Tag Archives: #EveryStoryTold911

Forgotten Heroes

For many of us, the anniversary of that tragic day 16 years ago is mostly a one-day remembrance when we take time to remind ourselves of all of the lives lost so suddenly at the hands of terrorists.  Even now that there’s no longer a gaping hole in Manhattan, some of those who were first on the scene continue to experience the deadly effects of that day long ago. Just last month, a man who served at Ground Zero passed away from cancer related to his heroic efforts—less than one year after his father, who also had been a 9-11 first responder, lost his own battle with cancer.

The passing of Robert Alexander, 43, in August 2017 and Raymond Alexander, age 76, in November 2016 marks yet another solemn September 11th “first”:  the Alexanders became the first father and son to die years after the Towers fell from cancer linked to the work they did for several weeks afterward as they searched through the ash and rubble.

Ginger Alexander spoke to CNN after the death of her son Robert, and it was with pride that she remembered her son and her husband Raymond.  At the time of the attacks, Raymond was a New York firefighter and Robert was an NYPD officer.  When the two men both came home that night, having survived a day at Ground Zero, she was relieved and figured the worst was behind them.

That was, until 2003 when Raymond became ill.  In fact, between 2003 and 2016, he battled no less than 7 different kinds of cancer, but ultimately he died from lung cancer.  By the time of Raymond’s first diagnosis, Robert had followed in his footsteps and became a firefighter. Tragically, he too fell ill in 2014 when he was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.   His mother fondly recalled a trip they took earlier this year to Germany to visit relatives: “He was starting to stumble a bit while we were there, and when we got home, it started his downhill slide.” Robert ended up in a wheelchair in his final months as the disease took its toll.

Robert had been active in the effort to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. Named after an NYPD detective who died from a respiratory disease linked to his recovery work at Ground Zero, the act offers compensation and services to those who have suffered from diseases linked to the toxic carcinogens left behind by the attacks.  Robert visited Washington, D.C. in support of the Zadroga Act, even as he was dying from cancer himself.

Ginger Alexander is now left with her other son, Raymond, Jr., to grieve the deaths of these two heroes that were well-loved by family and friends. She hopes people will be inspired by their courage, strength and their big hearts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 7,000 people have been certified in the World Trade Center Health Program as having at least one type of cancer covered by the program.  Of those, the vast majority of them were 9-11 first responders.  Gerald Fitzgerald, President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said, “The impact of 9/11 is not over, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be over for a long, long time.  I can’t imagine how the Alexander family feels, but I would hope that the entire country will keep them in their prayers and remember what happened on that terrible day and what continues to go on here in New York.”

Raymond and Robert Alexander: Two generations of 9-11 heroes

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Out of the Ashes

The Cross at Ground Zero in June 2002

The Cross at Ground Zero in June 2002

On September 11, 2001 Sujo John sat at his desk on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. He could hardly believe what the past several months had brought. Having wed Mary in January of 2000, he was still a newlywed and she was four months pregnant with their first child.  Just six months before, the two had left their native Calcutta, India with only $50, a couple of suitcases and dreams of a better, more prosperous life in the United States. In that short time in America, the two had landed good jobs.  Mary worked nearby—on the 71st floor of the WTC’s South Tower.

As he sat typing an email to a friend from church, Sujo confided that he believed God wanted more for him. Having read the Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson, Sujo wrote, “I’ve been chasing stuff in America. I want to be used of God.”  He finished his email and hit “send”.  It was 8:05 on a beautiful Tuesday morning, and it was time to start working. About 40 minutes later, Sujo was sending a fax and heard a huge explosion that we now know was American Airlines Flight 11 striking the North Tower between the 94th and 98th floors.

Down on his floor, Sujo watched as the world seemed to crumble around him- a huge hole allowed him to see ten floors up.  The building shook violently, walls started to fall apart and jet fuel from the planes caused fires to break out everywhere, making every minute more treacherous for those in the building. Sujo made his way to the stairs along with his co-workers and thousands of other workers in the building.  He remembers the people’s faces saying the “fear of death was written on the face of everyone.”

A short time later, he heard another loud crash when United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower around the 81st floor, just ten floors up from where Mary worked.  Wondering whether he would get out alive, he was now more worried about what was happening with her.  Sujo tried to use his cell phone and those of people escaping down the stairs with him, but he couldn’t get through to her.  By the time he made it to the ground level of the tower, an area called The Plaza, the horrors of that day really hit Sujo.  Normally, The Plaza was a bustling, lively place, but what Sujo saw was beyond human comprehension.  He said, “This place of life, this place of just exuberance where life would be celebrated has now been turned into a place of death, a place of destruction, as I see hundreds of bodies of people that jumped out of those buildings, people who were in those planes.”

As time ticked away and he made his way through the chaos, away from the North Tower towards the South Tower, he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to rumble. Sujo described feeling as if he were being “sucked into a vacuum” as he heard the roar as the upper floors of the South Tower began to crumble.  He stopped momentarily and huddled with a group of 15 or 20 people and suddenly became very concerned of what would become of them if they all died without hearing about Jesus.

Until this point in his life, Sujo described himself as a “closet Christian”, keeping his faith to himself and never sharing what he believed about Jesus Christ.  Now facing death, Sujo found a boldness he never had and began praying out loud, crying out the name of Jesus.  He then realized those people he was with were also joining him in unison as he prayed.  He went on from there, stumbling through the dust and debris, covered in soot and wondering what became of Mary.

After the dust settled somewhat, Sujo decided to try to crawl back to the group of people he had prayed with a short time earlier, only to find they had not made it, and had been crushed by the hurricane-force wind and debris cloud caused by the South Tower’s collapse.  Downhearted and questioning God as to why He would allow him to survive and not them, Sujo said he felt God’s presence and believed those people were at peace now.  After the North Tower followed its twin and imploded, Sujo was shocked and couldn’t believe he was still alive.  He found himself out in the street, certain his beloved Mary was gone.

After wandering into a shop, he met a young woman who helped pull bits of glass out of his hair and offered to call someone for him.  Just as he handed his phone to her, it began to ring for the first time in many hours.  It was about noon by this time, and the clerk handed the phone back to Sujo.  The caller ID said it was from Mary’s number, but he was certain it was going to be the worst news…that someone was calling from her phone to let him know she didn’t survive.

He was wrong.  When he answered, he heard Mary’s voice.  She told him she had wanted to get to work early that day, but ended up running late.  When they reunited that night, they made a vow to each other and to God that they would make every day of their lives count.  Sujo prayed for God to “rewrite the history of my life”.  He knew that he and Mary had not come to America just to make money, pursue success or have financial security.  He believed that what was important to God was people…all people.

Fifteen years later, Sujo and Mary live near Dallas with their three children and have started an organization called You Can Free Us.  This organization works to abolish the modern-day slavery of human trafficking by rescuing women and children forced into prostitution in the U.S. and around the world. As 21st century abolitionists, Sujo and Mary have made good on their promise to God and have taken their message of survival and hope to people of all ages all over the world.

Sujo, Mary and their children

Sujo, Mary and their children