Scott Zink hasn’t visited the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. He doesn’t know if he ever will.
The now retired New York City police sergeant lived the horror of that day at Ground Zero. He saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center as he drove to the scene. He watched the twin towers cascade to ground from across the street. He choked on the concrete dust. He described the feeling like this: Fill a giant Slurpee cup with sand, tilt your head back and pour it in your mouth.
He doesn’t want to relive it.
“I don’t know if I’m ready, that and I’m worried about revisionist history,” said the 61-year-old Zink who moved to Park City after he retired. “But it’s mostly, I don’t think I’m ready.”
Zink and Hector Soto, a retired New York City Transit worker who now lives in West Haven, shared their stories with schoolchildren and others who stopped by their booths at the “Davis Remembers” 9/11 memorial exhibit sponsored by the Major Brent Taylor Foundation in Farmington. Jennie Taylor started the foundation after her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, was shot and killed in 2018 while serving with the Utah National Guard in Afghanistan.
Twenty-one years ago Sunday, terrorists flew hijacked commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed another in a Pennsylvania field. In all, 2,977 people died that day, including three Utahns.
Mary Alice Wahlstrom, 78, and her daughter, Carolyn Beug, 48, were on the American Airlines plane that flew into the north tower. The two women were returning from a trip to take Beug’s twin daughters to Brown University in Rhode Island.
Brady Howell, a 26-year-old Utah State University graduate, died when another hijacked American Airlines plane crashed into the Pentagon where he was working.
September 11 is a tough day for Zink with all the memories it stirs, though it’s always on his mind. He’s glad to have family around him.
“It’s hard. You think about it every day. It’s impossible not to,” said Zink, who keeps a hunk of one of the planes in his garage.
The 9/11 memorial in New York City features a forest of swamp white oak trees with two square reflecting pools in the center marking where the Twin Towers stood. The names of 2,983 victims are inscribed on 152 bronze parapets on the pools — 2,977 killed in the September 11 attacks and six killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Zink is among police officers, firefighters and others who believe first responders should have been recognized in a separate area at the memorial. His NYPD Emergency Services Unit lost 14 officers.
“Everybody who died there, died there. That is true. It absolutely is true. The big difference is they were going this way, I was going that way,” he said, indicating rescuers were headed in while everyone else headed out. “And then the building collapsed, and then I kept going that way again. Then another building collapsed and I kept going that way.”
Zink wouldn’t be here if he had made it inside the south tower.
Clad in his rescue gear — some of which he still has — he and his team prepared to enter the building. Another police sergeant stopped him because rescuers wanted to evaluate what equipment they might need before sending anyone else inside.
Zink then changed into his SWAT gear to help secure the area in the event of another terrorist attack. He was in the middle of a secondary bomb sweep when he looked up to see the top of south tower shift down and towards him. He ran as fast as he could to an underground garage where a cloud of dust enveloped him, making it so he couldn’t see or breathe.
He made his way back to the command post and prepared to go into the north tower. It collapsed as his team approached. He couldn’t outrun the rushing dust and debris, but was now wearing breathing equipment. He dove under a truck.
Zink and his team spent the next three weeks working 18-hour days searching through the rubble for survivors. Only two people were found trapped in the debris.
Other than the first night when he woke up screaming, Zink said he hasn’t had nightmares about 9/11. He said the police department mandated weekly mental health sessions immediately after the tragedy. He still has a yearly mental and physical health evaluation.
“I’m going to tell you straight out, I’m due for a good three-day breakdown. Who knows when it’s going to happen. But I’m sure it’s going to,” he said.
Zink has shared his 9/11 experiences in schools and other settings. He likes people to hear what happened from someone who was there. And he wants to keep the memory of that day alive so no one forgets.
“History is polished, especially many years after. All the grit and grime is taken off, you have a narrative that comes out. What I always say is it’s my little perspective, one person out of thousands. This is what I saw and what I did,” he said.
While Zink doesn’t have any lingering health effects from the dust, Soto contracted a rare form of cancer in his nose.
A New York City Transit worker, Soto removed debris from the city’s subway system, including the line that serviced the World Trade Center.
“That became my home, 12 hours on, 12 hours off,” he said, adding crews weren’t initially equipped with respirators or face masks.
Six years later, Soto said his nose “completely shut” from breathing the unhealthy dust in the subways. He has since recovered.
In the two decades since 9/11, the number of deaths among survivors and responders — who spent months inhaling the noxious dust, chemicals, fumes and fibers from the debris — has continued creeping up, Scientific American reported last year, the 20th anniversary of the attacks.
Researchers have identified more than 60 types of cancer and about two dozen other conditions that are linked to Ground Zero exposures. More than 4,600 responders and survivors enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program have died.
Soto, 56, said he has a lot of sorrow for the people he worked with and members of his own family who have died as result of their service.
His cousin George Moreno, a police detective, dug through the debris in the landfill looking for anything to help bring closure to a family. His efforts weren’t fruitless. Soto said Moreno found a wedding band with an inscription and was able to return it to the surviving spouse. Moreno died in July 2021 from multiple cancers after a nearly 32-year career with the NYPD.
Soto gets emotional every Sept. 11.
“There’s a lot of pain involved with 9/11. It’s hard to describe. My home, New York, has forever been altered. It’s never the same. It hasn’t been the same and will never be the same. The fact that those two buildings are not there ... when I go back there’s a void in the skyline,” he said.
Soto had plans to visit the 9/11 memorial in New York but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed them. He appreciates events like the 9/11 exhibit in Davis County.
“This gives me an opportunity to be a voice for people that I served with at Ground Zero who are no longer here.”