MURRELLS INLET—Capt. Thomas Damore had a day off from his job as a New York City fireman on Sept. 11, 2001. Then he received a phone call that changed his life.
“A friend who was a fellow firefighter called and told me ‘I bet you’re glad you’re not working today,” Damore recalls. “I turned on the TV and saw the devastation at the World Trade Center and I knew I had to get down there.”
Damore told the story of what he experienced that day to a crowd of more than 300 people who attended a memorial ceremony at St. Michael Church on the evening of Sept. 11.
The event, sponsored by Knights of Columbus Assembly 2107, included patriotic music, prayer and a tribute to current and former first responders and military from the Grand Strand area.
A parishioner of St. Michael, Damore opened the ceremony by placing the helmet he wore while working at “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan on a table with other mementoes from the World Trade Center.
Damore said he and six men from Engine Company 48 in the Bronx rushed to the scene after learning of the terrorist attacks.
“I’ve never been to war but what I saw down there was the closest thing to it that I can think of,” he said. The air was thick with dust and smoke, which also coated the ground, vehicles, structures, and the people who milled about in the chaos.
As soon as they could, he and other firefighters and first responders went to work looking for survivors, climbing over and around piles of twisted metal and concrete.
“We went to a command post and the chief that was operating it told me to get my guys together and we were assigned a certain area of the rubble to try and search,” Damore said. “We found some open spaces, some voids where we were able to have somebody climb down and look for anyone alive, but we were not able to find anyone. As the day went on, it was evident this was going to become a recovery operation.”
After 9/11, Damore split his time between shifts at his Bronx station and helping with the recovery operation at Ground Zero. He worked there for a total of 50 days, and vividly recalls what happened every time the first responders found the body of a victim.
“Whenever someone was found, an announcement was made and all work stopped at the site,” he said. “Whether it was an intact body or just a fragment, everyone was treated with the utmost respect. The person was placed on a gurney and covered with an American flag, and then everybody saluted as they were carried to an ambulance.”
Damore retired from the fire department in December 2002 and his family moved to Murrells Inlet in 2006. His wife Veronica Damore teaches second grade at St. Michael School, and his two daughters — Sophia, 14, and Diana, 16 — attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Myrtle Beach.
Although it has been 18 years since the attacks, Damore said he still remembers it like yesterday.
“When 9/11 rolls around, I think back to the devastation and the friends I lost — guys I had worked with and played ball with,” he said. “I also still think about all the people we’re still losing because they have become sick from the toxic debris. I’m very lucky that I have not gotten sick from working down there.”
Damore said his faith was definitely tested after Sept. 11, but it still remains strong because of the response he saw from others.
“You can see God when good things do come out of even the worst events,” he said. “It took months and years for all that hate to develop and that kind of terrorism to be planned, but love responded in an instant. I saw all the love of New Yorkers and people in this country who came together. I will never forget how we came together as a nation that day and afterward.”