News 12 at 11 o'clock/ Wednesday, September 11, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- September 11th isn't just about remembering those who died that day. It's also about honoring those who lived it.
We've all heard about the brave fir-fighters and police officers, but another group was on the front lines with those first responders; a group appropriately called "New York's Strongest".
"We all just stood out there in the parking lot looking in amazement that this was happening," said New York Sanitation worker James Knight.
Knight worked for the Sanitation Department in New York City from 1985 until 2005, when he retired and moved to Augusta.
He remembers that day like it was yesterday, as he watched the south tower fall to the ground.
"About a hundred people were running down the street towards our garage," he recalled.
But for James that's not where his story begins. For him it was the next day, September 12th.
"They asked anybody that wanted to go down and volunteer," he said. "They needed volunteers so I volunteered right off the bat.'
James headed straight to Ground Zero.
"I remember the smell it was just burning," he explained. "You're eyes would water up real quick."
It was the place he would work for the next nine months.
"You just don't believe it. Even though you're working there you're still looking around like 'God I don't believe this'," he said.
They started out assisting the first responders. "Certain areas within Ground Zero had to be cleared up and swept up so that the firemen could get their equipment in there," said Knight.
Then it became a clean up effort
"You never knew what was gonna be in it. They had certain places to take it to and people would sift through it," he explained.
He picked up computers, personal items like wallets, and parts of the building, but mixed up in all of that he found something he'll never forget.
"It hit me so hard I just started breaking down crying because they said it was a little girls arm and right away I thought of my daughter," he said.
Knight also lost a cousin in the towers
"Ladder 39 Unit 1 New York City Fire Department," said Knight.
Today, he keeps a piece of the tower that fell off his truck and his hard hat signed by people he met along the way.
"People do really care. When situations like this happen people do really come together and they really stand side by side and they work together to bring closure," said Knight.
He says it's still hard some days. He did go through a city detox program for physical and mental health and says that helped a lot.
To him he says some of the true unsung heroes were the Red Cross volunteers. The ones that fed them, brought them supplies and helped them with their stress.