SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – September 11, a day of reflection for America, takes on another meaning for many who were personally affected by the tragedy.
Retired New York Police officer and first responder Rob O’Donnell recalls the day as devastating.
“I mean, it hurts to this day,” O’Donnell said. “9/11 is not a 20-year anniversary for me, every day for me is September 11, 2001, plus one.”
He continued, “9/10 showed us how good life was, 9/11 showed us how fast that could be taken away and 9/12 showed us all how to be better Americans — how to be better people to each other.”
O’Donnell was a member of the New York Shields Pipes and Drums made up of New York police.
One of the band’s first appearances together after 9/11 was the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2002 in Savannah.
“As soon as we landed in Savannah, the Chatham County Sheriff’s met us at the airport with a bus, took us to the hotel, and we had escorts the entire time we were there showing us the city,” O’Donnell recalled. “It was definitely a gracious outpouring by the people of Savannah, and since then, Savannah has become my second home.”
The band members were named grand marshals and received the key to the city of Savannah from Mayor Floyd Adams.
“It was a great event, a great outpouring for us mentally and personally,” O’Donnell said. “It was our first escape from what we were doing in New York City as far as rescue and recovery.”
O’Donnell said 2020 was the first time he returned to ground zero since events on 9/11.
“I’ve driven by it many times doing other things, but to physically walk and visit the site, last year was the first time to visit,” O’Donnell said. “I was able to mentally be prepared and go back and see that, and it was emotional.”
As O’Donnell reflects 20 years later, he hopes people will live every day like it’s 9/12.
“Live your life like you want to be a part of your community, part of your country,” O’Donnell said, “like you want to be friends with your neighbor and want to be part of something.”