It was a beautiful morning, typical of early September. The bright and warm sun rose slowly and steadily, burning away the few wisps of clouds that still lingered in the sky. Summer vacation was over, the kids were back to school, and the roads were clogged with buses and commuters.
I was twenty-three years old, a brand new State Investigator for the NJ Attorney General’s Office. Like most mornings, I rose early and headed into work—a high-rise in downtown Newark, NJ.
By 8:30am I was at my desk. A few minutes later, I was in Joe Palaia’s office (my supervisor at the time) talking to him about a case I was working. Halfway through our conversation, the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The initial reports were chaotic, and at one point everyone thought the aircraft was just a small Cessna.
I remember thinking, “What an idiot. How the hell, on a bright sunny day, does a pilot not see the World Trade Centers?”
But then the second plane hit, and we knew. This wasn’t an accident it was terrorism and we were under attack.
Our eyes were glued to the television, and we watched in horror as acrid back smoke billowed up from both towers. Thousands of people were trapped inside the two buildings unable to find a safe path through the hellish fires. Some found their escape from the burning inferno by jumping to their death. What a horrible choice they were forced to make.
That day we all witnessed images that have been seared into our memories.
Soon, there were reports of bombs detonating at the Treasury Department and the Supreme Court (which turned out to be false) and then of an explosion at the Pentagon—another hijacked plane, Flight 77.
A few minutes later, the WTC South Tower collapsed. And then Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
At this point, I was in my car, unsure of what or where the next target was going to be. Several minutes later, I pulled over on the NJ Turnpike to watch in horror as the WTC North Tower fell.
2,977 innocent people died.
Several days later, I donated money to a charity established for Police and Fireman that had been killed or were missing. In return for the donation, I received a thin blue bracelet with the name of an NYPD Officer etched into it: John D’Allara. At that time, he was still listed as “Missing.” But the cold hard truth was he was dead.
Below is a picture of the blue bracelet I received and the silver one I had made when it cracked a few years ago.
This is officer John D’Allara.
And this was his obituary.
“John D’Allara of Pearl River, NY a NYPD Emergency Service Police Officer with truck 2 died September 11, 2001 as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Born August 1954 in New York City to John D’Allara and Helen Diamond D’Allara. He was educated in the Bronx, NY and graduated from Lehman College in 1978. He earned his Masters Degree in Physical Education from Lehman College in January 1988. John lived in Pearl River since moving from Yonkers, NY in January 1990. He worked for the New York City Police Department for 18 years, starting in the Transit Police, then Bronx Task Force and finally, The Elite Emergency Service Unit. He was a certified EMT, Notary, Scuba Diver, Volunteer Firefighter with The Pearl River Hook and Ladder, and held a teaching Certificate. John loved to learn and loved to teach. He had a lot of different interests. He was on The Youth Fitness Team at Columbus HS and also competed in Judo. He was a body builder who trained out of Mid City Gym and competed in Mr. New York City, Mr. America and various other body building competitions. He was a teacher at Park West H.S. and Columbus H.S. before becoming a Police Officer. He loved being an “E-man” and enjoyed rescuing people, animals, anything or anybody who needed him. He rescued our dog, Sheba from The Animal Shelter and she turned out to be the Best Dog Ever! His sons inherited his love of animals and he frequently brought them to the Bronx Zoo, Reptile Shows and local Pet Stores. He was a devoted son, loving husband and father, dedicated Police Officer, Great Friend and one of the “Good Guys” with a wonderful sense of humor who was able to make a difference in the lives of the people he touched. He rushed into The World Trade Center to help, because that’s what he did, who he was , a hero who would willingly lay down his life to save someone else. May he rest in Peace together with all who perished in the WTC tragedy. He was loved by many and is missed by all. Married for 13 years he leaves wife Carol and 2 sons John 7 and Nicholas 3, his mother Helen and father John, his twin brother Daniel and his wife Angela, mother in law and father in law Nina and Nicholas Cautillo, sisters in law and brothers in law, aunts, uncles, cousins and nephew William. A Memorial Mass will be held Saturday, November 10, 2001 at 11:00AM at St. Aedan’s Roman Catholic Church, Pearl River, NY.”
I have worn John’s bracelet every day for the last seventeen years as a reminder of his selfless act of courage and bravery.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Officer John D’Allara died while helping strangers. How much greater was his love?
In 2004, I joined the U.S. Secret Service (Newark Field Office). I started every day the same; I put on my gun, my badge and then my thin blue bracelet adorned with Officer John D’Allara’s name. Not a day went by that I didn’t look down and see his name on my right wrist.
In 2008, I was transferred to the New York City Field Office. I ended up living in Lower Manhattan. Battery Park to be specific. In a building with a direct view into the pits of where the Twin Towers once stood. There were many nights I would sit at the window, staring down into those two, deep dark holes, humbled by the thought of John’s heroic sacrifice and equally saddened by the massive loss of life.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I met someone who knew John D’Allara. I was the Lead Transportation agent for the visit of the President of Iran to New York City and the United Nations General Assembly (this was my second consecutive year protecting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I wrote about the first time HERE). It was our second day, and I was making my morning rounds, briefing everyone on the upcoming movements. On this day, we were assigned an NYPD ESU team—five, heavily armed men. I hoped up in their truck and started talking to their team leader. A burly man, with a thick neck and knotted arms. As I spoke, I noticed his eyes drift towards the bright blue bracelet on my wrist.
“Whose name is that,” he asked, pointing to it.
“John D’Allara,” I replied.
His eyes narrowed.
“Did you know him?” I asked.
He didn’t have to answer. The welled up tears in his eyes said it all. He went on to tell me how he and John had worked together in ESU. They had been good friends. He said even after all of these years John’s death was still a tough pill to swallow. He then told me about John’s wife, Angela, and their two kids, John and Nicholas. I listened and thanked him for sharing a little bit of John’s life with me. Afterward, I found a quiet place away from everyone else and said a prayer for John’s soul and the well-being of his family.
John’s death left an empty hole not only with the men and woman of the NYPD but also with his family and small children.
Officer John D’Allara’s name will be on my wrist until the day I die. A small reminder to myself, and those who notice it, of his ultimate sacrifice.