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Why My Father Is My Hero For Helping To Clean Up Ground Zero

Saying that my father is a patriotic man is an understatement. Despite having never been in the armed forces, he advocates for all things America and supports this country to no end.

In fact, when it was time for me to get a car for my 17th birthday, it took months for me to convince him that it’s completely acceptable to purchase a German vehicle. (My family drives American cars, and I am the only exception — I'd like to say it's because I'm the only daughter.)

My dad also happens to be a very blue-collar kind of guy. His hobbies are of the variety that most would find tiresome, like yard work and fixing up the house.

For the past 30 years, he has been an ironworker in New York City, where he worked at the tippy-top of skyscrapers.

When I was a much younger, my family took a trip to Manhattan to visit my dad at work. It was the first and only time I had seen the Twin Towers. When we finally got to the building, I looked up in such fascination that the noise around me seemed to get muted.

My grandmother laughed and said you could tell the tourists from the natives in New York City based on who’s staring up in amazement of how the skyscrapers seem to touch the clouds.

For some reason, that always made me proud of my dad. People come from all over the world came to see skyscrapers, but my dad climbed them.

On the morning of 9/11, my father was on the top of The Williamsburg Bridge as he witnessed a skyline he helped create lose two of its grandest, most beloved structures. The sequence of events that followed is something I've never discussed with him.

I was too young at the time to comprehend the magnitude of the situation, and now, it feels taboo. He's still an ironworker, but I wonder if a small piece of him grew a fear of heights that morning.

After the true destruction of the World Trade Center became visible and the smoke cleared, my father's job on the Williamsburg Bridge was halted. From that day forward, he reported to Ground Zero to clear debris.

I distinctly remember him coming home with an American flag-patterned hard helmet and little red, white and blue flashlights; I kept one in my room for a long time moving forward.

He was given an onsite cellphone, which made me laugh because he hates technology (he owns a flip-phone to this day). He told me how vendors in the area would serve gourmet meals to the workers helping the cause.

Looking back, I now realize that the things my father told me about Ground Zero were through a rose-colored lens. He witnessed the devastation of a city in its truest form.

The epitome of American commerce, architecture, freedom and success stood with those buildings, but he was there to pick up the pieces.

I never saw him cry or show sadness, and I certainly never saw fear. He did his job as he had done every day of his life, in a city he loves. I cannot thank him enough for shielding me from that tragedy because had he not, I don’t know if I could have ever attended college in Manhattan.

His strength made me view New York City as a place of growth and resilience and, above all else, rebirth.

I think this is the first 9/11 anniversary that I took the time to truly reflect on my dad’s role in that day 13 years ago. By societal standards, my father is a simple man.

He works long hours of manual labor. He doesn't have a fancy college degree or drive a luxury vehicle, but his work is the foundation of the greatest city in the world, and that is something of which I am proud.

His bravery in returning to Ground Zero, day after day, is admirable, despite the fact that he didn’t do it for admiration. He didn't want praise or honor or to be labeled a hero.

Part of me thinks it was about his undying patriotism, but another part of me thinks he did it because he knew that one day, it would be rebuilt. Once it was rebuilt, another little girl could walk by and look up in awe, wondering how in the world a building could reach all the way past the sky.

Thank you to my father and to all of those brave individuals who helped rebuild Ground Zero.

Photo Courtesy: Wiki Commons

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Melissa Copelton

Contributor

Melissa is a contributing writer based in Bergen County, New Jersey (despite her heart forever residing in Manhattan). She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Her minor in Creative Writing led he ...
Melissa is a contributing writer based in Bergen County, New Jersey (despite her heart forever residing in Manhattan). She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Her minor in Creative Writing led he ...

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