BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — John Difalco is a Beaufort County deputy. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was a New York highway patrolman.

Now twenty years later, the memories remain all too vivid. This week he sat down with WSAV to talk about the unimaginable, the unforeseen and the unknown.

“I put my fishing poles on the porch, took a shower, and went in to work,” Difalco said.

That’s how John Difalco’s Sept. 11, 2001, started. “It was a good 2-3 days before I made it back home. and that was for a couple hours. Took a shower, nap kissed the kids, and off I went.”

The highway patrol officer spent 12-18 hours a day securing the ground zero perimeter

“It was devastating,” says Difalco. “Picture the old shows where the atomic bomb went off, and they go into the town and it’s just leveled and it’s dirty and stuff and that’s what you saw.”

“To a first responder, when you cant protect somebody, it hurts.”

The pain also comes with the friends he lost that day.

“This guy, George Howard, emergency service cop for Port Authority Police.”

“I’d be on the radio going, ‘hey I need another car down here or else I’m going to get taken out handling an accident,'” Difalco says. “All of a sudden I would hear him coming with his emergency services truck, blaring sirens and he would pull up and say ‘I got your back.'”

“I told him, ‘you are going to get in trouble.’ He said ‘I don’t care. I’ll tell them I won’t do it again until the next time,'” Difalco recalled.

“This was a guy, he was off. He ran into the towers and he perished. To me, he was a true hero just for what he did,” Difalco says.

John says the term “hero” was thrown around a lot after the attack.

“We always used to joke, there were these were the people who made complaints against us. These were the people that hated us. and they were out there with signs you are our heroes,” Difalco said.

“It was warming. There was a positive that came out of the negative.”

In the aftermath of all that work, John and so many others are dealing with a different “negative.”

“I have lost of a lot of friends since then, to the devil. we call 9-11 cancer the devil,” Difalco says.

“On average, I’m losing 3-4 people a year to that cancer. it’s just bad.”

“To me, my fear is I don’t have cancer now. To me, it’s not an if, it’s a when, it rears its ugly head,” Difalco said.

“It may never, but it’s that unknown. Will I be able to provide for my wife?”

John retired from the New York Highway Patrol after 25 years of service and has been in the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office since then.

He said it was important to continue working and training the current generation. Some of whom were in diapers or weren’t even born when the towers came down.