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James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida
Employee remembers time at Ground Zero
By Ed Drohan
Monday, September 10, 2018Most people can remember where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, but for one James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital employee, those memories are especially vivid.
Jose Ramirez, who now conducts background investigations for new VA employees here was a New York City police officer who responded to ground zero that day after terrorists crashed two hijacked planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Ramirez said he wants to ensure people never forget the attack that helped propel the United States into the War on Terrorism. Since JAHVH is one of five polytrauma units in the VA and has treated hundreds of military members injured in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of that war, he said it is especially important to remember.
“People forget. Nobody wants to know about it. Nobody wants to hear about it. Nobody wants to talk about it,” Ramirez said. “That’s why I wanted to do the display for the 15th anniversary. Not to celebrate it, but I want people to know.” Ramirez was a detective with the NYPD’s 40th Precinct in the Bronx when he heard about the first aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. Nobody was sure what was happening, he said, until the second aircraft hit. That’s when his supervisor told everybody to get into uniform and they commandeered a city bus to take them across the river to lower Manhattan.
By the time he arrived at ground zero, the first two towers had already collapsed.
“It was just unbelievable. There was dust everywhere and people walking around like zombies. We didn’t know what we were going to do,” Ramirez said. “They were holding us back, telling us we couldn’t go in to rescue anybody. Then we thought we were being attacked again because a third tower fell.”
Ramirez said he recalls a sense of not knowing what was happening, along with a feeling of helplessness that day. “Not knowing what to do. It was mass confusion because this had never happened before,” he said. “Our supervisors didn’t know what to do, the fire department didn’t know what to do. Should we go in there, is it safe? It was just the unknown.”
Ramirez spent 24 hours on-duty at ground zero before being assigned to the morgue to help identify the victims of the attack. He also worked at a local landfill where rubble from the collapsed buildings was brought, sifting through it to try and find evidence from the aircraft and parts of victims.
He also lost a friend that day, and came close to being one of the victims himself. A fellow police officer had just passed the New York Bar Examination and was in the area of the World Trade Center. When the first plane hit the tower, he rushed in to help with the evacuation and was killed in the collapse.
Ramirez retired from the NYPD in 2006 before moving to Florida. He spent several years as a Hillsborough County Deputy Sheriff and as a VA police officer before taking his present position. He tries not to talk about that time too much, but he doesn’t want people to forget what happened that day, either.
“I go around to schools and talk to the kids who don’t know about this because they were too young.” He said. “I just wanted to show people what happened that day. That’s why I’m doing it.”