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Supt. McCarthy Recalls His Own Experience At Ground Zero

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Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy (Photo courtesy Steve Miller, WBBM)

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy (Photo courtesy Steve Miller, WBBM)

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CHICAGO (WBBM) – On Sept. 11, 2001, the man who is now Chicago’s police superintendent was deputy commissioner of operations for the New York Police Department – and he was at Ground Zero.

WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller spoke with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy about that day 10 years ago.

“We thought it was an accident. You know, it could’ve been a Cessna,” McCarthy said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports

McCarthy was on his way to work at the NYPD when the first plane hit.

“I remember seeing guys who I never saw again. Right before it happened,” he said.

McCarthy watched an Emergency Service Unit from the NYPD go into the towers.

“This one crew – John D’Allara, who actually had the locker next to me when I was a police officer in the 46 precinct, we were friends. Mike Curtin, who was a sergeant – he was a survivor of the first Iraqi War,” McCarthy said. “(They) were the guys who really recognized the potential for a counterattack.”

“And they actually put on heavy vests and helmets and machine guns. And I saw them entering the towers and then later on in the afternoon I saw one of the guys who was with them, Billy Buerle,” he added. “And I said, ‘Billy, you’re OK.’ And he just jumped on me and he started crying. He was the last of that crew.”

After the second plane hit, McCarthy set up a command post, with the mayor and the mayor’s staff, half a block away.

“When the South Tower came down, it kind of fell northbound and it fell basically right on our building. … We got trapped in that building. We eventually got out.”

Then the North Tower fell.

“The best way to describe it was, if you sat next to a freight train, next to the tracks of a freight train going by and it was just like a chuh-choonk, chuh-choonk. And I guess that was the floors falling on top of each other.”

Asked if it gets any easier to talk about as the years have gone by, McCarthy said, “It’s kind of weird. It’s getting worse. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just because we kind of put it away, you know? You don’t really think about it.”

After the towers collapsed, McCarthy says no one knew what would happen next, but they knew they had to think ahead.

“We realized that the world was kind of coming apart around us. I honestly was picturing a Mumbai-style attack with somebody coming up out of the subway with AK-47s,” he said. “We were in a bubble. So we didn’t know what was going on in the rest of the world. I think I went home, like 10 days later, for the first time.”

“The flags and everything that was going on was completely lost on us,” he added.

McCarthy says he was concerned that America would forget about 9/11 on 9/12. And he says he’s pleased that 99 percent of the population has not forgotten.

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