Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

A day off saved Paulie from 9/11. He honours his friends in an incredible way

On Monday September 10, 2001, Paulie Veneto disembarked from United Flight 175 at Boston-Logan International Airport.

Having started work as a flight attendant for United Airlines in 1997, he regularly worked on Flight 175, which flew from Boston to Los Angeles and back.

However, because Paulie had worked the weekend flight, he’d been given the following Tuesday off when he returned to Boston.

When he woke that morning it was to the devastating news that United Flight 175 had crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Centers.

‘I landed Monday night, September 10 at 8:00, and I got off the plane,’ Paulie recalls. ‘I knew the crew that got on it the next morning – they were going back to LA. That was the second plane that hit the towers.’

As he watched the Twin Towers fall, his thoughts turned to his coworkers who replaced him on the next shift.

‘I knew with the enormity of that scene, that everyone’s gonna forget what happened at the beginning of that day,’ Paulie says. ‘These flight crew members were fighting those terrorists on those airplanes.’

For years, he searched for a way to properly honor his fallen coworkers.

‘It bothered me that every year when the anniversary was coming up, no one was recognizing their heroics, and what they were able to do under those conditions,’ Paulie says. ‘They were regular citizens, they weren’t trained to fight terrorism. But they did, and we know it from the phone calls that they made.’

For the 20th anniversary of the attacks in 2021, Paulie, then 62, made the decision to attempt an ambitious tribute in memory of the four flights hijacked on September 11.

Decorating a flight attendant’s drink cart with photos of the six crew members he worked with on United Flight 175 – Amy Jarrett, Alicia Titus, Amy King, Michael Tarrou, and Robert Fangman – he planned to push it along the approximate route United Flight 175 took on that fateful Tuesday.

It was a total of 220 miles from Boston all the way to Ground Zero, with the grueling walk taking Paulie through cities, small towns, forests, and old railroads on his journey to New York City. 

With each step, word began to spread. Police and firefighters began meeting him on the roadway, escorting him through towns and marching alongside him to commemorate their own loved ones.

During the trek through Connecticut, local firemen escorted Paulie with trucks, while survivors marched beside him. Hundreds of local fire departments and other emergency response agencies were called in to assist the FDNY from the tri-state area.

‘I had a fire truck in front of us and three firemen walking in the middle of the street, just bawling their eyes out,’ Paulie remembers.

One day as he was marching, a firefighter approached him and started crying.

‘He leans over to me and says, “I gotta tell you something, Paul. I can’t tell my guys in the firehouse, but I’m having a problem with drugs.”’

His words, prompted Paulie to open up, and tell the man about his own struggles with opioid addiction after the attacks.

‘I knew when I was walking around for years thinking I was all alone with what was going on in my head about the whole thing,’ he says. ‘The relief I got was when I could verbalize it with people I knew could understand it.’

Paulie’s trip also caught the attention of the families of the flight crew members. On his way to Ground Zero, he was contacted by the son of a ticket agent who worked with him on Flight 175. He was only six years old when his father died during the hijacking.

‘He comes up and says, “You worked with my dad. Did you know him? What was he like? Did people like him?” It was unbelievable. He was only six years old on 9/11.’

Paulie, who describes himself as very much ‘not an athlete’, had originally only planned to make one 200-mile trek for the 20th anniversary. However, the amazing outpouring of support he received in 2021 convinced him to turn his push an annual event. 

‘When I came back from Ground Zero, a gentleman donated a mobile home to me and said “keep doing what you’re doing.” I’m all for it,’ he adds.

It was then that Paulie decided to follow the flight paths of every plane that went down on September 11, 2001.

The following year in 2022, he took the path of American Airlines Flight 77, a much shorter trek of 30 miles from Washington-Dulles Airport to the Pentagon.

While this year, Paulie embarked on what he says is the hardest of the four flight paths: United Flight 93, which took off from Newark Airport and went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers and crew members successfully took down the hijackers.

Paulie began training for this year’s push – which covers more than 300 miles – in February, starting by walking about 8-10 miles each day.

However, the journey through Pennsylvania proved difficult, requiring daily walks of anywhere between 11 and 15 miles per day. The journey also required Paulie to climb four mountains across the state.

As he started his walk at Newark-Liberty International Airport on August 14, United flight pilots and flight crews gathered to cheer him on. As he walked, the pilot of a Boeing 777 jumbo jet taxied alongside him down the tarmac.

Along the way, Paulie heard more stories about the bravery of the crew and passengers on Flight 93.

‘There was hand-to-hand combat, it was a pretty gruesome scene going on up there,’ he says. ‘And they were still able to make phone calls and give us information on what was going on up there.’

Paulie says was also struck by how the Flight 93 crew and passengers were able to band together and retake control of the flight from the hijackers.

‘They found out those other airplanes hit the buildings, and they knew where they were headed. But they said “no, we’re not going to let them do that.”’

Paulie’s trek ended on Monday, with him arriving at the Flight 93 Memorial.

‘It’s really not the destination for me,’ he says. ‘It’s the journey along the way.’

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