"9/11 Forever Changed My Life"
Being a patriotic American I ran into the World Trade Centers on 9/11/2001, on the morning of the most horrific day in American history.
At the time, thinking this was an accident, I ran into a life-changing situation, traumatizing myself in ways I never thought possible.
All I knew is that I needed to help others who were in danger.
I would do anything for my fellow man, even risk my own life to save others, as countless heroes did. I had no choice, this is how I was brought up.
I am human, tough, and a strong marine. In my heart, I knew I was where I had to be.
It was my duty to help.
There were hundreds of thousands of people who fled lower manhattan in fear that morning, as I ran towards the burning towers, without knowing the sacrifice I would soon be making.
Standing in the hallway of the North Tower I witnessed the most horrific event in American history, seeing thousands of people killed before my eyes.
I saw men and women leaping to their deaths from inside the burning inferno, it staggered my soul.
As a survivor, I chose to fight and never had one thought of running scared, it was my moment in life to prove what I was made of.
Staying five and a half days with no sleep, no rest, no food, and digging, in the dark, it was always dark, there was so much smoke, and dust covering every inch of everything around me.
Working bucket brigades in the rubble, on the pile, in the cold wet weather, my eyes were burning as well as my feet from standing none stop, time stood still.
I worked alongside firefighters, police officers, iron workers, and my fellow brothers in the battle to save lives.
I worked through the pain, and mental torture, and I would not quit.
I saw things, touched things, and did things that no one should ever have to experience in their life, these images haunt me on a daily bases.
Altogether, 2977 people were killed when the towers collapsed and over 2000 rescue workers have died from cancers from that horrific terrorist attack, with tens of thousands who are still ill and suffering.
Still, I felt I had to do more, being a filmmaker I decided my way of helping would be producing a documentary, telling these heroic stories, of patriotism, titled The Rise - Americas Unsung Heroes.
A story that covers the families of the lost and forgotten, our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, firefighters, police officers, ironworkers, pipefitters, teamsters, crane operators, restauranteurs, priests, pastors, patriots and so many others, all heroes from around this great country, around the world, all who participated on or after 9-11-2001 in one way or another, who were affected by this tragedy the way I am.
After four years of filming, I became ill myself, suffering from cancer, neuropathy, PTSD, and other 9/11-related illnesses, ending up in the hospital on life support, in ICU.
Facing an uncertain future, I awoke one morning to find a few ironworkers shaking me awake, Billy and Kevin asking how they could help.
Breaking down, I apologized for my failure in not being able to finish the film, for letting them down, so sorry my illnesses were winning, I had failed you all, pleading for them to forgive me.
" Responding with nothing can keep you down Kenny, when you hit the ground, the ground gets hurt. You're a fighter, don't you quit on us. "
This broke my heart, and strangers I barely knew had come to see me, encouraging me on, telling me how important this project was to them as well.
Promising to keep fighting, I was down to 138 lbs down from 280 lbs, they saw I was in dire straights, and they filled me with hope and positive comments.
Months later, still in the hospital, recovering from many surgeries, once again I asked my friends how they could help me out. Explaining to them I was unable to finish the project, and that I had spent most of my money on health issues, I was offered a solution.
The ironworkers would now provide me with scrap steel from the Freedom Tower, using this rare and sacred steel I could create something special, to honor the people who suffered on 9-11-2001 and finish our film.
Now my problem was, how was I going create something special out of scrap steel and what?
Months later I was introduced to the man who sculpted the Iron Cross that stands at Ground Zero today, replacing the original, that was placed in the 9/11 Museum, it was the artist, the sculptor Jon Krawczyk.
Together, we would go on to create A Piece of Freedom.
A sacred, historical memento, representing the American spirit, full of love, diversity, unity, and sacrifice.
Creating something so precious has changed my life, once again for the positive, giving me a new perspective on life, and how this medallion would affect others. Just holding one has brought smiles, tears, hugs, love, kindness, and loving comments from all who have received them.
Just holding the box, gives a chill that flows through the body, when opening it for the first time.
Thank you all of you, for your phone calls, emails, and texts, you continue to bring tears to my eyes with your gratitude, and love of A Piece of Freedom, I am so humbled by your love, and thanks for letting me know the American Dream of Freedom is still alive and well in our hearts.
God Bless you all, and God Bless America.
- Kenneth Simmons