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Remembering 9/11: Northwest Ohio first responders recount their experience at Ground Zero

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn went to New York as a Perrysburg police officer along with three Toledo firefighters after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

TOLEDO, Ohio — After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans came together in so many ways to help. That includes northwest Ohio, where several first responders went to New York to lend a hand.

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn was a sergeant with the Perrysburg Police Department at the time. He said he remembers exactly when he heard the news.

"When they announced a second plane had hit the other tower and it was a jet, I knew our country was under attack," he said.

After seeing it on TV, he knew he wanted to go help and he wasn't the only one from the Toledo area.

"We volunteered," retired Toledo Fire and Rescue battalion chief Jerry Takats said. "We wanted to go, do our part and see what we can do. That's what firemen do."

Wasylyshyn went to the World Trade Center site with retired officer Jim Williams. Toledo firefighters Takats, David Meegan and Rick Syroka also drove 12 hours to help. All the men said seeing Ground Zero was indescribable.

"Hell on earth, believe me," Meegan said.

"It was like a 'Twilight Zone' episode where you have one of the largest cities in the world, no other humans were there," Wasylyshyn said. "The heavy gray dust on everything, all the cars parked there..."

"(There were) walls of pictures of missing people," TFRD deputy chief of operations Rick Syroka said. "It was just tremendous."

"You know you smell jet fuel, you smell bodies," Takats added. "All that came into play."

The firefighters spent several days there helping to search for victims in a morbid reality.

"It was called the bucket brigade," Meegan added. "You followed a cadaver dog around and when he stopped in an indication that someone could be there, we'd start digging."

Wasylyshyn did a number of tasks from patrolling Time Square to security checks at the United Nations. He and other officers from across the country helped fill the backlog and offer some rest to NYPD officers, who were working with close to no breaks. He stressed that his New York brothers in blue, first responders and the New York community welcomed them with open arms. Their cooperation and unity was evident.

"There were apartment buildings from top to bottom, American flags on almost every window," he added.

Takats and the others said America came together in that time in a way we have only seen a few times.

"Every year on the anniversary, you have to bring it up," he said. "There were people that weren't born who need to see this. This is history."

"We saw a glimpse of what America should be and we need to get back to that," Meegan added.

Twenty years later, the attacks are a reminder that we are all Americans and we all can never forget.


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