MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Many former New York City Police Department officers who were on the ground on Sept. 11, 2001 are now living and working in South Florida, protecting our children in schools.
One of them is Frank Frangella, the chief of safety and security for the Martin County School District.
We all remember exactly where we were on 9/11, but this current generation of high schoolers was not even born yet. And that's why it's so important to share the stories of those who lived through it.
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"There were many stories that came out of 9/11. Today, I will read you mine. It's simply titled, 'I Was There,'" Frangella told Air Force JROTC cadets at Martin County High School on Monday.
On this 22nd anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Frangella, a former NYPD officer and now the safety and security chief for the Martin County School District, shared his story out loud for the first time.
"It's tough. Every year around this time, you think it would get easier, but it doesn't. But I was happy to share with the ROTC here. It was an amazing experience. The first time I ever experienced that, and it was humbling," Frangella said.
Frangella spoke to Martin County High School Air Force JROTC cadets about the moments that changed our nation.
"You know what to expect, but when you see it in person, it's overwhelming. And the hopes of finding someone alive, that didn't happen," Frangella said. "It became a recovery pretty quick."
The students hanging on every word.
"As the ferries began pulling to the docks one after another, it quickly became apparent that no one — not a single injured person or anyone else — was on board. We realized that no one would be coming," Frangella told the cadets.
"It's just a crazy perspective. I can't imagine what it was like to be there," said Cadet Major Frank Reilly, the squadron commander for the JROTC. "All we have really are the videos and stories of people who have been through it."
"For the first time in my life, something had frightened me deeply," Frangella told the students.
Frangella said his months spent at ground zero shape the way he tackles school safety.
"I may be a little overly involved because of what I've seen. But I don't think it's much different than any one of my colleagues around the state. We all take the approach. I try to take it that this is my family. These kids are my kids, these staff members are my family, and I'm going to do everything I can to keep them safe," Frangella said.
What he wants this generation to take away from 9/11 is the hope that rose through the ashes.
"There was a lot of unity during 9/11 and I would love to see that happen again," Frangella said.
"It teaches us that we can do anything, no matter what the hardship. If we come together, we can shine through," Reilly said.
And to never forget.
"It is said that time heals all and memories fade, but I still wait," Frangella said in his speech.
A wait that he said will never end.