Recollections of a New York City Police Officer

20th Anniversary of 9/11

One World Trade Center, or The Freedom Tower, now reigns over the site of the former World Trade Center buildings. Construction began in 2006 and was completed in 2015.
Officer Eugene Messmer of the New York Police Department (NYPD) remembers September 11, 2001 vividly. As it was Primary Election Day, he was assigned to work at the polling place in an uptown Manhattan school.

Messmer recalls, “I initially heard radio traffic on my portable radio and I knew something very serious had happened.” 
Radio traffic that day stated the police department was mobilizing police resources to respond to the World Trade Center.

“Generally, a city mobilization is from 1 to 4. Level 4 is the highest. A level 4 is what I heard on the radio.”

Messmer remembers telling people at the election site to prepare to close because the Primary Election was going to be suspended. He was told to return to his original command center, the 18th Precinct in Midtown North located at 54th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.

“I was reassigned to stay in my precinct to respond to all police calls in that area.”

The next day, September 12th, Officer Messmer was assigned to the World Trade Center site where he remained on duty until April, 2002. His work included security in the vicinity of Ground Zero.

“Monitoring who was coming in and out (of Ground Zero) was a high priority,” he said. “I remember escorting a widow into the site so she could lay flowers at the location of where they had recovered her husband. He was a member of the city fire department who was killed on 9/11.” 

Security was also needed for vehicles of people who were killed.

Officer Messmer estimates he worked about 450 hours in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Like others, he learned of St. Paul’s Chapel and their services through word of mouth.

“Many first responders went to St. Paul’s. Police, firemen and any workers associated with the rescue and recovery at the Trade Center site sought help at St. Paul’s.”

St. Paul’s Chapel was untouched by the blast and in close proximity to Ground Zero. 

“I remember the volunteers at St. Paul’s being very kind. I went to this location to rest and get some food.” He added, “St. Paul’s was a good example of support for first responders. The Salvation Army was another, as were local businesses.”

Officer Messmer knows people who worked at Ground Zero and have health issues from the toxins it produced.

“Some of my friends died that day and another died from cancer. I consider myself a fortunate person among many who were not so fortunate.”

He wants people to know that this day, September 11, 2001, should never be forgotten. 

“Innocent lives were lost by the acts of terrorists,” he says, adding, “People performed acts of heroism knowing that they, themselves, would not survive.”

Rescue efforts by first responders, construction workers and volunteers lasted throughout the night of September 11th. They pulled 18 survivors from the rubble. The final survivor, Port Authority secretary Genelle Guzman-McMillan, was rescued the afternoon of September 12th. ❖

Suzanne Beyer of Bothell wrote a companion piece to this article about her visit to Ground Zero one year after 9/11. You can read it here: The Wrought Iron Fence: Another layer of history | Northwest Prime Time | Serving Baby Boomers and Seniors in Seattle