The 69th is called into action after the World Trade Center attack

PART 2 IN A 4-PART SERIES

69th New York veteran Vic Olney, the volunteer manager of the 69th armory's Officers Club, observed the battalion's soldiers last week as they return from duty in and near "The Pit." What he saw and heard both inspired and saddened him.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT (Sept. 12)

Garryowen and Glory from NYC,

It is now 11 PM on Wednesday -- Day II.

I got to the Armory at about 8 AM to relieve Bob Davis -- who was "on duty" from 3 PM yesterday.

The air is thick with smoke and I have picked up little pieces from the returning-soldiers' uniforms. It looks like pressed cardboard but it has some shiny spots in it like glass -- but minuscule. They are covered with it and it seems to be some type of insulation, but with temperatures reported at 16,000 degrees plus it may be petrified whatever.

I see the many faces -- anger, frustration, hate, worn out ... all before their time.

The Soldiers are beat, and it seems that they take forever to walk up less than a flight of stairs to the Drill Floor. I announce to each incoming group -- "Hot Chow and Coffee Downstairs -- latrine to your right and downstairs -- telephones dead ahead and across the street -- Deli across the street -- TV on and cups of water in the O Club to the right." I say it over and over as they climb the steps as they don't seem to hear -- I get many "Thank you, Sir" responses; I also receive just as many blank stares. I see the many faces -- anger, frustration, hate; worn out, and all before their time -- and in less than 24 hours. They can't be kids again.

I feel weak and guilty, as I don't know if I have "what it takes" to do what they do and go back for more; there are so many doing their part in this massive production.

Senior men who know me for decades talk and the insights are brutal -- many are Vietnam, Panama, Grenada or whatever Vets -- tough New York Kids of a generation past. They know the drill and act the part -- and say "Hey, Vic how about a Heineken or a double?" and I tell them when we are operational again, I will be behind the proverbial stick looking for a good tip. Their laughs lie and their bravado flies openly on their disturbed faces -- they are not prepared to do this and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow but they will return because it is their job and their chosen profession to be Guardsmen and Soldiers.

Tired and worn soldiers can sleep anywhere as they sleep the slumber of the unconscious -- these men do after a hasty trip to the latrine and some food for some and a "flop" for all.

I hate to use the elevator for I fear disturbing the men sleeping on the Drill Shed but must, as we need more ice, cups, toilet paper, paper towels from the basement.

Tired and worn soldiers can sleep anywhere.

The Command Sergeant Major of the 69th, Miguel A. Cruzado, is totally in charge of the situation at the Armory as the Battalion Commander, LTC Geoffrey A. Slack, and XO MAJ Jose A. Obregon lead the men of the Battalion into Dante's (Inferno). I can only comment on what I saw at the Armory -- total organization, discipline, security, organization and a determined will to get the job done -- CSM Mike Cruzado did just that!

Pity his time with the 69th is up very shortly -- he will be missed. I know Mike for 20 years -- he is a "true son of the Fighting 69th"!

The word comes in that the families of the missing are coming to the 69th Regiment Armory, and the Drill Shed and the whole main floor is commandeered by the Governor's and Mayor's people; Soldiers are relocated to the 2nd Floor and to the basement. I call Barbara and tell her I don't know if I want to see these 2,000 plus faces praying for impossible miracles listening to false hopes delivered by believing politicians.

The CSM tells me that the Main Floor is now in the control of the civilian authorities, and I open the Chaplain's Office for Governor George Pataki and his Staff and leave the Officers Club over to the Mayor's Community Relations Team. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The armory was returned to the National Guard on Saturday. The command post for those seeking missing people, which drew thousands of people to the Armory on Thursday and Friday, was moved to Manhattan's Chelsea Piers].

The shout "Body!" comes from the summit, and all work ceases.

I see my old 69th buddies -- now with the 88th Brigade of New York Guard -- who have returned from the scene. The bottom line is this (rough quote) - there are piles of rubble 100-150 feet high and the people who know what they are doing are at the top. From there is a line of Guardsmen, Police, Firemen, Soldiers and Airmen, etc., and they are handing the dismantled 110-story Twin Towers downward by hand piece by piece - - - - until the shout "body" comes from the summit and all work ceases as the call is relayed downward and a stretcher and body bag is passed up to the top. These professionals at the rubble apex do their work and the stretcher is passed downward hand to hand. The gruesome work then continues.

I get Bob Davis and we head to Poolbeg's Pub a few blocks away to catch up with my oldest daughter, Karen Ann, and her husband, Rich. They both work for Prudential Securities about 10 block from the WTC. They saw everything from the second plane onward -- the crash, the fireball, the collapses -- Rich has half a Bud and must go home as he is still sick from the smoke and debris. (Some members of) Rich's family are Holocaust survivors. They call him from France and say that this is worse!

Tomorrow the 69th and the rest of these American heroes go back to the task at hand. May the God of us all protect them in their work and may they find somewhere, somehow, miracles of survival in this junk pile that once was the symbol of New York and America.

The radio says there is a call for 11,000 body bags.

Your e-mails are pouring in from around the world, and when this settles down I will send them on to you -- it is obvious that our people are resolute in their demand for action. ...

Vic and Barbara Olney

Part 1: Just 'Doing Their Job'

Part 2: Looking for Miracles -- Wednesday Night, Sept. 12

Part 3: The Forlorn Hope -- Thursday, Sept. 13

Part 4: Nothing But Old Glory -- Thursday, Sept. 13 Continued

The late Vic Olney, the proprietor of Tara Hall was a veteran of the 69th New York, and the volunteer manager of the armory's Officers Club. Vic graciously allowed WGT to reproduce these dispatches in 2001, which he previously sent to all on Tara Hall's e-mail update list.

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