World Trade Center Heroism ‘s report on 9/11/01.

Aquarian Weekly 10/31/01 REALITY CHECK

9/11/01 Part V HUMANITY LOST One Man’s Heroism in the Face of Historic Tragedy

Glenn Russo, a 41 year-old Lodi resident, settled into his desk on the 49th floor of the World Trade Center’s tower two around 8:30 on the morning of 9/11/01. He expected to make a phone call he’d made countless times over the four plus years he’d acted as client manager for an insurance brokerage firm. Maybe he expected the call would last two minutes, or even twenty. He certainly did not expect that within an hour he would be contemplating his own death in a sea of debris, smoke and billowing fire.

“I heard what I initially believed was an explosion,” he remembers. “I told the person on the phone to hang on a minute, walked to the window, and saw desks and metal and glass falling out of black smoke.”

Tower one was on fire some twenty stories above his head, so Glenn Russo thought it might be a good idea to round up his fellow employees for a leisurely stroll down and out of the building. He did not expect it to be a panic-sprint straight out of a B-grade disaster flick.

“People didn’t understand at first,” he sighs. “They were actually arguing with me, saying they needed to get their keys or a laptop. There were announcements that our tower was safe, but I knew what I saw out my window, and it wasn’t good.”

“I could clearly visualize my son. I thought to myself ‘I will never see him again’. I was preparing for the end.”

The image of office furniture plummeting toward the street in a swirl of black soot and flames was enough to convince many of his fellow employees that an orderly exit was necessary. And upon the rhythmic decent down the stairs toward the elevators on the 44th floor, Glenn Russo found a woman named Christal Putkowski, gripping a cane, and hobbling toward the security guard who would not allow even women needing replacement surgery on both knees to use the elevator.

Glenn Russo did not expect to see his late father standing there. “

As soon as I saw her I thought of my dad,” he says.

His father had suffered from diabetes, was a double-amputee, and lived his remaining years in a wheel chair. “I knew very well how to respond to someone who needed assistance,” he continues. “All that time with my dad, I knew how to speak and how to act. It was natural to me, so I just told her, ‘I’ll protect you.’

In a letter of gratitude written to Russo’s company, Marsh & McLennan dated 9/17, Mrs. Putkowski recalls: “Imagine a stranger saying “I will protect you’, a statement he made more than once.” It is a letter she filled with words like “gallant” and “courageous” to describe Glenn Russo’s ensuing actions.

“I had this running conversation with her,” Russo recounts. “We talked about our children, her teenage daughters and my five year-old son. We talked about our jobs, offices, anything to make the growing chaos around us seem normal.”

With a frightened woman in his arms, and people bellowing from behind to move aside or hurry up — and the anxiety of hundreds of people, now convinced that danger was imminent, careening down — Glenn Russo took each step, one at a time, for nearly fifteen excruciatingly long minutes.

He did not expect a commercial airliner to suddenly slam into the building he was carefully trying to flee.

“The stairwell shook,” he remembers. “I thought it was still just debris from the other tower.”

People rushed and pushed and crammed past their polite conversation and the step-by-step escape that must have seemed like a slow motioned crawl to everyone else.

“We made it to the special-handicap elevators on the 40th floor,” Russo recalls.

Once outside, any thoughts he’d harbored of a clear, welcomed freedom were smashed by the utter devastation, panic and death between them and any kind of safety.

Glenn Russo did not expect the building he was just sitting in minutes ago to be tumbling down around him.

“The two of us walked slowly under a canapé on Cortlandt Street,” Russo recounts. “The whole place was being deluged with debris.”

“He instructed me to keep my eyes closed and my head down,” Mrs. Putkowski writes.

The sound of blaring sirens, screeching tires and pitched screams were everywhere, the smoke was thick and burned his eyes, but through his wincing glare Glenn Russo could see people being hit by falling metal and brick, dying instantly, others sheltering their heads, some standing shell-shocked and crying.

He didn’t expect to see what happened next.

“These amazingly brave cops, rescue workers and firefighters were appearing out of nowhere, running toward the chaos,” he said. “I could not believe it.”

It was then that Glenn Russo didn’t expect to live. “I thought right then we were going to die at any moment,” he remembers.

“I could clearly visualize my son. I thought to myself ‘I will never see him again’. I was preparing for the end.”

After two or three minutes of this, Glenn Russo told Mrs. Putkowski, trembling beside him, and three women looking on stunned, that they should simply, “Make a run for it.”

So, with a deep breath and a little prayer, and the tallest building in the world’s largest city literally falling from the sky, Glenn Russo, locked arm and arm with a woman he’d met less than fifteen minutes earlier, and walked toward Broadway.

It was a walk he’d taken everyday; clear sunny days, blustery snow days, brisk autumn afternoons. He didn’t expect his next walk would be through a war zone.

“We made it alright,” he remembers. “Chrissy said to me, ‘You saved my life. I owe you lunch.'” And with a breath of tenuous relief, Glenn Russo sent Mrs. Putkowski in the direction of her home; Staten Island, away from the death and the sirens, and set about securing his own life.

“I made it down to City Hall just in time to watch my tower come down,” he says, hesitating over the horrific reality of that image. “And my heart ripped out.”

Glenn Russo, only moments before, chatting on the phone in his chair at his desk in that huge building a few blocks away, did not expect to see it disappear.

So he staggered toward a curb, nearly blinded and teetering on the brink of utter shock, and watched humanity take hold. “I saw New York City responding everywhere I looked,” he remembers. “People of every race and ethnicity caring, hugging and carrying each other; offering water, shelter, anything they could. I was so moved by it.”

And Glenn Russo could no longer contain the calm and bravado he’d mustered from somewhere. Sitting on a curb near Union Square Park, he broke down.

A man asked him if he needed water. More caring. It touched him deeply.

There were 1,700 employees of Marsh & McLennan and its subdivisions, Marsh USA Inc. Guy Carpenter, Mercer and Seabury & Smith on the morning of 9/11/01. Today nearly 300 are gone. There would be more, if not for Glenn Russo, who picked up his phone to make a call on a Tuesday morning, not unlike any other Tuesday morning, in a building he truly loved for its view and immensity.

He didn’t expect that it could be no more.

He didn’t expect to face death long before lunchtime.

He didn’t expect to be a hero.

Mrs. Christal Putkowski still has to buy him that lunch. But there will be time for that.

“We’re friends now,” Russo says. “We talk everyday. There is a bond there. It will always be there.”

“In the wake of horror,” Mrs. Putkowski wrote in her letter. “Good always surfaces.”

Amidst the loss of humanity, there is humanity found, perhaps a humanity that is never noticed, or even expected. Glenn Russo expects it now.

Something Christal Putkowski cannot deny.


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