Future Department Commander Frank Peters, a Staten Island Ferry Boat captain, would spend the next few hours evacuating people from lower Manhattan to the safety of Staten Island. Frank would later be honored for his heroic efforts to evacuate thousands of people and would take the last boatload to safety before the waterways were closed.
Unable to return the traveling party back to their hotel, CC Brandt took them into his home for several days until the bridges were reopened. Communications with Dept. Commander Gibby were nonexistent and it wasn’t until several days later I received a call from Gibby that after several cab rides, a train, subway and railroad journeys, he had made it to Malverne, Long Island and wanted me to take him to Helen. We headed toward the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn and traffic was a disaster. Road closures and detours were numerous, but the worst part was the dust in the air and the horrific smell. As we rounded the road near Shore Parkway, you could now see the collapsed towers and the fire. Our approach to the bridge was blocked with heavily armed soldiers and numerous armored vehicles. I will never forget how the 50 cal. machine gun followed my every move as I exited my vehicle as ordered and placed myself against my car. Their dogs sniffed us and one went into my car and sniffed around the outside and the trunk. After a thorough pat down and an ID check, we were permitted to go on our way.
Normally the view from the upper level of the Verrazano Bridge was picture post card perfect. Not that day. Smoke and flames covered lower Manhattan and helicopters and fighter planes filled the sky. Gibby and I were silent as we drove over and we never spoke of that day again. I dropped him off at the hotel and we exchanged no parting words. He ran toward the entrance and I headed home. My attempt to cross the bridge was a repeat of the first crossing and I was just as nervous as it seemed everyone was on razor’s edge. I followed all their commands as any good sailor would.
The small community I live in lost 81 people that day and the renaming of our streets in their honor are a constant reminder of our loss. Never Forget.
The three Department offices are now operating but visitors are not permitted at this time. The National Commander is planning a visit to Syracuse in November to present an award. He will be in town for two days and, provided the NY COVID restrictions are eased, we will be able to accommodate him.
As of today, travelers from Indiana must quarantine for 14 days, so it would not be possible for him to visit. I will keep you posted as the situation progresses.
I have recently spoken to the event manager of the Desmond Hotel regarding the Mid-Winter conference. As of now, groups of more than 50 are not permitted. We don’t know what the numbers will be in late January but we have planned a Mini-Mid-Winter just in case the restrictions remain in place. We will live stream the Conference if that should occur.
Due to the permanent closure of several hotels in White Plains, they will not be hosting the 2021 Department Convention. The Binghamton Convention committee Chairman Bob Gardner attempted to move his 2022 Convention to 2021 but was unable to do so due to the lack of hotel availability.
Pending approval of the Department Executive Committee, the 2021 Department Convention will be held at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Colonie. The Department Headquarters will take the lead for the 2021 Convention with members from surrounding Counties joining in. If COVID-19 restrictions are still in effect at that time, we would be required to abide by those restrictions and we would have a Mini-Department Convention similar to the Mini-Mid-Winter.
The 2022 Department Convention in Binghamton will remain there and with Department Executive Committee approval, the 2023 Convention will be in White Plains.
Appreciate Your Patience
These are very trying times for all of us and especially here at Headquarters. I sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding and even your lack of both at times. Things change here almost on a daily basis and I want us to be as well prepared as we can for any and all scenarios. I thank God every night for the staff I have here in our HQ in Troy. They are the most kind, understanding and helpful group of people I have had the pleasure of working with. The next time you see or speak to them, please thank them for all they do for us.