National guard bureau historical Services Branch

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Historical Services Branch

Interview NGB-14



HHC, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry



National Guard Bureau

Monday September 17, 2001

Editorial clarifications indicated with brackets []



MAJ MELNYK: This is MAJ Les’ Melnyk, Army National Guard Historian for the National Guard Bureau, and I talk talking to SGT Joseph E. King, of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry.

We are speaking at the Regimental Armory at 68 Lexington Avenue, on the 17th of September, at 12:45 in the afternoon.

And, SGT King, if you would, state for the tape, so that people can hear it, your full name, your rank, your unit, and let's leave out the social security number, for Privacy Act reasons.

SGT KING: Okay. I'm SGT Joseph E. King, with Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, Scout platoon.

MAJ MELNYK: So you're a scout team leader.

SGT KING: Right. Scout team leader.

MAJ MELNYK: Roger that. You have read the access agreement for oral history and you have signed it, and you indicated by your initials that you have no reservations about any of this material being used by historians; is that correct?

SGT KING: Correct.

MAJ MELNYK: So let's begin at the beginning. Where were you when you found out about the attack on the World Trade Center? What was your initial reaction and what did you do? Tell the story.

SGT KING: Well, I work four blocks away on 180 Maiden Lane. I work for a law firm. And I was on my way into the building when -- between the first and the second strike.

MAJ MELNYK: What do you do, by the way?

SGT KING: I supervise 12 people in a data entry position.


SGT KING: Basically, they do asbestos litigation and I handle all the paperwork and make sure it's all on the computer.

And it just happened that I was on my way up to work when the first plane hit. Everybody was saying a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But I was late for work, and I assumed it was just a Cessna or a small plane or whatever. I didn't have time and I didn't know I'd have time in two hours -- I didn't want to get in the way of the rescue workers.

But I wasn't even halfway up the escalator when they said a second plane had struck. Then I knew that this wasn't happenstance.


SGT KING: So the first day this year that I've brought -- I had a duffel bag with two uniforms and a pair of boots. There was a new dry cleaners I was going to try out.

So I had boots and uniform and, it turns out, a dirty tee shirt, but it was a tee shirt that was in one of the side compartments in my drill bag, the bag I take to drill every -- you know, usually every month.

Normally, I don't have uniforms or boots on me. So I -- my first thought was I don't have my hat. I'm an NCO. I've got full BDUs, but not my hat.

I figured, well, I'm also a scout, I'm not a cook or whatever. The scout motto is you got your boots, you're going in.

So I was prepared. I ran to the tower.

MAJ MELNYK: Did you get changed first or did --

SGT KING: Yeah, I did get changed. I asked the security guard to borrow the bathroom, went there. It was really hectic, people running everywhere. Just an amazing hectic day.

I was really busy just helping people get away from the building for a couple hours, til --

MAJ MELNYK: So people were already running in the streets away from the towers as you ran towards them.

SGT KING: Yeah. I'm new to New York. I just moved here in November.

But I think they were running away because this was a more successful attack, and a lot of New Yorkers down here knew that the first one, they wanted to use chemical or biological weapons.

So a lot of people were panicking, what's in the smoke, what's in the smoke, you know, is it dangerous, you know.

So they were going away. I don't know. I didn't -- I mean, I worry about that, but my first concern was get people out.

MAJ MELNYK: So on your own initiative, you ran towards the towers and you said you started directing people away.

SGT KING: Yeah. I started to -- I mean, it was actually very amazing the amount of police that showed up as quickly as they did and just getting them away, getting them away, and we managed to do that.

And we really didn't climb up on the rubble or whatever. They started pulling -- right away, a lieutenant colonel or lieutenant commander from the Navy started collecting all the Department of Defense people.

We had everything. We had every branch of service, including the Coast Guard, Reserve, active, retired.

I mean, I can remember when we were put into groups, so we could control each other, my group had a Marine, an Army Guard, two 82nd Airborne soldiers on leave, and one 82nd soldier that just got furloughed a month ago.

MAJ MELNYK: You were the only one in uniform?

SGT KING: No. There were several uniforms, three uniforms. I mean, I remember seeing guys in Air Force uniforms and Navy uniforms, a lot of different uniforms.

MAJ MELNYK: So this is down on the scene, this lieutenant commander shows up and begins organizing people. This is before the first tower collapses.

SGT KING: The first tower collapsed at like -- it took me a while to -- because I was helping the guys get people out of (inaudible) out of the building. And then I went --

MAJ MELNYK: In your building where you were.

SGT KING: Yeah. Right.


SGT KING: Then I went and changed. So it actually took me like half an hour. I'm guessing.

The day is really kind of foggy, because I was so busy, and I really only slept an hour and a half between when it started and 10:00 o'clock the next night, Wednesday.

I didn't get to bed til -- it was probably later than that. Actually, I slept on the park bench for an hour and a half when we had some downtime on Wednesday.

But other than that, I only had an hour and a half and I had gone off the night before to Monday Night Football. So I didn't get home til like one.

So I really only had like six hours sleep. But, I mean, I do data entry and I can do that in my sleep.

MAJ MELNYK: So you figured you didn't need your sleep.

SGT KING: Right. I wasn't planning on doing a marathon.

MAJ MELNYK: As I recall, that Monday night game was not worth staying up for if you were a Giants fan, which most of the people in the city were.

SGT KING: Yeah. Well, I'm a Green Bay fan. I don't know. Some of my fantasy players were doing well and I needed the points to win the game. And I won, by the way. That's important.

MAJ MELNYK: Okay. Moving back to the World Trade Center. You arrived on scene there, the towers had collapsed.

SGT KING: Right. I didn't see Seven [World Trade Center] -- I guess Seven collapsed later in the day. I was on the other side, didn't really see. I mean, we heard, it collapsed, it collapsed, again. I didn't really see that.

I actually didn't even see -- you really couldn't see the -- you know, you look at the tapes and I didn't see tapes until Thursday, I think Friday even. I didn't see any TV really until Friday.

It looks a lot clearer than it was on the ground.


SGT KING: On the ground, it was midnight.

MAJ MELNYK: Once the first tower collapsed, the visibility was reduced. What was visibility like?

SGT KING: It was so bad, I saw police breaking in doors so they could drag people into buildings.

MAJ MELNYK: And why was that?

SGT KING: Because it just was choking, choking dust.

MAJ MELNYK: You couldn't breath.


MAJ MELNYK: How did you deal with that?

SGT KING: I just put my tee shirt over my throat and I was hoarse for a while, but -- I mean, that's -- the amazing thing that I will always remember is the amount of water that arrives right away. I don't know how Pepsi or Coca-Cola did it, but I saw Coca-Cola trucks dropping -- I think they're Dasani, the water.

MAJ MELNYK: Dasani, yeah.

SGT KING: Just crates, ten foot high, case after case of water everywhere. I guess that was about noon. That sort of -- I mean, it took them a while, I'm sure, but this all seems to be both compressed and let me think about it, you know.

Some of the things that I think didn't take any time took three hours.

MAJ MELNYK: It's interesting. You're very aware that you are not aware of time in its normal sense because of the crisis and because of now your lack of sleep.

SGT KING: And I lost my watch. I broke my watch band. So I had no idea like what times were. Somehow I broke my watch band. I don't remember how that happened.

So I -- and I'm the type of person that checks my watch every 15 minutes.

MAJ MELNYK: So you've been organized into these ad hoc groups by this Naval officer.

SGT KING: Well, no. Actually, that came later. You just had all the Defense Department people. We had to go up to Pier 40, we were told.


SGT KING: Pier 40 was where they were supposed to get together.

MAJ MELNYK: And Pier 40 is on the west -- on the east side.

SGT KING: West side, I think it's this, I think it's near Canal Street.

MAJ MELNYK: Near Canal Street.

SGT KING: Across from Canal Street.

MAJ MELNYK: Okay. So you hoofed it on foot up to Pier 40 with the other DOD --

SGT KING: Yeah. That's when I had the six guys there. We went up there and right away they asked for guys that had rescue experience for going into buildings. And I actually belonged to the Oklahoma National Guard before I transferred here.

So we had a two day class on what it was like to go into a building, what you should do, do's and don'ts.

MAJ MELNYK: Was that because of Oklahoma City?

SGT KING: Yeah, I think so.

MAJ MELNYK: Or was it just --

SGT KING: Just a historical class, because the Oklahoma Guard was caught unprepared and they didn't want to have that happen again.


SGT KING: I was in a combat engineering unit there. So they just -- it was an interesting class.

MAJ MELNYK: So you had some minimal training --

SGT KING: I don't know that I felt confident enough to --

MAJ MELNYK: So you didn't volunteer for that.

SGT KING: Right. I was like sure, I'll go forward. But I didn't think we were going to be needed. I mean, there were literally thousands of firemen and cops and I felt as much as I could have helped, I thought those guys could help more.

I mean, a fireman is used to that stuff.


SGT KING: Not on the same scale, by any means, but that's --

MAJ MELNYK: I don't know that anybody had seen it on that scale.

SGT KING: But the smoke, they have the respirators, the fire, they're just -- and they've got command and control, and we didn't have any helmets.


SGT KING: We had to go and steal helmets from (inaudible,) taking them off trucks.

MAJ MELNYK: What happened then? You went up to Pier 40.

SGT KING: We went to Pier 40. I actually caught a breather for about an hour. They took a roster. I've got that roster, the initial one, of who was there initially that we could count, conglomerate together, all their units.

And Michael Bloomberg was in the primaries here. I don't know if you follow city politics.

MAJ MELNYK: As a Republican candidate for mayor.

SGT KING: Right. His company, Bloomberg, has the logistics center across from Pier 40. Well, at 4:00 o'clock, they had all this food. What it looked like -- I mean, I've done a lot of stuff with political parties for primaries, public (inaudible) for political parties.

It looked like it was his campaign headquarters, the catered food they already had for the campaign.


SGT KING: For the campaign workers.

MAJ MELNYK: Because Tuesday was the primary.

SGT KING: Right.

MAJ MELNYK: Yeah. There was an election held.

SGT KING: So we go in there and it's salmon and shrimp and, I mean, just excellent food, and it was actually a sign of things to come, because the food here has been tremendous.

MAJ MELNYK: So you were -- they opened up their doors and invited in the people who were working on --

SGT KING: Yeah. We had the whole center. We had access to all the phones. We could make any kind of long distance phone call we wanted to make, call anywhere we wanted.

MAJ MELNYK: Did you try and make a call?

SGT KING: Sure. I called home. I called --

MAJ MELNYK: And you had success getting a phone line out.

SGT KING: Yeah. Actually, we --

MAJ MELNYK: That was unusual, from what I have heard during the day.

SGT KING: I don't know how. Yeah. We had no problem. I mean, I called -- there was this other Naval officer that was from Japan. There were a lot of active duty people that were there, that just reported in. Same thing. Just run at the sound of gunfire and get it done.

And we're trying. We had access to the internet, high speed internet, and trying to find a phone number for Cabal Air Base. Now, we managed to trace one. We went through -- I mean, I do internet research. Part of my job is doing research.

I was able to track down his address by finding the phone number to the headquarters in a Naval depot outside of Seattle, because they deal with Pacific fleets. So they knew a number to get in contact with Japan, and from there, boom, boom, boom, and we reported to him on site.

MAJ MELNYK: So did you then go down with that unit, that ad hoc unit?

SGT KING: Yeah. We went down and we assisted the firemen as best we could.

MAJ MELNYK: How close were you then?

SGT KING: On site, right there. And then they had some tactical officers, SWAT guys, and cops. They asked for guys to go up and start climbing buildings, go look for people, gawkers, because they started abandoning, pushing people back.


SGT KING: So we had to go up a whole bunch of flight of steps and start clearing buildings, room to room. Whatever was -- and there was talk, you know, look for secondaries, look for secondaries, look for -- pay attention.

Right away, security started getting really tight. Like to get back in --

MAJ MELNYK: What do you mean by look for secondaries?

SGT KING: Well, that's some of the stuff many of the guys kept telling the cops, because there's terrorists in Israel, if you read, what they do is they'll plant one bomb.


SGT KING: And that might not be the big one and they'll suck all the police in and then the second one will go off.

MAJ MELNYK: Okay. So you guys were searching for bombs that might have been planted on site.

SGT KING: Well, not really. That's what we were just telling people. But then we were going up buildings.


SGT KING: Looking up buildings, you know, going to roof tops. That's -- what was in the streets and what was on the roof tops was some of the most disgusting stuff I've ever seen in my life. Body parts all over the place.

We found a woman in a chair. She was still in her airplane seat, up on a roof, behind where the plane hit. I seen that. The explosion just flipped her back, one block back. So --

MAJ MELNYK: Pretty gruesome.

SGT KING: Yeah. I've never seen anything like that.

MAJ MELNYK: So at what point did you get back to Guard duty? At what point did you determine, hey, you know, my Guard unit is probably on scene, or did you…?

SGT KING: The organized us into search parties, because they decided they would use us. Then they decided that they weren't going to use us.

MAJ MELNYK: Who is they?

SGT KING: The -- whoever.

MAJ MELNYK: You just took your orders from --

SGT KING: We organized in Stuyvesant High School. It's on Rector Street.

MAJ MELNYK: Right. On the west side.

SGT KING: Right. We organized there in the auditorium and then we started practicing and started getting in groups. That's when we were organizing the groups.

MAJ MELNYK: And you started practicing what?

SGT KING: Just going over, okay, what are the procedures for going into a building, check yourself, buddy teams, you know. Really basic stuff. But common sense, that's -- tapering down our uniforms so that we didn't snag anything, doing that sort of stuff.

That was probably like from 10:00 o'clock until four in the morning.

Then we got word that any New York National Guard personnel that were on site had to report to their unit.


SGT KING: Which we didn't do. We just -- I put a call into this unit and said, you know, I'm down here, sure you're going to be coming down here, if you need me, I'll find you, it's not that big down here.

And that's eventually what happened. I slept between 4:30 and six. I don't remember when I -- I didn't have a watch, but I remember asking, it was like -- I had been up for a little bit and it was like 6:15, 6:20.

I saw colonel [LTC Geoffrey] Slack the battalion commander walk by. My commander, CPT Daniels was behind him.

So I just tagged around. And that was the -- basically, what it was was the commander, of all the company commanders, walking the perimeter, setting the perimeter, and I got to walk and be a part of that.

MAJ MELNYK: So this is, roughly, seven in the morning, Wednesday morning.

SGT KING: Right. And then did that and we found -- we set -- went out to Battery Park and set up where our TOC was going to be, just set the location, didn't actually set the TOC up.

MAJ MELNYK: TOC being tactical operations center.

SGT KING: Correct.

MAJ MELNYK: Just so someone who is not in the military listening to this tape will know the acronyms that you use.


MAJ MELNYK: All right.

SGT KING: And then we found a telephone and I called the operator and tried to get both phones functioning. I let her know (inaudible) receive phone calls from there right away. But you couldn't receive, you could only send.

So it was better than nothing. And then I hooked up with my platoon, the scout platoon, and they immediately sent us out and we patrolled -- well, we walked the perimeter, just moving, it would be immediate reaction force. So we walked the entire perimeter, again, for where all the units were to be.

MAJ MELNYK: So that you could familiarize yourself with --

SGT KING: So that we knew where everything was, roughly. If we had to get somewhere fast, we could orientate and move.

MAJ MELNYK: You were dismounted or mounted?

SGT KING: Dismounted.

MAJ MELNYK: Okay. So all on foot.

SGT KING: All on foot.

MAJ MELNYK: Where did you stage to be ready to deploy?

SGT KING: Battery Park City.

MAJ MELNYK: So near where the TOC was located.

SGT KING: Right. Exactly right behind it, a little strip of grass there. And we really didn't -- we didn't leave until -- well, we slept at the armory that night, but that was that was the last night we slept at the armory.

We slept in the Battery Park City from Wednesday morning -- we stayed in Battery Park City from Wednesday morning until Monday. We hadn't gone back. This is the first I've seen the armory.

MAJ MELNYK: Today is Monday.

SGT KING: Right.

MAJ MELNYK: So you came back last night, I assume.

SGT KING: No, I didn't. I slept outside.

MAJ MELNYK: You slept in Battery Park City last night, as well?

SGT KING: Correct.

MAJ MELNYK: So most of the battalion was back, but the scouts were not.

SGT KING: Roger.

MAJ MELNYK: So Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night.

SGT KING: We slept out there. And the first night, we didn't bring -- we didn't bring our gear to sleep, but it was okay. We got some blankets from the civilians and we were okay, til it rained.

Then we got on the vehicles and we're okay. It wasn't the most comfortable evening, but it was better than the guys in the rubble.

MAJ MELNYK: What other missions did the scouts perform?

SGT KING: Well, primarily what we did is we acted as a screen, because at first they only did three quarters. They felt that would be enough, but there's -- lower Manhattan is like a sieve and people were sneaking by.

MAJ MELNYK: Where was it open?

SGT KING: The bank side, along Vessey Street.

MAJ MELNYK: Are you talking the river side or the south end?

SGT KING: No. The south end.

MAJ MELNYK: The south end, along Vessey Street.

SGT KING: Along Vessey Street is where we set up a picket. There was six guys there and we had to pick -- Charlie Company was somehow or other deployed late. I don't know what the deal there was, but we had guys on the north, northwest near the marina, I guess along Barclay.

I didn't see where they all were. So we had to divide the platoon and we basically -- we didn't know how long we were going to be there, so we didn't post everybody.

We covered our sector, but we had to assume this was going to be 24 hours til we were going to leave. So right away, we got to square away our platoon, so right away, we organized it so we had enough so we could relieve people and not be over-taxing, because you got to be alert (inaudible.)

MAJ MELNYK: Did you get relieved by another unit? At what point did that happen?

SGT KING: Like 8:00 o'clock at night. So we got there, we got posted by 8:00 o'clock in the morning. It was very early in the morning.

MAJ MELNYK: Wednesday morning?

SGT KING: Yeah. It was like an hour after I hooked up with the company. We were on post. And about 8:00 o'clock, we got relieved, and I can't even remember the name of the unit who relieved us.

We had to stop a lot of people from going in. Curiosity seekers, trying to take photos and stuff. Orders put out, no photos, no photos at all.

MAJ MELNYK: So you turned them back. Did you --

SGT KING: We turned them back and --

MAJ MELNYK: Were there any people that you detained?

SGT KING: No, but we could have. But we had -- basically, we were understanding. I mean, curiosity, people want to go see it.

MAJ MELNYK: What were your instructions? Who were you to let by? I mean, did you have any kind of printed rules of engagement? I mean, I know it's the wrong term, you weren't armed, but --


MAJ MELNYK: What were your instructions in terms of dealing with the public and the emergency workers and who would give you orders?

SGT KING: Badges, firemen, and obvious construction workers. Anybody else had to turn away, they had to go elsewhere. Then they'd ask, you know, well, where do I go. I don't know that. That's not my job. Go that way.

MAJ MELNYK: And you took your orders from?

SGT KING: From my company commander. Even the police weren't allowed, either that day, and it's a little fuzzy, either that day or the next day, I'm pretty sure it was that day, later on in the day, people were trying to get back into their apartments and we weren't letting people.

MAJ MELNYK: This is Wednesday, the day after.

SGT KING: Right. Yeah. That was Wednesday. I'm fairly certain it was Wednesday.

People were trying to get into their apartments or their businesses and we're just telling them no, no one is going into their apartment. And one woman, she was like, well, my dog is in there. Well, your dog has got water, he'll be fine.

She says, well, she's only got one bowl of water. No, she's got more water than that. There's plenty of water in that toilet. My dog doesn't drink toilet water.

MAJ MELNYK: So you supplemented the line companies by pulling picket duty.

SGT KING: Correct.

MAJ MELNYK: What else did you do?

SGT KING: That was okay. That was fine. It was very frustrating doing that, though, because everybody wanted to get up on the pile and start digging.

Then that night we went back and we found out that someone had broken into the morgue. So they wanted a quick reaction force always on site. So then scouts, fine, we'll stay down there. We'll stay here.

MAJ MELNYK: So Wednesday night you went back to the armory.

SGT KING: Correct.

MAJ MELNYK: And you got word, what, Thursday that the morgue had been broken into.

SGT KING: Right.

MAJ MELNYK: Where was this morgue; do you know?

SGT KING: I've heard it was one block from the site.

MAJ MELNYK: Okay. So from that point on, the scouts were staged down at Battery Park City at night.

SGT KING: AS a reaction force, because the police were really -- see, the police weren't really paying attention to security. They were more focused on getting in the pile.

I mean, they were doing their job, if it was pointed out, but it was really hectic. They were missing people. No one was in charge. Now it's organized, but before, forget about it. It wasn't even vaguely organized.

You know, it was a dangerous time. People trying to get in. The other thing you -- probably the most rewarding thing we've done, I've done in my entire service in the military, though, was yesterday, being Sunday, and Saturday, we took people up to their apartments, after two days of turning people away from their apartments, because we didn't have the manpower.

We spun off 30 people roughly, not just scouts. But whenever we didn't have a scout mission, we go escort people up and take them to their apartments, give them 15 minutes to get their stuff, take them back.

Between that time, though, I guess Friday, on Friday we began on the process of going up on the roofs south and west of the site and we had the whole platoon and we'd pair up two men, two Guardsmen with two cops, and we'd go up on the roof tops, check the roof tops for any kind of evidence, whether it was physical remains, personal effects, or aircraft parts.

We found a little -- a few things, an ear, some skin, and about a block and a half way, actually, more than that, had about -- I think it's building 250 on Albany Street, we found a hat that said World Trade Center fire (inaudible) or floor (inaudible) and that's a good distance away.

MAJ MELNYK: So it sounds like you had a variety of missions that the scouts were tasked to do.

SGT KING: Yeah. And there were many even varied. There was a lot of steps. I climbed up -- I estimate -- I mean, I counted, at a stretch, you know, 200 flights in one day, 250 the next day. So I've done a lot of -- conservatively, 550 flights of stairs in three days. Legs were pretty much jello.

MAJ MELNYK: You were ready to go home and get a rest. So you came back this morning from Battery Park City.

SGT KING: Right.

MAJ MELNYK: And you've just been released by your commander.

SGT KING: Right. Yeah. We just got released.

MAJ MELNYK: Do you have any other impressions of your service down there? Did you see any of the people who came by to tour the site?


MAJ MELNYK: The Mayor, Governor, President.

SGT KING: I saw Mayor Giuliani at about -- he was -- it was early, like 1:00 o'clock in the morning on Tuesday -- it would be Wednesday morning.

MAJ MELNYK: Wednesday morning.

SGT KING: I remember seeing him. Other than that, no. No dignitaries, that I'm aware of seeing.

Some of our guys saw the Giants, Jason Sehorn.



MAJ MELNYK: They came down to the site.

SGT KING: Yeah. They came down to the docks, whatever that dock is, Hollow, North Cove.

MAJ MELNYK: The marina that they have there.


MAJ MELNYK: Is there anything you want to add about --

SGT KING: No. I mean, that's -- I mean, we'd go back down and help out, if we could, but we understand there's more than enough people. They want to get done and get someone with fresh legs to go down and take all these people up.

MAJ MELNYK: Aside from tired right now, how do you feel about this last week, what you've --

SGT KING: I don't know. I have to decompress, because I'm just tired.

MAJ MELNYK: Thank you very much.

SGT KING: No problem, sir.

(The interview was concluded.)

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