Face of Defense: Soldier Recalls New York’s 9/11

FORT RILEY, Kan. — A decade ago, then-para­medic Peter Rosie was on his day off hang­ing around his apart­ment in New York City.
Rosie was in his eighth year with the New York City Fire Depart­ment, where he served the res­i­dents of the Harlem com­mu­ni­ty. A phone call from his girl­friend instruct­ing him to turn on the tele­vi­sion caused Rosie to spring into action.

New York's 9/11
Army Staff Sgt. Peter Rosie with the 1st Infantry Divi­sion pulls secu­ri­ty duty dur­ing his unit’s deploy­ment to Iraq in 2009. Rosie had served as a civil­ian para­medic with the New York City Fire Depart­ment dur­ing 9/11.
Cour­tesy pho­to
Click to enlarge

“I saw the first plane hit [the North Tow­er] on the TV. We had a small TV so you could­n’t make out the mag­ni­tude of it,” Rosie recalled. “All I had to do was walk one flight to the roof, and then I saw the sec­ond [plane] hit in front of me. My first thought was, ‘I bet­ter go to work.’ ” 

Today Rosie is an Army staff sergeant serv­ing here with the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Bat­tal­ion, 4th Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment. On Sept. 11, 2001, he expe­ri­enced the hor­ror of the ter­ror­ist attacks on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. 

Rosie is native of Scot­land who’d pre­vi­ous­ly served in the U.S. Army and lat­er with the British Army before join­ing the New York City Fire Depart­ment. On 9/11, he hopped on his son’s bicy­cle to report to Belle­vue Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter. Through­out the fol­low­ing Weeks, the facil­i­ty would be one of New York’s busiest cen­ters to treat the wound­ed and lat­er assist with iden­ti­fy­ing the deceased. 

With­in 10 min­utes Rosie was hand­ed a two-way radio and assigned to a part­ner and an ambu­lance for assis­tance at the World Trade Center. 

“They threw a radio at me and said ‘Here’s your part­ner’ and we start­ed going down [to the WTC],” he said. “All I knew was it was bad.” 

He would soon be a first-hand wit­ness to the sheer mag­ni­tude and dan­ger of the day’s trag­ic events when his ambu­lance began to arrive on the scene just as the South Tow­er [the first of the two tow­ers to col­lapse] began to fall and near­ly struck his vehicle. 

“We were dri­ving into it as it was com­ing down. We’re talk­ing sec­onds,” he said “If we had been a lit­tle bit ear­li­er — goner. Then, it just went black.” 

Rosie recalled that the clos­er they trav­eled to what is now known as “ground zero,” the hard­er it became to keep their bear­ings due to the amount of smoke and falling debris. The first patients he assist­ed includ­ed a police offi­cer suf­fer­ing from a heart attack and anoth­er per­son who’d lost a limb. 

“It was that first trans­port that was the worst,” he said. “We backed up into Belle­vue and there’s just a sea of scrubs, just peo­ple waiting.” 

When Rosie returned to the site, the sec­ond tow­er had also col­lapsed and he recalled how first respon­ders were still attempt­ing to estab­lish a com­mand post and a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tions between emer­gency personnel. 

“By that point, no one knew what was going on,” he said. “We were hear­ing and get­ting all kinds of infor­ma­tion. At one point we thought the Hol­land Tun­nel was blown up.” 

Rosie recalls he func­tioned on “auto-pilot” the rest of the day and ensu­ing night, with numer­ous patient trans­ports to the hos­pi­tal and treat­ing patients’ res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­tress and eye injuries. 

He recalled that smoke would con­tin­ue to rise from the site for weeks and by then emer­gency crews had switched from res­cue mis­sions to recov­ery mis­sions to retrieve the deceased from the debris. 

For the fol­low­ing year when Rosie was­n’t on his sched­uled shift at the fire depart­ment, he would be found vol­un­teer­ing for recov­ery mis­sions at ground zero. 

“For the next year if I was­n’t work­ing at Harlem, then I was work­ing down at ground zero,” he said. “There was a lot of cama­raderie. It was good, but tiring.” 

There were 343 New York City fire­fight­ers who’d lost their lives on 9/11, Rosie said. His expe­ri­ences dur­ing 9/11 in New York City caused Rosie to even­tu­al­ly rejoin the U.S. military. 

“I knew that every­thing had changed,” Rosie said, “and I want­ed to go back into the Army.” 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Rosie’s age was work­ing against him. He was over the Army’s max­i­mum enlist­ment age. How­ev­er, as though fate grant­ed his wish, the pol­i­cy was tem­porar­i­ly changed. Rosie again donned a U.S. Army uni­form after near­ly 26 years. 

“I guess they were get­ting hard up and tak­ing old men,” he chuck­led. Four years lat­er, Rosie finds him­self assigned to the his­toric ‘Big Red One’ here, prepar­ing to embark on his third deploy­ment with the 4th Infantry Brigade Com­bat Team. 

“I thought I had bit off a lit­tle more than I could chew ini­tial­ly. But I per­sist­ed and I end­ed up doing real well,” Rosie said of his suc­cess in achiev­ing the rank of staff sergeant after return­ing to the Army as a specialist. 

Rosie vis­it­ed New York this July. The trip, he said, marked the first time he’d returned to the city since re-enlist­ing in the Army. 

“I don’t think about Sept. 11 too much,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s some sort of cop­ing mech­a­nism, but I think it’s why I nev­er went back to New York [before].”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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