Ground Zero volunteer from Sheboygan recalls days after 9/11 attacks

Written by Hannah O’Brien Green Bay Press-Gazette

Speaking at Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, Tony Rajer says he helped distribute food

Tony Rajer of Sheboygan talks Saturday at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County in Green Bay about his experiences in New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. / Hannah O’Brien/Press-Gazette

Nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tony Rajer still gets choked up when he relives his experiences at Ground Zero.

“It’s been 10 years now, and I can’t believe how much has changed and how rapidly things have changed,” Rajer said.

Rajer, of Sheboygan, spoke Saturday about volunteering at Ground Zero to about 40 people at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County in Green Bay.

Rajer had been in Manhattan in September 2001 before the attacks doing art restoration for the American Folk Art Museum.

“My experience with 9/11 is only in New York, and it was only by chance,” he said.

A few days after the terrorist attacks, Rajer signed up with the American Red Cross to volunteer at Ground Zero. He stayed for two weeks.

“There was such a sense of community there. … This (was) the right thing to do — the Christian thing to do,” he said.

Audience members were eager to hear Rajer’s account of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I’m interested in his experience really, because I think we’ve all seen a lot of films and movies, but I don’t know a lot of people with firsthand experience,” said Olive Conley of Green Bay.

Rajer described the anxiety that he experienced in the days after the attacks.

“Our sense of security can be so quickly and easily distorted,” he said.

He explained the history of the World Trade Center towers and outlined details of the attacks. He also showed photos from Sept. 11, 2001, and of the cleanup and rescue efforts in the days following.

“Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust,” he said. “I remember it was surreal. It was like looking at snow.”

He said he couldn’t reach his wife for three to four days after the attacks because the main cellphone tower, which was located on top of the north World Trade Center tower, and some landlines were destroyed.

“It truly was like a war zone in my mind. It was like being on another planet,” he said about rescue crews working under high-intensity lights that illuminated the dust in the air. “I still remember the odor.”

As a Red Cross volunteer, Rajer helped distribute food to crews and people around Ground Zero. Food distribution took from 7 a.m. to about 11 p.m., and then he would deliver donuts and coffee to cops and FEMA personnel.

“As my wife knows, I’m not much of a cook,” he said. “I thought it was ironic that I would be the food distributor at the World Trade Center.”

Rajer said he continues to give talks about 9/11 to schools and interested groups because it’s important that people understand what happened.

“I just hope that young people, and the people that might not remember, that they truly appreciate the history and what happened … and how it so dramatically changed our lives,” he said.

He also showed pictures from a recent trip to New York of the construction of the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero.

“I see it as a memorial, not only to the strength of our communities, but our need to overcome adversities. … We can only overcome them if we work together,” he said.

The Neville Public Museum and the Green Bay and De Pere Antiquarian Society sponsored the event.

3 adults, 4 children displaced after fire ravages Bellevue home

Written by Hannah O’Brien Green Bay Press-Gazette

fighters battle a structure fire at a residence at 2217 Kensington Lane in Bellevue, Sunday, August 28, 2011. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette

BELLEVUE — A fire that likely started in a garage ravaged a house Sunday at 2217 Kensington Lane.

No occupants were home when the fire started, and there were no injuries.

The Bellevue Fire Department was called to the home about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Capt. David Dellemann said the garage was fully engulfed in flames when crews arrived.

 “This was an intense fire. It was always ahead of us,” he said. “The fire was fully involved, which gives the advantage to the fire.”

 The cause of the blaze is unknown, and the house, as well as a vehicle inside the garage, appear to be a total loss.

 The Northeast Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross said it is assisting the family of three adults and four children.

 The property is owned by Chi Nguyen and valued at $187,700, according to Brown County land records.

 The fire is the second in Bellevue in four days. A trailer home on Bellevue Street is a total loss after it was engulfed in flames Thursday afternoon.

hobrien@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow her on Twitter @HannOBrien.