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Stories from 9/11

Updated: Feb 21, 2019

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

(Speaking Topics for Corporate Events)

9/11: Early Tuesday morning in 2001, I was on the NJ transit from Westfield, NJ heading into NYC.
The conductor announced that there had been a terrible accident in New York and the train would be heading back to Jersey...


I had just been to the World Trade Center up on the 57th floor on Tuesday exactly 1 week before – working with a tech firm - and also enjoying the grandeur of the building, from the observation deck all the way down to the super-cool escalators that took you to the underground PATH train.

But today my train stopped in the tunnel under the water and sat - nothing all that unusual for the daily commuters - until the conductor announced over the intercom that there had been a terrible accident ahead in New York and the train would be reversing & heading back to Jersey.

The worst day in US history then unfolded over the next 20 hours as 2 planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, and as Army Ranger or just regular American citizen, I felt pathetic, minuscule and powerless to help…contemplating any way I could somehow get into the cut-off city and do anything? Not possible on the day of the attack.

I resolved to get myself to Ground Zero and help the rescue workers.

By Friday 3 days later, Mayor Giuliani announced thanks for the overwhelming outpouring of support they had received and would now be limiting the Ground Zero site just to folks with skills & equipment.

I had neither, except for some light carpentry skills and randomly being able to drive a forklift. So, maybe?

Perhaps late Saturday night when coverage and morale might be needy of fresh legs, they would let me in.


The show must go on

My friend Jen and I headed into the city Saturday the next day at noon together for mutual support… she was “all in” to get to the site and help too.

6 Goumbas and a Wannabe played Off Broadway for 6 months in 2001 and starred several of the Sopranos actors, including Dan Grimaldi (Patsy) and Federico Castellucio (Furio)

We had hours to wait before late night so we found an Off-Broadway matinee in the Village called Six Goumbas and a Wannabe.

It featured the actress who played Charmaine Bucco in the Sopranos (Katherine Narducci), plus Patsy and Furio too (if you know the show).

The show was great - it was funny, it was inspired, & it was sad; it was New York...

It felt like even these actors were trying to do their part to lift the spirits of the city by giving great performances. Probably why NYC is the best city in the world.


After the show, we stood outside on the sidewalk thinking about the night ahead.

Katherine Narducci is best known from her role as Charmaine Bucco of the Sopranos

To our surprise, Katherine walked out of the stage door with a brown baggie, sighed, and leaned half against the brick wall as she pulled out her lunch.

Right there we were just 3 people sharing a moment in the world - I told her how much we enjoyed the show, and how uplifting their performances had been.

Which I followed by, “Your sandwich looks good, what is it?”

She replied, “This is my favorite - it’s mortadella”, (an Italian cold-cut translated means ‘dead donkey’, or at least ‘dead something’… It’s actually not dead donkey of course, although it’s certainly not much healthier). I laughed and told her I think that was my dad‘s favorite sandwich too - when he used to work at Sosangelis Brothers deli in South Philly in the 40’s.

What happened next took me by surprise. She ripped off half of the mortadella sandwich with a smile and held it out. “You wanna try some?”

‘Oh my goodness’ I thought… Here I had been so enjoying our chat, and now I was infringing on her lunch before the evening show - yet I was astonished at the warmth and kindness of this typical New Yorker, pulling together in the aftermath of 911 like family.

Jen then told her that our plan was to walk the rest of the way downtown to show up and volunteer at Ground Zero – and that we didn’t plan to take no for an answer. She lit up so vibrantly at that moment & thought it was so amazing that I now felt we would succeed – in fact I felt sure of it! I also felt strangely sure that this famous actress might remember this emblazoned moment forever in her life just as I have. Who knows...maybe?

And then we were off.

Goodbye forever, Charmaine Bucco - nice to know you, and thanks for the lovely moment of inspiration.

…We took off south to join more regular people thrown into tough times that were doing whatever they could.

Ground Zero

...Coming up next:

Walking past the Village into Tribeca, our nostrils began filling with the lingering smell of smoke and burning… What was that smell?

The night sky was ghoulish from the smoky cloud that covered half of downtown Manhattan yet high-power flood lights with massive wattage tried their best…



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Captain Joe Sacchetti served 2 tours in Iraq, commanding Ranger Scouts in the 82nd Abn & earning the Bronze Star Medal.

MIT's Exec Ed program in Strategy & Innovation teaches senior Business Managers to think like Leaders. me @

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Joe Thompson
Joe Thompson
Mar 18, 2021

I am enjoying your book!

Major Joe Thompson (retired)

US Army

Civil Affairs

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