Sept. 11, 2001: Local ironworker Paul Pursley spent 10 weeks at “Ground Zero” following attack. His major complaint in the years following concerned his inability to get correct, and affordable, treatment due to the costs involved, costs that Congress has yet to cover fully almost 18 years later. John Stewart gave an impassioned plea for the zillionth time today to help out first responders like Paul Pursley. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Vapeville) has lots of time to try to get war criminal Eddie Gallagher released into the general population. As for Hunter’s constituent Paul Pursley, nary a word. (UPDATE: A congressional subcommittee Wednesday, June 12, 2019 agreed to add funding to the 9/11 First Responders fund, thanks in no small part to Stewart’s impassioned testimony Tuesday.)
That’s where Escondido ironworker Paul Pursley found himself on September 2001 during a first-ever visit to New York City.
For the next 10 weeks, in a city reeling with shock, Pursley helped cut away the massive wreckage of the World Trade Center, allowing relief workers to recover some of the 2,992 people killed on Sept. 11.
Pursley flew home on Dec. 6. Later, sitting in the stilliness of a former girlfriend’s San Marcos kitchen, he told of the horror of body parts, the sad daily trek through crowds of people anxiously searching for missing loved ones, the kindness of Salvation Army workers and of being able to touch President Bush.
“You never found a whole piece, whole people,” said Pursley, who worked as part of an ironworkers’ union contingent attached to a Yonkers, N.Y., wreckage excavation crew. Twenty men worked the day shift and 20 worked the night shift, he said.
“The first few weeks there was nothing really stationary to walk on,” Pursley said. “There was so much energy in the pile that stuff would get catapulted 200 to 300 feet in the air. We were cutting through 50-ton pieces of iron. Stuff was all over the place. But the more iron you could cut, the faster firemen could get part of somebody out.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Pursley said. “The ground was so hot I went through three pairs of boots in the 2-1/2 months I was there.”
But the heat, the dirt, the smoke, even the horribly acrid smell and danger of ground zero were nothing compared to the emotional toll, Pursley said.
“I was working one day and we found a fireman and a civilian trapped in Tower Two,” Pursley continued. “They survived the plane crash, made it down to the lobby but they couldn’t get out. That was hard.
“It was hard seeing the little kids in town,” Pursley said. “Hundreds of people used to line the gates at night when we got off work. They asked: ‘Did you see my daddy?’ They all were holding pictures.
“There was nothing you could tell them,” Pursley said. “That was the hardest part. What do you tell them?”
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