Introduction to the historical background

There had been no criticism about the American Ground. Beginning in June 2002, the promotional hype from Atlanthic Monthly and Farrar, Straus and Giroux landed sparkling praise for William Langewiesche’s Ground Zero tale in book reviews and press reports. The public controversy, that involved questioning Langewiesche’s factual accuracy, first began when the October 24 issue of New York Observer hit newsstands on Oct. 16, 2002. The Observer writer, Joe Hagan, led the first wave of, what became the ongoing press reactions regarding our document –WTC Living History Project Group Response, Part I, II, III–that noted 56 corrective points about William Langewiesche’s magazine version of American Ground.

Hagan’s article broke the story about both the WTC Living History Project’s existence and the content of our study that had been sent to both Atlantic Monthly and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Slate writer, Timothy Noah, quickly weighed in the next day (Oct. 17, 2002) and New York Post writer Bob McManus roared back the next day (Oct. 18, 2002) both with immediate lashes of criticism against our, well, criticism of Langewiesche. We have discovered, however, since that time that pertinent disclosures, such as the fact that Cullen Murphy was a regular writer for Slate (1996-1999) as well as being the Atlantic Monthly’s managing editor, should have been made public by Noah. How could Noah confidently and accurately fact-check our fact-checking within 24 hours or less seems? Just on the face of it, such an impulsive and protective reaction would seem more based on blind faith and loyalty to Murphy, than any rigorous journalist practices done by Noah.

We have added numbers (Dec. 9, 2003) to each point below. This numbering system should help readers to address Noah’s specific charge that he could only “glean” “precisely six” legitimate”errors” in Langewiesche’s book after “factoring out rants, misreading and disagreements of interpretation.” See if your count matches Noah’s count of only six errors. Read Part I, II, III below. You can always let Noah know if you think his count is, as he would say, “utterly cracked.”

Click here for Noah’s article from Slate. Many more salient facts from diligent research can be found presently on the rest of the Web site and more is forthcoming in our Website redesign (tentatively scheduled for January 2004). Write us with your comments.

Authors: Rhonda Roland Shearer, Director; Deputy Assistant Chief – Ronald R. Spadafora, FDNY ; Nick Carcich, Construction; Captain – Mike Banker, FDNY; Peter L. Gorman, President of Uniform Fire Officers Association; John Dunne, Captain’s Representative Uniform Fire Officers Association; Bobbie Gray, Locals 14 and 15 (Operating Engineers) et al. See link for full list of committee.

Response to American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center. Article by William Langewiesche published in three parts in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Factual corrections to Part 1, “The Inner World,” August 2002.

No. Part 2

(magazine pagination)

Quotes with factual errors

(underlining of text not original)

Corrected facts
21 Page 94

“Giuliani declared that the firemen now would have to participate in a joint command, with the New York and Port Authority police and the civilian heavy-construction managers in the city’s Department of Design and Construction, the DDC.”

Incorrect fact; the formal joint command never included PAPD and NYPD/ESU.

22 Page 94

“Ordinary frontline firemen were the angriest. As many as 250 of their colleagues lay unaccounted for in the ruins,”

The correct number of recovered firefighters is readily available. The FDNY November 2nd report states: ninety firefighters recovered—not ninety-three. Therefore, the correct figure was 253 out of 343 lost.

23 Page 94

“Melisi was the reasonable one, and the most broadly involved of any person at the Trade Center site. By comparison, the ordinary firemen were narrowly focused on the rubble underfoot, where the remains of civilians and police officers were regularly discovered, but only the recovery of their own people seemed genuinely to interest them.”

To say that “Melisi” was “the most broadly involved of any person at the Trade Center site” is incorrect. Since Melisi was not in charge of supervising anyone, his role was narrow in scope. It is literally impossible that Melisi would have awareness or control of more data than, for example, the FDNY Incident Commander who would, on a daily basis, be supervising hundreds of firefighters and coordinating relations with federal, state and city agencies as well as construction company supervisors.

24 Page 94

“Now, with the city ordering cutbacks in their presence on the pile, the agitation among the rank and file was so great that the firefighters’ unions warned the city that they had lost control, and had to organize a protest to avoid a break with their own membership.”

Firefighter Union leaders on the site (Gorman and others) deny that they stated they “lost control”. Gorman says “we weren’t going to let the widows and families march alone…they were going to the site to say a prayer, then march to city hall… We completely supported what they wanted”.

25 Page 95-98

“The protesters gathered on West Street beside the ruins, where they were joined by a scattering of die-hard union sympathizers from the site – primarily a group of ironworkers who sauntered over out of curiosity, and got into the spirit of things. One in particular seemed to take delight in showing the crowd how o go about making a TV appearance. He was the very image of a beefy construction worker, dressed in a hardhat and a soil-stained thermal undershirt. He climbed onto a diesel excavator and for several minutes mugged for the camera, waving an American flag and pumping his fist in the air. It was not clear he knew or cared what this argument was about… Very few ironworkers had joined with the firemen, but the ones who had were likely to be union activists, and therefore just the sort of people who could rally support across the pile.”

Mr. Langewiesche’s facts are incorrect. According to construction union members and leaders, ironworkers and operating engineers (grappler operators) knew there was a protest of the city’s efforts to cut back the number of firefighters at the site. The word easily spread like wildfire throughout the pit via Nextel phones; Typical comment from Local 14 and 15 members “everyone was talking about it”. Moreover, workers could literally see firefighters were walking out of the pit and away from the grapplers. Grappler operators had bonds with uniformed services – for example, a grappler operator and the firefighters working around his machine would typically arrange to go for coffee at the same time. “The firemen stop, we stop” is frequently said by members of Locals 14 and 15.

Most of the other trades walked off the pile too, to support “their brothers” despite the DDC order to “keep working”. Bobbie Gray, the union man in charge of crane and grappler operators on the site also confirmed that it was nonsense to say workers did not know what was going on. Moreover, he denies Mr. Langewiesche’s statement that “union activists” were there and suggests that Mr. Langewiesche should have spoken to him. Charlie Vitchers, Bovis General Superintendent in charge of the WTC site January 1 – July 2 states that, uniform services and construction personnel worked from an official plan that included the number of firefighters or police designated to work with each grappler. Therefore, when the firemen left, Vitchers responsibly closed the site. Despite DDC screams to continue work, the grappler operators refused to scoop debris and throw it uninspected into dump trucks without proper and agreed upon official and professional recovery procedures – namely, that each scoop of debris was always to be carefully examined by firefighters and other uniformed services for human remains within the larger scale “recovery operations”.

26 Page 98

“These were honest union officials, expressing the legitimate if misguided dissent of their membership”

Gorman and other union officials deny their members were “misguided” in their dissent.

27 Page 98

“They also chanted for the ouster of their fire commissioner, Thomas Von Essen, who for years had been a well-liked New York fireman and union leader, but who now was going around quietly making the point that by far the greatest loss of life had been civilian, and that the Trade Center tragedy was larger than just firefighters’ or even a New Yorker’s affair.”

Thomas Von Essen’s direct move from a role as a Union Official, who had intense negotiations representing firefighters to Fire Commissioner had created disenchantment by firefighters. Mr. Langewiesche incorrectly suggests here that Mr. Von Essen’s former popularity with firefighters declined with his advocating that “the greatest loss of life had been civilian”- – and not firefighters. Moreover, Von Essen’s notable absence from the site contributed to his unpopularity.

28 Page 99

“The tribalism that grew up on the pile had origins so primitive that they can only be understood as instinctual… The claims were based on an unspoken tribal conceit: that the deaths of their own people were worthier than the deaths of others– and that they themselves through association, were worthier too. This was difficult for the police and civilian workers at the site to accept. The collapse of the towers had been anything but certain. The firemen who had gone inside had been normally brave – as people who are not cowards.

They were not soldiers crossing the lip of a trench or assaulting a machine-gun nest in battle; they were men with a job that demanded mental willingness and hard physical labor, and on that day they were climbing endless stairwells one flight at a time in the company of friends, and with little clear purpose in mind beyond perhaps finding the civilians who must have been injured by the twin attacks. The firemen in the South Tower were killed without warning. They were unintentional martyrs, non-combatants, typical casualties of war”

The frequent use of the terms tribalism and tribal to describe construction, PAPD, NYPD and Fire Department workers at the site by Mr. Langewiesche throughout these three articles is inaccurate at best and a slur at worst evoking the same type of generalizations made of African-Americans as ignorant, physical, primitive laborers (“jungle bunnies”) whose bravery could only be instinctive or normal, not of a superior kind. Like dumb, inferior animals, firemen in particular (Mr. Langewiesche suggests but states as fact) “run wild” and act in packs with an absence of civilized values, which would allow them to go beyond caring just for their own dead. To those of us in ground zero culture, Mr. Langewiesche’s perspective smacks of the cynicism, detachment and disregard of the dead acted out by the DDC’s upper management.

If we subtract Mr. Langewiesche’s only specific case of evidence regarding uncaring tribalistic disregard for the dead by groups beyond their own, such as the fire department (a fair subtraction since Mr. Langewiesche’s only cited case of firefighters disregard for the dead of other groups, [see Part II page 75] completely evaporates when checked with both PAPD and FDNY personnel at the site) we expose a simpler, albeit more ugly dynamic where the primitiveness and uncivilized behavior is on the part of the DDC— via their consistent obsession with the speed of debris removal and disregard for human remains, including members of their own “tribe” of civilians. Recovery workers fought for civilians too, and believed that all WTC human remains of friends, family and contemporary peoples should be treated with at least as much respect, and no less, than those at ancient archeological sites where slaves and native peoples are carefully exhumed.

29 Page 99

“The collapse of the towers had been anything but certain. The firemen who had gone inside had been normally brave – as people who are not cowards.

They were not soldiers crossing the lip of a trench or assaulting a machine-gun nest in battle; they were men with a job that demanded mental willingness and hard physical labor, and on that day they were climbing endless stairwells one flight at a time in the company of friends, and with little clear purpose in mind beyond perhaps finding the civilians who must have been injured by the twin attacks.”

The total collapse of the towers would only be one of the many pending causes of injury and death that firemen would realistically anticipate from their knowledge and training. It is factually wrong to say that professionally trained and elite firefighters had “little clear purpose in mind”. Firematics and other technical firefighting procedures for managing multi-floor fires or within single floors are all skills, judgments and actions that firefighters bring into any fire scene. “The collapse of the towers” did not have to be “certain” for firefighters to know they could be realistically killed in duty. Isolated collapses, flashovers, backdrafts, running out of SCBA cylinder air, and heart attack from overexertion are among the leading causes of firefighter line of duty deaths- – not total building collapses. Mr. Langewiesche falsely characterizes and trivializes firefighters professionalism here; firefighters climb stairs and carry heavy equipment. They do their job in professionally trained groups and have organized positions and relationships based upon historically successful procedures. Mr. Langewiesche wrongly characterizes these groups as companies of “friends”.

Mr. Langewiesche surprisingly defines his notion of “normal bravery” by its opposite, “people who are not cowards” and moreover, uses his definition of “bravery lite” to describe what firefighters did on 9/11. Mr. Langewiesche feels, but falsely cites as fact, the more legitimate bravery of soldiers who rush into machine gun fire as somehow more at risk than groups of firefighters going endlessly up stairs into raging fires at the top floors of two of the world’s tallest buildings.

30 Page 99

“But the Fire Department had no monopoly on altruism that day, and terrible though its casualties were, with 343 dead, it did not suffer the greatest losses. As the workers on the pile knew all too well, that sad distinction went to the brokerage firm of Cantor Fitzgerald, where 658 people had died – some of them no doubt as altruists too. But what did such categories mean anyway?”

Incredibly and incorrectly by social tradition and moral convention, Mr. Langewiesche does not distinguish between those who lost their lives, (civilians who by fate were inside the towers 9/11) and those who gave up their lives (uniform services personnel who courageously entered the dangerous WTC site to save others in the line of sworn duty). To call the lost firefighters “unintentional martyrs, non combatants, typical casualties of war” (pg 99) is cruel and inappropriate. Mr. Langewiesche could only impose his standards of heroism within his own ignorance of the rigorous, dangerous and technical aspects of firefighting.

31 Page 99

“By the ends of the first day the bucket brigades had separated according to uniform…”

Untrue. If the bucket brigades formed any bias towards separation of uniformed service groups, it would not have been for malevolent “tribal” instincts. As uniform personnel or construction workers would check in at ground zero, they would reasonably look for supervisors, (or find people they knew if they could not find someone to report to) and afterwards be dispatched to places where supervision could take place, such as a particular bucket brigade group or a particular area of the site. For example, a fire chief, in the first couple of days after 9/11 could correctly expect that a firefighter would follow their orders before a formal system could be established at the site. The grapplers and crane operators who, unsolicited rolled into the site, would automatically check in with the union representative out of procedural convention, not because they were members of the same “tribe”. In the case of 9/11, this person was Bobbie Gray, the man who was coordinating all “operating engineers”.

32 Page 100

Of course the situation was presented differently on the outside, where the public was led to believe that conditions on the pile were so difficult that merely by working there people were sacrificing themselves, and that the firemen in particular – anonymous figures who wore the same wide-brimmed helmets…”

Once again Mr. Langewiesche sarcastically belittles the dangerous, stressful and important work performed by uniformed service personnel and construction workers (whose normal job experience does not include dealing for ten months with dead bodies and human remains). Everyone on and around the pile knew that the health consequences from breathing contaminated air alone were a future unknown. Lots of people had throat irritation and coughs and skin rashes as reported in the Press.

33 Page 100

“On the other hand, the firemen seemed to become steadily more self-absorbed and isolated from the larger clean-up efforts underway. The resentments rarely erupted into fistfights (though fistfights did occur) but increasingly were expressed in private conversations on the pile – often on the subject of the looting that for the first few months tarnished the Trade Center response. The looting was shadowy, widespread, and unsurprising.”

The only fistfight that workers (uniform and construction we canvassed) knew about does not involve the FDNY but was an incident between PAPD, DDC and construction personnel (that Mr. Langewiesche mentions later in Part III). The construction workers assured us– if there were fistfights at ground zero, they would have known about them. Retired fire captain Bill Butler, saw one “shoving match”. Again, where are Mr. Langewiesche’s specific facts and reporting on these stories of fighting.

In regards to “the subject of the looting”, again, where are Mr. Langewiesche’s facts or specific cases? Under the lightest of scrutiny, it is only Mr. Langewiesche’s own libelous generalization (the “fact” of uniform services and construction workers looting) that is revealed to be “shadowy”, and by now “unsurprising” within the context of his many factual errors. Construction workers themselves have commented on how amazingly low the number of altercations were at construction/recovery site of this magnitude involving thousands of men over a ten-month period. Bobbie Gray said he saw “hard men” ignore slights that normally would have provoked them to “flatten the guy”—because of the “sacredness of the site”. Moreover, urinating behind a grappler was even off limits for workers on this sacred ground- – definitely not typical of construction worker culture.

34 Page 100

“The Trade Center was known to have been hit before by errant policemen and firemen, after the terrorist bombing of 1993. This time the thievery was less intense but longer-lived. It involved small numbers of construction workers and men from the same uniformed groups as before, and it was shallow and opportunistic rather than deeply criminal in intent. It started in the shopping center complex, with the innocuous filching of cigarettes and soda pop, and expanded into more ambitious acquisitions.”

Once again, Mr. Langewiesche libels the uniform services by stating as fact, without citing any facts that “errant policemen and firemen” were looting during the aftermath of the 1993 WTC bombing. Next Mr. Langewiesche throws in another libel, stating as fact that “small numbers of construction workers” looted between

September 11, 2001- June 2002 with “the same uniformed groups as before.” Atlantic Monthly is a news magazine. What factual cases are Mr. Langewiesche referring to? What was “stolen? By who? How many cases? What exactly constitutes “thievery” that is “less intense but longer lived”? Is Mr. Langewiesche inferring that more expensive things were stolen in 1993 than during September 11 2001- June 2002, and that, however “more ambitious” these “acquisitions” were during September 2001-June 2002, they (the unnamed shadowy items) were not as “intense” (higher priced?) but occurred more frequently over a longer period of time? How does Mr. Langewiesche know “it was shallow and opportunistic,” rather than “deeply criminal in intent?”

35 Page 100-101

As rumor had it, the tribalism at the site extended even to choice of goods. Firemen were said to prefer watches from the Tourneau store, policemen to opt for kitchen appliances, and construction workers (who were at a disadvantage here) to enjoy picking through whatever leftovers they came upon – for instance, wine under the ruins of the Marriott hotel, and cases of contraband cigarettes that spilled from U.S. Customs vaults in the Building Six debris… After a few arrests were made, the filching shifted to the peripheral buildings, which were gradually thinned of computers until authorities wised up and posted guards.”

Throughout his articles, Mr. Langewiesche continuously uses slanderous innuendo to denigrate uniformed rescue personnel and construction workers. Such statements are libelous. Atlantic Monthly is a news magazine, Mr. Langewiesche’s “impressionism” flies in the face of the responsible reporting of facts. PAPD and the NYPD 1st Precinct are the ones with the WTC related (Sept 11, 2001-June 2002) “booking sheets”. The NYPD summary of facts gleaned from one phone call to a criminal analysis cop at the 1st Precinct is: three criminal impersonations of firefighters, four arrests for guns, three for possession of stolen goods, and eleven burglaries. Why didn’t Mr. Langewiesche start here with actual, factual cases and then give us the data about who was arrested instead of his libelous blanket statements that he, himself writes are based on rumors.

36 Page 101-102

“Knowledge of it, however, cast a shadow on the use of the word “hero”, and at least once became a source of searing embarrassment and bitter mockery. One autumn afternoon, at the base of the South Tower ruins, diesel excavators were digging into unexplored reaches of the Trade Center’s foundation hole. Fifty feet below the level of the street they began to uncover the hulk of a fire truck that had been driven deep by the collapse. The work that afternoon was being directed by the field superintendent for one of the major construction companies, a muscular and charismatic man who was widely admired (and to some extent feared) for his unabashed physicality and his manner of plunging unhesitatingly into the battle with the debris. If for no other reason that his confidence in the enormous mechanical power at his disposal, the superintendent believing in acting first and worrying about the consequences later. Early on he made it clear to me that were he in charge, he would clean up the site in no time flat, and that his first step would be to throw the firemen off the pile. He might even have included Sam Melisi in the toss, hard as that was to imagine. He assured me that he hadn’t disliked firemen before (he shrugged and said, ‘Why would I?’), but he just couldn’t stand this hero stuff anymore. He didn’t like the moralistic airs these guys were putting on. He didn’t like the way they treated the civilian dead. And he especially didn’t like the fact that they kept forcing his operation to shut down – once for an entire day- while the worked by hand and poked through the rubble for their colleagues’ remains.

Imagine his delight then, after the hulk of the fire truck appeared, that rather than containing bodies (which would have required decorum), its crew cab was filled with dozens of new pairs of jeans from The Gap, a Trade Center store. When a grappler pulled off the roof, the jeans were revealed for all to see. It was exactly the sort of evidence the field superintendent had been waiting for. While a crowd of initially bewildered firemen looked on, the construction workers went wild. “Jeans! Look at these… Fucking guys! Jeans!” Its was hard to avoid the conclusion that the looting had begun even before the first tower fell, and that while hundreds of doomed firemen had climbed through the wounded buildings, this particular crew had been engaged in something else entirely, without the slightest suspicion that the South Tower was about to hammer down. Of course this was not what the firemen wanted to hear. An angry fire chief tried to shut the construction workers up. He offered an explanation – that the jeans (tagged, folded, stacked by size) had been blown into the crew cab by force of the collapse. The field superintendent asked the fire chief to repeat what he had said. When he did, the construction workers only jeered louder.”

Ladder 4 was the focus of rumors circulating around ground zero and therefore, is the fire truck we believe Mr. Langewiesche incorrectly and libelously refers to as having been found filled with “stolen” jeans “tagged, folded and stacked by size”. Discovered at the B5 level, the fire truck was originally positioned at street level under the bridge on the Liberty Street side of the South Tower. The official FDNY recovery ticket records December 17, 2001, 3:17 am as the time of discovery and the logbook further states that the truck was lifted out and placed outside of the pit by December 21st.

Mr. Langewiesche is incorrect when he states it was in the “afternoon…that the excavators were digging…” FDNY Lt. Lawrence Tompkins, a team leader who was there that night, states emphatically that the jeans were spread around the entire area, “There were no neat stacks or jeans stowed in the crew cab” states Tompkins. Mark Dolan, a grappler operator who was also there that night took photographs of the truck (we have copies). Dolan specifically denies that a grappler “pulled off the roof” of the truck and “the jeans were revealed for all to see” or that “jeering” by construction workers occurred. Jeans were spread around just like other clothing throughout the site. Michael Del Preti also working this night tour, and member of local 14B (grappler operator) says he only knows of a similar situation where he unearthed a front end loader that had “Office Depot” supplies blown inside it’s cab from an Office Depot truck nearby and nobody accused the front end loader operator of stealing office supplies. Del Preti saw Ladder 4 unearthed that night and agrees that its “bullshit” to say that the jeans “spread all over” looked like the firefighters in Ladder 4 had looted before the towers fell. Jack Mirto, Local 14, states that night “clothes were everywhere around the site”. Mirto gives another example; that he saw 50 PAPD shirts spread around on another night— and the source upon examination was a storage bin. Mike Moonen, Night Superintendent for Tully that night also states that it was night – “not afternoon” when the truck was unearthed. Moonen denies that as “a crowd of initially bewildered firemen looked on, the construction workers went wild. “Jeans!  Look at these… Fucking guys, jeans!” Moonen; the grappler operators who unearthed the truck; and many others in construction we canvassed (therefore independent witnesses) deny that anything like Mr. Langewiesche describes took place. Mr. Moonen further states that the jeans were “Structure”, not “Gap” as Mr. Langewiesche claims. FDNY Battalion Chief Frank Ryan, an eyewitness on duty that night also denies the truthfulness of Mr. Langewiesche’s story “jeans were scattered everywhere and were not neatly folded and stowed inside Ladder 4’s crew cab”. Mr. Langewiesche’s statement is absurd; that it was “hard to avoid the conclusion that the looting had begun even before the 1st tower fell” and “that while hundreds of doomed firefighters had climbed through the wounded buildings, this particular crew had been engaged in something else entirely, without the slightest suspicion that the South Tower was about to hammer down.” The upcoming book should be shredded for this libelous statement alone.
Mr. Langewiesche believes six firefighters responding in on the initial alarms to the WTC disaster would park their vehicle; assume the role of looters at the sub-level store areas of the WTC; return to their vehicle to store their stolen goods prior to reporting into the command post for their assignment, with all hell breaking loose around them; or, did Mr. Langewiesche think that the six firefighters of Ladder 4 arrive at the command post, receive their orders, and, as victims are jumping out of the tower windows, they totally disregard their orders; go down stairs to a sub-level clothing store; gather up dozens and dozens of jeans; go back upstairs, returning to their truck at street level while recovery workers and FDNY personnel are operating (and with a FDNY command post nearby); and then, load these looted jeans in neat “folded” stacks by size “in their windowedcrew cab”.

Beyond these outrageous and impossible scenarios that Mr. Langewiesche suggests within his “reportage of the facts”, were hard, physical evidence: that the six doomed firefighters of Ladder 4 were actually doing their job within a time constraint of less than one hour (the time between, Ladder 4 arriving on the scene and Tower 2 [south] collapsing). The bodies of Ladder 4 members were discovered near a South Tower elevator along with the Hurst tool (from their truck) that they, in their last moments of life, were using to extract the victims trapped inside. The body of a civilian woman was found entangled with that of a Ladder 4 firefighter holding the Hurst tool.

How can Mr. Langewiesche now make up for this injustice? Former FDNY Deputy Commissioner Lynn Tearney, states that many news agencies heard the rumors and, called her to fact- check. After hearing the absurdity of what the scenarios would have had to been, all news agencies passed on the “story”. Mr. Tearney states, “what did Atlantic Monthlythink?, that they had the scoop of the century ?– When so many other news groups were down there too? (Despite Mr. Langewiesche’s claim of having press exclusive). Mr. Tearney also states that Mr. Cullen Murphy, Managing Editor of Atlantic Monthly told her that fact-checkers asked 2 sources for confirmation regarding “the looting of jeans”. A story of this magnitude and impact that will forever sully and stain heroes who died on duty—more checking surely should have been done by Mr. Langewiesche and Atlantic Monthly itself.

37 Page 103-104

“Though the firemen who rioted on November 2 did not believe it, when Giuliani gave “safety” as the reason for reducing their presence on the pile, he was completely sincere… “Nonetheless, the city had reasons to be especially concerned about the firemen at the site, who formed maverick groups on the pile, prone to clustering too close to the diesel grapplers and to taking impetuous risks in the smoke and debris. The lack of discipline was a well-known aspect of the firemen’s culture. In some ways it was a necessary thing, hard to separate from their views on manliness and bravery and their eagerness to take on fires. It also, however, led to needless danger…” “you do not allow ordinary firemen to keep shutting down the site; you create a joint command to soothe people’s egos but give practical control to the engineers and construction types, who are workmanlike and know how to finish the job”

Giuliani had good reason, therefore, to rein them in. Viewed from the outside, the plan seemed reasonable and right: you scale back the searchers from three teams of seventy-five men to three teams of twenty-five – one from each of the uniformed services; you allow only one spotter at a time to stand beside each diesel excavator on the pile; until human remains are found, you require the other team members to wait in designated “safe areas” nearby;” The police at the site were better disciplined – and, partly as a result suffered fewer casualties on the day of the attack. But nearly two months after the tragedy, with no conceivable justification for continuing to jump into voids or clamber across unstable cliffs, there were still firemen running wild…” (Pg 104)

It is an untrue statement to say the “police were better disciplined” and therefore “suffered fewer casualties on the day of the attack”. There is no correlation between the lack of discipline within uniformed personnel ranks and the loss of life on 9/11. Guidelines for separation of agencies send firefighters into burning buildings and police to control the perimeter.

FDNY personnel (Steve Rasweiler, Sam Melisi, Mike Banker) and the rest of the experts in our group, including engineers, deny that firefighters “impetuously” “unprofessionally” and “dangerously” jumped “into voids or clambered across unstable cliffs” or that “firemen were running wild” in “maverick groups.” Construction and Uniform Services were coordinated; if there was to be a void search, equipment in the area had to be shut down and FDNY, S.O.C (or NYPD ESU, PAPD ESU) would supervise any entry. All parties were aware that unusual conditions were taking place- grapplers don’t have people standing closely around them in a normal construction site but the search for remains necessitated multiple sets of eyes and hands to examine and pick through debris in order that bodies or parts are not unnecessarily disturbed or by neglect, thrown out (and only later possibly found in trucks, at the barge dock, at the dump on a Fresh Kills conveyor belt, or lost forever buried in a mountain of garbage).

All parties were well aware of the uniqueness of this working environment of men (mostly) and machines. Issues such as “clustering too close” to grapplers were dealt with in an organized manner in daily meetings.

The absence of death and the extremely low incidence of injury testifies to the competence of Uniform Services and Construction Management. It is also untrue that “ordinary firemen” and equipment operators could shut “down the site.” Firemen only stopped individual machines (to look for remains) theynever moved machines.

It is factually incorrect and insulting to the FDNY for Mr. Langewiesche to write that a “joint command” of FDNY and DDC functioned (November 2 or any day) to only “soothe peoples egos” and “gave practical control to the engineers and construction types, who are workmanlike and know how to finish the job.”

The work being performed at the WTC site was a “Recovery Operation”. Again, within voids, confined spaces or other recovery areas, FDNY were the experts

The shared perspective of members of our group (as Mr. Langewiesche also writes) is that Mr. Holden rarely left his office and Mr. Burton barked orders to get equipment that was not working back into service (as Mr. Langewiesche also confirms) during his infrequent site visits

Why doesn’t Mr. Langewiesche report facts that reveal the dynamic of DDC versus construction, police and FDNY (Mr. Langewiesche’s three tribes of looters)? Is it that Mr. Langewiesche himself was the one who joined his own tribe of DDC personnel and that he lost objectivity to the point of misconduct, all under a great debt to DDC who gave him illegal access to the site (against the mayor’s orders and against all rules of safety that would have prevented Mr. Langewiesche from “impetuously” entering voids).

Contrary to what Mr. Langewiesche states as fact, uniform services were  “workmen-like” and knew “how to finish the job” of recovery operations. Factually, the “practical control” was an amalgam of “engineers and construction types” and uniform services.

38 Page 104

“The construction crews, like the DDC itself, were made up of hard-driving people, accustomed to shaving minutes in a time-obsessed industry. Though they understood the desirability of finding human remains at the Trade Center site, they were not going to slow the excavation of the ruins just to ensure that the final inspections at Fresh Kills Landfill did not turn up any body parts. Mike Burton in particular was pushing for speed, and was determined to finish the job below cost and ahead of schedule—however arbitrary those targets may have been. He was climbing his mountain of success, and was not about to let a gang of irration firemen get in this way.”

Uniform Services personnel are also “hard-driving people, accustomed to shaving minutes” during emergency situations (fire operations, shots fired, burglaries in progress, etc). However, during the recovery operation at ground zero, “time shaving” was not a priority– just as in the case of an archeological site, where it is considered reasonable to carefully handle human remains as they are sacred.

39 Page 104

“The fireman continued with their headb ways on the pile, refusing to submit to civilian authority”

Since the fire department was half of joint command, it is incorrect to say firefighters would have to submit to DDC (‘civil authority”).

40 Page 104

“Five days after the riot, after the unions formally apologized to the police”

Gorman and other firefighter union officials such as D.C. Nicholas J. Visconti or Thomas Daparma vehemently deny this statement as untrue. They also asked why no fact-checkers from Atlantic Monthly called them?

41 Page 104-105

“The firemen pulled out the stops and demanded a meeting between the mayor and the dead firemen’s families…” (pg 104)

“For the most part, though, the widows simply vented their emotions. They argued as much among themselves as with the officials at the head of the room… Others who had accepted the reality of death, were infuriated by the possibility that any of the firemen’s remains would be found at the landfill. Not surprisingly, this turned out to be the most difficult issue of the night.” (pg 105)

Mr. Von Essen states that this was his meeting at the Sheraton hotel and he does not recall “widows arguing as much among themselves as with the officials at the head of the room”. Marianne Fontana, firefighter widow and leader among family groups also vehemently denies the truthfulness of this statement as does retired FDNY Captain Bill Butler and many others who were there that day. With no clergy, prayer or other rituals of our civilized world regarding the recovery of human remains which occurred at ground zero—it was that reasonable families did not want their loved ones bodies or parts lost or found at Fresh Kills or circled by salt vultures (sea gulls) who had to be chased away from the piles of debris with a program eventually set-up by Sanitation workers (co-managers of the site with the NYPD Detectives Unit).

42 Page 104-105

“… when he made the mistake of mentioning that full corpses had not recently been found, and that they were unlikely to be found in the future. The widows would have none of this. They continued to shout “Liar!” until the medical examiner sat down. The months ahead would show that the medical examiner was wrong- the ruins were riddled with unexpected cavities deep down, and that nearly whole corpses particularly of heavily clad firemen, lay waiting to be found. However this would have been impossible to predict at the time. This was dangerous to admit out loud, but it was on many people’s minds: the firemen’s widows were victims of victimization itself, and in their agony and myopia they were starting to blunder around; moreover, they clearly did not represent the thousands of others who had lost family of September 11 and were coming to terms with the events more stoically…”

“The widows would be heard from again – but increasingly through formal channels created from them

Because there were so many voids and varying conditions, including temperature, below ground depths, and rates of material compression— the prediction, should have been that human remains, including whole bodies, would continue to be found on the site as debris was removed. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that it “would have been impossible” for the Medical Examiner to have correctly predicted “full corpses” could reasonably be found in the future.

For Mr. Langewiesche to say fireman’s widows in particular were “starting to blunder around” is insulting and anti-intellectual at best. What does blundering around mean and where are the “facts” to support Mr. Langewiesche’s claim of “blunder” and “myopia” on the part of the widows.

Mr. Langewiesche falsely suggests that “fireman’s widows” were dominating the Sheraton or other family meetings. According to Marianne Fontana and other family members, all meetings with the mayor were intended as family meetings—not just widows or firemen’s widows meetings. As judged from his statement “the widows will be heard from again- but increasingly through formal channels created for them,” Mr. Langewiesche is apparently ignorant of at least three critical family meetings at city hall with Mayor Giuliani, and in one meeting in December, also included Mayor Elect Bloomberg. Rhonda Shearer was there, as well as Martha Butler, the Cartier family and other group leaders. Issues such as: whole bodies being found at Fresh Kills as eyewitnessed by NYPD/IAB members and Sanitation Supervisors; evidence of personal effects, such as firefighters’ boots being thrown out; and the conversion of secret, unofficial family member visits to Fresh Kills into official visits were all significant topics. As a result of these meetings, 25 firefighters were detailed to Fresh Kills on a daily basis.

43 Page 106

“And so the recovery proceeded, not as a united or a heroic exercise but as a set of accommodations worked out among self-centered groups sharing a pragmatic understanding that this was an important job… and that it was primarily and physical one.”

Mr. Langewiesche is incorrect again. From November 2, the recovery did proceed as united on the pile— union construction workers, family members of victims working in recovery, FDNY, PAPD, NYPD/ES – were, together, subverting orders to “move the debris faster”. The glue was moral courage and knowledge of what was most important (discovery of human remains). For Recovery Workers, their job was not “self-centered”, not “pragmatic” or not “primarily physical”.

44 Page 106-108

“Rather than hunting out infractions or putting a stop to unauthorized work, as a less confidant rulers might have down, he watched for what he called ‘dead real estate’- unexpectedly quiet ground that resulted from supply-line breakdowns, trucks gridlock, or simple miscommunication between crews that worked the day shift and those that worked the night… His presence was crucial, especially in the fall and early winter, when the Trade Center crews were operating largely blind, guided only by common sense and instinct, and encountering dangers that had never been seen before. It was natural if occasionally they equivocated, or shied away from problems. Reliably, however, Burton never did – and instead had the habit of going out and actively looking for trouble. Most of the problems he discovered were so (continued on pg 108) specific to the Trade Center site – and in that sense technical – that they would have been invisible to outside observers… The work that he did on the pile was impossible to photograph, and difficult even to quantify, because it amounted largely to the avoidance of negatives. Nonetheless, it’s certain that without Burton’s frequent excursions there, those negatives would have added up.”

Before DDC was officially designated as Joint-Incident Commander with the FDNY in late October, construction superintendents were moving 1% per day of the total debris; non-compressed materials from the peripheral areas of the site. Cranes and grapplers were organized by Bobbie Gray. The FDNY Incident Commanders, utilized construction company workers to perform their recovery operations. It is factually incorrect to say “in the fall and early winter… Trade Center crews were operating largely blind, guided only by common sense and instinct.” Mr. Langewiesche should have interviewed FDNY supervisors and union and construction company supervisors who ran multiple daily meetings. They would have showed him extensive and detailed maps and plans that were in place by late September. It is incorrect and pathetic (in it’s indication of Mr. Langewiesche’s unrealistic promotion of DDC) for Mr. Langewiesche to state, as fact, that construction companies, union workers and uniform personnel would have “equivocated or shied away from problems” whereas “reliably… Burton never did.”

Our group wants to know (and our group is reliably made up of everyone of consequence in, what Mr. Langewiesche would inaccurately describe as the hopelessly warring tribes of ground zero), how in the world can Mr. Langewiesche claim that he objectively researched and reported that Mr. Burton’s “presence” was “crucial” if he only interviewed or spoken to a handful of leaders who ran ground zero; for example, Mr. Langewiesche only quotes two FDNY members, a Marine Wiper (Sam Melisi) and a Firefighter (Tom O’Connell)—no Lieutenants; no Captains, no Battalion Chiefs; no Deputy Chiefs; no Staff Chiefs; no Incident Commanders.

Mr. Langewiesche states that “problems” Mr. Burton discovered are so “specific” and “technical” that they are “invisible” to “outside observers” (apparently then, not to inside observers). Technical experts, WTC inside observers in our own group—(most of whom were there working September 11, 2001 – May 30, 2002.) cannot fathom what Mr. Burton could possibly be “discovering” that would be “impossible to photograph” or “difficult to quantify”—especially since technical matters, by definition, are based in the realm of quantification and documentation. The “cause” of this lack of measurability, according to Mr. Langewiesche is that Mr. Burton’s work “amounted” to “the avoidance of negatives”. Our technical advisors in engineering or other rigorous sciences are not sure what Mr. Langewiesche means by “negatives” or how it would be “certain” that these “negatives” would have “added up” without Mr. Burton’s frequent excursions or avoidances. Please advise.

45 Page 112

“…the former valley that by midwinter had been deepened almost to bedrock and was known as “the hole” – Bovis started having trouble. The problem this time was with restricted maneuvering space in the loading zone, as a result of which near gridlock had set in, and the output of steel and debris (known as “production”) had dropped from a high of 12,000 tons a day to merely 2,000.””

Mr. Langewiesche’s statement is incorrect and is ignorant of what was going on technically, at that time. The production was anticipated to drop by Bovis and others and was in the plans. If a slow down is accounted for in planning, then it is not correctly referred to as problem. 12,000 tons a day were made up of buildings 4, 5 and 7 and loose perimeter debris– all quickly and in great volume removed. However, once debris removal was completed in the perimeter, and became confined to only compressed material in the pit; it was planned for and known that volume and speed would dramatically slow down.

46 Page 113

“After the site matured, the only volunteers in that sense were some of the Salvation Army and Red Cross people who served food in a large white tent known as the Taj Mahal, a communal space that, by offering the workers, firemen, and police officers a place to sit down for free meals, did as much to soothe wounds and maintain the peace as any political bargaining or formal compromise. Those volunteers were restricted to the outer zone of the site– the staging area where the debris trucks queued up…”

Mr. Langewiesche is incorrect to say that “the only volunteers” were Salvation Army and Red Cross people who served food and that volunteers were “restricted to the outer zone of the site”. Rhonda Shearer and her daughter London Allen ran a major, “inner zone” operation that included dozens of volunteers and the closest supply warehouse to ground zero. The mission was to deliver technical tools that were needed for recovering remains as well as winter clothing, health and safety equipment.

47 Page 113

““… open-ended “time and materials” agreements, as opposed to the standard packaged bids, and though the truckers cheated… There was the looting, ofcourse. And Burton threw an entire AMEC crew of twenty-seven ironworkers off the site…”

By again placing the rumors, and not any real “facts” of looting, in the middle of text regarding construction trade workers, cheating is a slur, a grave injustice, and libelous. Will Mr. Langewiesche be responsible for people choosing non-union labor over union labor due to their fears based upon rumors that construction union labor stole once and are likely steal again at other jobs. Let’s not forget Mr. Langewiesche tell readers that union construction workers were looters in both the1993 and September 11, 2001 WTC bombings.

48 Page 114-115

“The operators had all that power and grace at their command, and they possessed more imagination thanordinary construction jobs had let them exercise before. Now they had been given a high purpose, and been told roughly what Sam Melisi had been told: just go and see what you can do.

Mr. Langewiesche is again incorrect. Grappler operators were responsible to their union supervisors and were told where to position their machines based upon priorities determined by uniform services or construction. Grappler operators gave, of course, their professional feedback. However, “its absurd” according to Bobbie Gray in charge of all operating engineers from Sept 11, 2001- July 2002, to say that grappler operators would ever be encouraged to “just go” and to use their imaginations or that they would ever be told, be free and “see what you can do”.

49 Page 115

“On two occasions when they ventured into area from which Peter Rinaldi had excluded them, the pile suddenly collapsed, dropping them into voids. The two machines were badly damaged.”

Factual errors again. There were 3 occasions, not two, when grapplers fell through voids. On November 5, a Gateway grappler fell through debris and a Grace grappler fell in after it, while attempting to extract the Gateway grappler. On November 24th Eroc’s grappler fell through debris. Mr. Langewiesche also incorrectly states, “the machines were badly damaged”- Bobbie Gray and other grappler operators we spoke to stated that only one machine sustained broken glass windshields and was out of service for less that 24 hours. The other two machines were immediately placed back into service upon extraction.

50 Page 119-120

“Fresh Kills was an excellent choice for the work… Now again it was a dump, and one of the largest in the world. But it offered complete privacy and calm, and allowed for surprising dignity during the sad and gritty operation to come. For the landfill itself, the prospect of accepting the ruins did not pose a significant challenge… These pieces of steel arrived in a rush that echoed the urgency of the search for the living, and they accumulated uncontrollably in piles so heavy that they began to crush the hill, damaging the system of subsurface pipes that channeled methane gas from the site. Fresh Kills cried for relief from the weight and soon go it, when for independent reasons an agreement was worked out to sell and send the structured steel from the Trade Center site directly to scrapyards in New Jersey.”

As stated earlier, it is incorrect to write that “dignity” took place at Fresh Kills since there were absolutely no rituals like there were at ground zero. No prayers, no clergy, no flag draped stokes baskets or honor guards with salutes at Fresh Kills. Mr. Langewiesche asserts that Fresh Kills was an excellent choice but soon contradicts himself by telling us that the accumulating debris was so heavy with steel, it damaged the dump’s subsystem for methane gas venting and therefore, necessitated a rerouting of steel to New Jersey.

51 Page 120

“The process started intuitively on the barges themselves, where some of the tugboat crews believed they could judge the organic content of the loads from the seagulls overhead, scavengers who were drawn by odor but had little chance to feed, and whose flocks diminished over time.”

The flocks were diminished not by a reduction of human remains but by a system implemented by sanitation workers- firecrackers; dogs, then hawks are all conventional solutions in “bird control”.

52 Page 121-124

The materials were carefully scrutinized. They were fed onto variable speed conveyor belts that ran through plastic-walled structures where white-clad workers sat on stools along what amounted to disassembly lines, watching minutes at a time for anything that might be assigned to a victim – badges, guns, and Palm Pilots, for instance…” (continued page 124)  “…the process ensured that none of those particular body parts (and obviously very few others) had been treated disrespectfully or “thrown out at the dump.”

Higher security clearance NYPD officers who served at the Fresh Kills Dump—such as Detectives out of NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) or, Warrants and Narcotics units— performed in groups observing and collecting remains at the conveyor belts with different rates of success. Rhonda Shearer and London Allen, whose WTC Warehouse was located across the street from IAB (a unit who made up 25% of the dump’s personnel at one point; the total swelled to 700 daily) supplied health and safety equipment to recovery workers going to Fresh Kills. This was in addition to supplying ground zero supply caches. Shearer states that IAB detectives reported that some officers performed consistently better than others in their efforts to identify human remains and personal property. Unfortunately, this means that the officers who did not do as well were missing materials (human remains and personal property). Variables, such as how fast the conveyor belt was moving, or the ability of a particular individual to fight off waves of nausea and fatigue (both common complaints from NYPD officers working at Fresh Kills) determined performance. Frequent statements made to Rhonda Shearer and London Allen by NYPD Fresh Kills workers indicate that the speed of the conveyor belts were too fast for proper observation of materials and that like at ground zero, a struggle to reduce speed existed between officers doing the observation and management pushing for speed. The quest for speed in dealing with debris was at ground zero and the Fresh Kills Dump.

When there is abundant counter evidence, why does Mr. Langewiesche state as fact the DDC party line, that “the process [at Fresh Kills] ensured that none of those particular body parts (and obviously very few others) had been treated disrespectfully or ‘thrown out at the dumps’”. With no civilized rituals, much less respect was accorded to remains at Fresh Kills than was those found at ground zero in any case.

53 Page 121-124

Among the workers who had been there from the start the mood was a little sweet, like that of a graduation night, when people know but don’t admit that they may not see one another again.

No workers we talked to felt this “sweet mood”. In shared culture, graduation night does not involve death, and the horrors of war spooned out over nine months (Sept 11 2002- May 30 2002).

54 Page 124

“Bagpipes played. The truck rolled at the speed of a slow walk.”

Incorrect fact, the truck distinctly ran at a surprisingly fast speed. Before the May 30th event, Mayor Bloomberg called a special meeting to discuss the weight that would be on the bridge and the danger of the truck stalling from slow speed- the minimum required speed for the truck was determined to be over 5 miles an hour, which would require most humans to run.

55 Page 125

By late winter, however, with a flurry of favorable reports mentioning his name [Holden] in the press, things took a turn for the better and he was reappointed. Now again he was a happy man, swimming in the sea of New York politics and, with the Trade Center recovery to his credit, full of new plans and ambitions for his beloved DDC.

Mike Burton was having a harder time letting go. One of his friends had warned him of the difficulty he now confronted: as the publicly anointed Trade Center Czar he would find it hard when someone said to his face, “Mike who?” – and that day would come soon. By the spring Bovis had taken over the day-to-day management of the operation, and though Burton was still in charge, he had fewer decisions to make; there were times now when he seemed cut off and alone. What was left of the DDC team had moved out of PS89 and into temporary quarters high in the American Express building overlooking the site. I found Burton there one afternoon among the silent, empty cubicles, standing at a window as if he had nothing to do. I stood beside him, looking down at the hole, where the once entombed PATH train now stood in daylight. I’d been gone for a few days, and I asked him if anything had changed in my absence. He answered “Oh, yeah, a lot!” But the truth was, nothing had. Things were slowing down.”

Mr. Langewiesche incorrectly states that, “by spring Bovis had taken over the day-to-day operation”. It was January 1st that Bovis took control with AMEC as the subcontractor. This is not a minor error, for to give the proper date January 1st– would completely erode Mr. Langewiesche’s premise that Mr. Burton and Mr. Holden and DDC itself were de facto in control of the site until spring (late March). If DDC’s starting date for control was the end of October/ and ended January 1, 2002- then that means Mr. Burton was “cut off and alone” with “fewer decisions to make” after Bovis took over. Therefore, Mr. Burton was only in charge of the site for two months; Surely, not enough time to support Mr. Langewiesche’s promotion of Mr. Burton as the hidden but central, competent force at ground zero. This is precisely why Mr. Langewiesche could not reveal Bovis’ takeover as

January 1.
Moreover, Mr. Langewiesche’s stated method of a thematic instead of chronological structure for his three-part essay also shows its failures in this same paragraph.

If Mr. Langewiesche stood in Mr. Burtons office one day in the “spring” (sometime between March 21-June 21) he could not have possibly looked out his window with Mr. Burton and saw the PATH train exposed since, the PATH train was exposed only between February 20th and March 1st. Mr. Langewiesche’s days and dates are so confused an analysis chart is required:
Plese see Figure 1.

56 Page 126

“Sam Melisi ended the job in some ways worse off than be had begun: as the emotions had continued to intensify at the site, he had come under attack by some of the more extreme firemen and widows, who felt that he had turned on them – that the very act of listening to their opponents was a form of betrayal. Of course they completely misjudged him. He was an empathic person, it was true, and because of his own background in construction he understood the mentality of the unbuilders at the site, but his only real allegiances had always been to the firemen and families of the dead. Though he refused to complain about the accusations now, they must have been difficult for him to bear. No doubt, however, it was for more physical reasons – call it absolute exhaustion – that in April he suffered a mild hear attack.”

Sam Melisi and victims family leaders deny that he had “come under attack” by “extreme firemen and widows who felt he had turned on them.”

Sam did not have a heart attack- he is back at full duty as of today.