OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – September 11, 2001, is considered the day the world stopped turning, as terrorists attacked the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and the heart of the United States.
22 years later, northeast Wisconsin continues to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who tragically lost their lives just by showing up to work.
Three longtime New York City firefighters who worked at Ground Zero during and after the events of 9/11 were featured speakers at the EAA Aviation Center in Oshkosh on Monday night, where they told their stories of heroism and bravery.
Local 5 News caught up with Matthew Nelson, a recently retired member of the New York City Fire Department, who talked a little more on the somber day.
“It was a bittersweet moment,” explained Nelson. “My first day as Captain was on 9/11, and I was pulled out of my firehouse and sent to a different firehouse because they separate the guys when you get promoted, so somebody had to fill my position, and he got killed with the rest of the company that day.”
Nelson admitted he suffered from survivor’s guilt, a response to an event in which someone else experienced loss, but he did not.
“I was happy to be promoted, but it was hard to be happy with all that going around you,” added Nelson. “That day, we were really overwhelmed. It was kind of like the movie Independence Day because you had no idea what was going on.”
One thing that stood out to Nelson was seeing F-16 Fighting Falcons flying around Manhattan, something that was surreal. Additionally, he and a lot of Americans that day felt defeated and at a loss.
“You don’t want to say I think we were going to give up because we never were, but looking around, I go, ‘There’s no way we’re going to dig out of this.’ Looking at 220 stories of combined buildings that were a total of 50 feet tall but pulling together, we did,” stated Nelson.
The aftermath of 9/11 was another struggle Nelson endured, as he was constantly busy with his job, cleaning up the debris, and attending the funerals of his fallen friends.
“It was hard to mix it all together and make time for anything,” added Nelson. “Our families for the surviving members suffered because I didn’t see my kids for two months.”
Despite the harrowing morning, Nelson told Local 5 News that the resistance of the American people stood out, and that is something he will never forget.
“The support they gave us, it was incredible to see,” said Nelson. “Day in and day out for three months around the perimeter [of Ground Zero], they would set up music bands, flyers, billboards, banners, welcoming you.”
Nelson was joined on stage by Charles Blaich and Steven San Filippo during EAA’s ‘Never Forget’ event.