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NOT ONLY A PLACE, 'GROUND ZERO IS IN US ALL'

In presenting a flag he found in the World Trade Center ruins, a rescuer tells of hope.

On Friday, at the annual Run to Remember sponsored by the Hernando County Family YMCA, Andrew T. Caamano, a retired officer with the Bergen County. N.J., Sheriff's Department who now lives with his wife and three children in Spring Hill, presented a U.S. flag to the YMCA. Caamano found the flag on Sept. 12, 2001, near the World Trade Center site. Here is the speech Caamano delivered:

By the early evening hours of September 11th, 2001, and for the next several days, I was on site of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Over the 20-block walk to the scene from where our vehicles were left, we sporadically passed brothers and sisters walking from the site. Each prepared us for what was to come. Without speaking a word, each told the story of men on the brink of collapse. Each face told the story of men and women who had seen too much. Each told the story of physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional exhaustion.

As the hours passed and the reality of what we were bearing witness to began to sink in, we all began to realize that maybe there were no "survivors" to be found. It was as if almost all signs of the thousands of human lives having been present only hours before had somehow disappeared without a trace. Sometime after 4:30 a.m., I and several other men broke off our search to find water and rest. Rest did not come. In time, as the darkness began to give way to morning's first glimpse of light, you could see countless numbers of men and women continuing to move forward. Each of us trying to focus on the task at hand. Each of us in our own protected place in our mind that allowed us to carry on despite what we were witnessing because we knew we have to do something.

As the sun rose on September 12th, 2001, I made my way back to the site. As I walked past the collapsed rubble of World Trade Center Building 7, I saw the dusty gray outlines of stars on what appeared to be an American flag strewn on the sidewalk covered in pulverized concrete, ashes and dust. Without much thought I reached down and grabbed the flag from the ground, shook it off, folded it as best I could and stuffed it into the left leg pocket of my BDUs (battle dress uniform).

As I approached the area which was once the site of the Twin Towers, I joined a double line of men and women that spanned across a 50-yard section of twisted iron and fallen concrete. Overnight, two survivors were found buried deep in the rubble alive. We all stood waiting, occasionally passing equipment up or down the line. A short while later, Sgt. John McLoughlin of the NY/NJ Port Authority Police Department, secured to a stretcher, made his way down the double line of men and women, carefully being passed over and around through the field of devastation, forward to a new beginning, a new life and to his family. At that moment, as I do now, I felt hope. In that moment, I felt as if I had done something.

My story from there goes on as many others. Through the years since, I have thought about what called me away from my wife and my family to join so many others at that site who felt in their heart they needed to be there.

Today I realize that in a way, I am still at Ground Zero. For me, Ground Zero is not only a geographical location in the lower part of Manhattan. Ground Zero isn't a field in Pennsylvania or one side of our nation's Pentagon. Ground Zero is within us all.

For me, Ground Zero is that part of my soul that suffers the pain caused by the actions of those filled with hatred and intolerance. Ground Zero is either the place from which I propel myself forward, or the place in which we dwell in our own hatred and intolerance.

By our choice today to participate in this Run to Remember, eight years after the fall of the Twin Towers, to remember the loss of so many innocent lives and the countless numbers of sufferings caused by this tragic event, I believe we continue to answer the call to do something. And our choices today are truly telling of the kind of individuals we are and the kind of people we aspire to become.

I believe the lesson of 9/11 and the calling for each of us from this tragedy is to continue to allow ourselves the opportunity to grow through the exercise of tolerance and respect of our fellow human beings. I believe it is a call to reject the impulse to accept hatred of our fellow man regardless of our real or perceived differences. It is with these thoughts that I continue on through my life with the hope that one day in the future we may all live in this world in peace, tempered by the understanding that until that time comes, "Freedom is not always Free," and with great good often comes great personal sacrifice. Today we remember those men, women and their families who paid the price for the freedom we enjoy and thank them for their sacrifice.

Today we "Run to Remember."

It is with great honor that I present this flag to the Hernando County Branch of the YMCA for its appropriate display within the facility to continue their mission to honor those who lost their lives and loved ones on September 11th, 2001, and in recognition of this branch's outstanding commitment to the community and families of Hernando County.

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