‘消防员会把它淘汰。没关系。’空气充满了燃料和人类遗体。I’m not the hero of this story.’: Photographer documents ground zero, ‘I wasn’t there by accident’

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She loved to talk about the 1964 World’s Fair, a shining moment of American pride before the Vietnam War rocked the nation. She voraciously read every copy of National Geographic and kept all her back issues stacked on her screened-in porch, where I’d spend whole days thumbing through them with the heavy floral smell of jasmine flowers in the air. Those years cultivated my passion for travel, a passion that would one day, years later, take me back to the Big Apple with dreams of becoming a professional photographer.

Just before 9 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I got a phone call from my friend Lilly, a photojournalist working for the Miami Herald. She told me there was a small plane crash at the World Trade Center near my place and wondered if I could go downtown and shoot some photos. We both interned for the Herald years ago, and if nothing else, she figured I could get published in the paper.

Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson

I quickly got up, grabbed my gear, film, and batteries, and ran out the door.


Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson

I made it to Canal Street before the entire train line stopped. The conductor’s voice crackled over the intercom, informing us that trains were no longer traveling southbound. Our journey was over. We needed to get off.


When I first saw the destruction, my initial thought was naive. ‘Oh, the firemen are here. They’ll go up and put out the fire.’

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Fire trucks and sirens were racing in every direction. It’ll be okay, I figured.


And then, as I was still weaving through the streets of Lower Manhattan, the South Tower fell. It took just a few seconds to disappear completely.

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Once I emerged onto the West Side Highway, I finally got a clear view of the carnage. Was there really only one tower? It was unbelievable. I’d seen these buildings as immovable since the 1980s. You don’t imagine looking out your window one day to discover a mountain suddenly missing.

我记得我第一次在1986年看到双子塔,在长岛的一家家庭朋友餐厅进行了简短的演出。他们是我们迷失的灵魂的北极星 - 一直在那里,引导我们。

那天街上有很多谣言。削减了手机服务,所以我无法与任何人联系。世界各地在电视上观看的人们比我们在地面上了解的更多。在我们中间传播的故事中,我们留下了自己的想象力。是事故吗?是故意的吗?是恐怖主义吗?飞机被劫持了吗?五角大楼的爆炸是什么?人们真的从建筑物中跳下来吗? Many people thought the better option was to jump. I can’t even fathom how horrible it must have been to be trapped inside that inferno.

Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson

Manhattan was on lockdown. Anything seemed possible. I kept moving south, as the bad got worse.

At 10:28 a.m., the second ground-shaking roar began. This time, I was much closer. I knew there was nothing I could personally do to help, but my instincts took over and I kept shooting. I was covered in a thick, hellish white powder. God only knows what I inhaled that day. The air was thick with dust and debris, airplane fuel, human remains, sharp bits of metal, and loose sheets of paper. It was impossible to avoid the toxic fumes washing over us. I scrambled to cover my face and camera at the worst times, but I could only cover so much. My asthma is my lifelong memento.

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I remember hearing a police officer yell into his two-way radio, ‘It’s gone. The World Trade Center is gone.’ Paramedics and firefighters ran everywhere with emergency equipment and empty stretchers. But there was no one to save—everything was gone.

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New York City’s bravest rose to their biggest challenge. Faced with the worst, they gave us their all. I ran toward the burning buildings alongside them while others ran away, but make no mistake, I am not the hero of this story. They are. I merely witnessed this moment, helped document it so the details could never be disputed or forgotten. The best way to honor these heroes is to show them at their best.

Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson

Amazingly, these same first responders kept returning to Ground Zero day after day, week after week, month after month. They still knew they needed to help search for survivors. Meanwhile, the staff at the local hospitals waited for new patients that would never come.

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Once the dust cleared a bit, I was able to look up and see for the first time that they had simply vanished. They had disappeared, like a perverse magic trick. I stood there in absolute disbelief.

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I want to be perfectly clear: I didn’t take these photos for myself, or even for The Herald. While thousands of lives were lost that day, countless more were saved by the heroism of the city’s first responders. I am writing this for them— especially those who died in their virtuous struggle. I witnessed firsthand all the unbelievable work these true American heroes did that day, sacrificing everything to help save the lives of strangers.

Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson

I take responsibility for this story very seriously. To be part of it, even in the smallest way, was my destiny—the most consequential day of my life. A switch had been flipped for me. There was my life before 9/11, and my life afterward. I believe I was chosen to be in New York on that day, to contribute in any way possible. And in return, it would change who I was for the rest of my life.

No, I don’t believe I was in New York by accident on Sept. 11, 2001.

When I say my life changed after, I mean literally. I developed a bad case of asthma and severe allergies, things I never suffered from while growing up. I started drinking heavily to handle the trauma, to suppress memories that haunted me. I sabotaged a relationship and fell so far behind on my taxes that the government started garnishing my wages. I was depressed and morose, symptoms I now can recognize as belonging to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson


I see the numbers ‘911’ everywhere. Pretty much every morning I somehow glance at my watch at 9:11, as if even my circadian rhythm is traumatized. Sometimes at stores or restaurants, my receipt is for purchases worth $9.11. It’s on a license plate, in someone’s phone number. All the way in Lima, Peru, I even found myself sleeping in room 911 at the Westin Hotel.

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我想继续讲这个故事的基因rations who won’t remember this momentous event.

Our goal is to find the subjects of my photographs and their families and interview them about their lives before, during, and after that fateful day. My colleague and I want to better understand the ramifications, on a human scale, of this global disaster.

我相信在生活中,在每一个经验,哟u should take away as many lessons as you can—and always try to leave a little of yourself behind. We grow while helping others grow. We survive by sharing our stories, our knowledge, and our memories. This is the ripple effect that’s essential to humanity’s existence, and especially our heroes, whose work never ends.”

Courtesy of Ron B. Wilson

This story was submitted tobeplay网络一直不畅by Ron B. Wilson of Miami, Florida. This is an excerpt to his book, “Resilience。”你可以跟随他的旅程Instagramand hiswebsiteSubmit your own story这里and be sure to订阅to our free email newsletter for our best stories, andYouTube为了我们最好的视频。

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