The 20 years after the events of Sept. 11 have not translated into 20 years of healing for Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss. The tragedy that struck the nation in 2001 still resonates as he reflects on the last two decades.
“People say that time heals all wounds; that’s not the case,” he said in an interview on Friday. “Every year It’s seems to get more and more difficult, because we continue to lose more people. Because 9/11 is not going away anytime soon.”
Strauss was a detective with the Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD in 2001, taking a train home to Long Island that Tuesday morning like any other day. When he heard the news, he went back to Manhattan.
Assigned to the rescue operation after the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, Strauss and his unit went into the debris for hours amid the smoke and turmoil to search for survivors.
Completely covered in dust, Strauss and his team found Port Authority Officer Will Jimeno lying 30 feet beneath the wreckage, calling out for his partner. Jimeno was pulled to safety hours later in what Strauss describes as a situation where he had no other option but to focus on the task at hand.
“We thought we were still under attack,” Strauss said. “Everyone that wasn’t involved in the rescue or recovery attempt was able to watch on TV, live with commentators. I couldn’t tell if the jets flying above us were there to protect us or hurt us.”
After Jimeno was recovered, his partner, Sgt. John McLoughlin, was recovered as well, alive despite injuries.
It was these rescue and recovery efforts that earned Strauss the NYPD’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.
Despite all the horror of that day, Strauss said he likes to remember good that came out of it. He spoke about Operation Yellow Ribbon, where towns in Canada surrounding airports practically doubled their population in a day as airspaces were cleared and planes had to make emergency landings.
Because of the closures of bridges and tunnels, a large boat lift in lower Manhattan carried people to safety. Strauss said that moments like these reflect how much good can come from people during an ordeal.
“I would never want to have another Sept. 11,” he said. “But I would love to have another Sept. 12.”
Strauss recalled the days, weeks and months after the terror attacks when the country was galvanized and people were in step with each other, undivided. He said it is something he wants younger people, who don’t have their own memories of the day, to research in order to keep alive the memories of those who were lost.
“It doesn’t have to be stories of rescuers or first responders,” he said. “Talk to your parents, grandparents or friends who were old enough about what they felt and what they went through.”