Residents gather for moving 9/11 memorial at JJC
BY BRIAN STANLEY firstname.lastname@example.org September 11, 2012 11:48AM
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:28PM
JOLIET — Police and fire personnel joined with Joliet Junior College students to recognize the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks Tuesday morning.
The Joliet Fire Pipes and Drums, Joliet Police Honor Guard and Will County Sheriff’s Rifle Squad marked the ceremony at the belltower near the Proux Center entrance.
As lights from police cars and emergency vehicles flashed, the American flag was raised and then lowered to half-staff. After “God Bless America” was sung, the bell tolled to represent the end of watch for the fallen first responders before the crowd held a moment of silence for all the victims.
After the ceremony, Grundy County Coroner John W. Callahan spoke to students about the two weeks he spent identifying bodies from the World Trade Center.
Callahan is a member of the region’s Department of Mortuary Recovery and Operations Team that was sent to New York nine days later. The 10 federal teams consist of coroners, doctors, nurses, dentists and X-ray technicians called out to assist local agencies during disasters like airline crashes or hurricanes.
“It was strange to fly into a city as large as New York and see it just shut down,” Callahan recalled.
Many bodies were found intact during the early recovery efforts, but things became more difficult as partial remains were discovered.
“At ground zero, the first step was determining whether a bone was human or not. There were restaurants in the buildings and sometimes (other) bones were found,” Callahan said.
If the remains were human they were transferred to other sites for DNA and X-ray analysis. At Pier 92, Callahan saw relatives of missing victims bring hairbrushes and toothbrushes for DNA comparison.
“At another location on Staten Island, rubbish was taken and spread out over an area the size of a football field, which we would literally crawl through on hands and knees to find personal effects. That might be all the family would have of them,” Callahan said.
Such efforts are a reason Callahan believes America remains the greatest nation, and Tuesday was a chance to show respect.
“I see firefighters and police officers here. Those are the true heroes who will run into a burning building. My part was just doing what I do,” he said.