Though stationed in New York, attacks still stun deputy
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks survivors plastered walls in New York City with pictures of loved ones killed when two commercial jets were flown into the World Trade Center.
"The fliers had the pictures, and they put ‘Missing,’" Summit County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Alan Siddoway said Thursday recalling his experiences in Manhattan in the aftermath of the attacks. "For a block there would be fliers plastered literally one to another, and that is a very poignant memory for me."
As chief death investigator at the Sheriff’s Office and a regional commander with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, better known as DMORT, Siddoway has witnessed events best left to nightmares.
"That is why we’re there, that is why we do what we do is to return people to their loved ones," Siddoway said, adding that mortuary teams are comprised of medical experts, police officers, forensic specialists and funeral workers.
DMORT officials are activated by the Department of Health and Human Services during the most horrific catastrophes, he added.
"The mission was to identify human remains and return those remains to the families, and to do it with dignity and respect for the dead," Siddoway said.
This week images from Sept. 11, 2001, still haunt him, he added.
"I’m not glued to the Discovery Channel and watching all the documentaries, but they had the footage of [the plane] going into the second tower and I am still so incredulous that that happened — even today," Siddoway said, adding that he stood on the edge of the hole at Ground Zero shortly after the attack. "I don’t dwell on that and I don’t dwell on my experience there, but I do think about it and I do think about it often."
Nearly 3,000 people were killed Sept. 11 when four planes struck New York City, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
Among the dead were almost 350 firefighters, according to a New York Times report, which states that entire fire crews were killed responding to the attacks.
Siddoway recalled pausing to salute the corpses of firefighters and police officers brought to his morgue in Manhattan.
"Everything stopped at the morgue and we would go out and line up and salute while the remains were taken out of the ambulance," Siddoway said. "Out of respect because the members of service were going in when everybody else was coming out."
Admitting he was not there for the immediate horror of Sept. 11, Siddoway says he was helping to identify the bodies of victims in downtown Manhattan with dental records, DNA samples and personal effects within two weeks of the attacks.
"A 110-story building was toppled at the height of the morning," he said, adding that meat inside restaurants in the towers complicated recovery efforts. "You had to sort the non-human from the human remains."
Attacks must not be forgotten
Despite challenges being faced by American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq that have divided the nation politically, Siddoway insisted, "We are more unified as a nation than we were before 9/11."
"We can’t forget what happened that day," he continued. "We need to be vigilant in protecting our homeland security."
‘Prioritize your life’
"I have a greater appreciation for what I have at home," Siddoway said anticipating the Sept. 11 5-year anniversary on Monday.
He was stationed a year ago with a DMORT crew in Louisiana responding to Hurricane Katrina, but says it’s difficult to compare America’s largest natural disaster with the nation’s most brutal terror attack.
"The devastation of lives and property in Katrina was more cataclysmic, but 9/11 was an attack on our country that was unprecedented and it cut us to the quick as Americans," he said. "I am so grateful that I am home and not somewhere deployed. All I can think of is a year ago, where I was and the conditions. I am so grateful to go to my son’s football game."
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The Summit County health director said he expects members of the general public to be eligible to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 in a matter of weeks.