Ground Zero Volunteer Reflects on Bin Laden Death - NBC New York

New York City and the nation mark 16 years since the Sept. 11 attacks

Ground Zero Volunteer Reflects on Bin Laden Death



    Nearly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, a volunteer who helped search for remains at the WTC goes back to mark Osama bin Laden's death. (Published Saturday, May 7, 2011)

    When Mike Ballone heard the news of Osama bin Laden's killing, the burly Seneca Falls, N.Y. resident knew he needed to take a trip back to ground zero, where he served as a civilian volunteer following the 9/11 attacks.

    This time, Ballone drove a mobile memorial -- a traveling tribute to the firefighters who were killed in an attack planned by bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader.

    Ballone says he spent more than 250 consecutive days after Sept. 11 sifting through the mangled steel and concrete looking for victims. He helped recover the remains of many firefighters and civilians.

    "I think for everyone that worked down there -- 1 percent was physical," he said. "It was 99 percent emotional."

    Ballone was so moved by the experience that he bought a used fire truck two years ago. On the truck's red facade, he meticulously stenciled the names of all 343 FDNY members killed in the 9/11 attacks.

    Wednesday night, he drove that fire truck to Liberty Street near ground zero, so the traveling memorial could be there Thursday when President Obama laid a wreath at ground zero to commemorate the killing of bin Laden.

    First responders and family members of victims often speak out first when there is major terrorism news, but Ballone and other 9/11 civilian volunteers are beginning to share their reflections on the death of a terror mastermind.

    Robert Crawford, a former school transportation chief who helped get frightened kids home after the towers fell, said the raid on bin Laden's compound demonstrates the nation's enduring commitment to a cause.

    "It is a goal in which America set out and now it is a completed goal. Mission accomplished," said Crawford.

    The ladder atop the memorial fire truck has a painted slogan that reads "Never Forget." Ballone says the killing of bin Laden, 10 years after his most evil crime, proves America has kept her promise to remember. 

    "It's just justice," Ballone said.