The nightmares have ended, but the memories never will for Rio Ranchoan Joe Grimando.

Grimando, like most of us born before 1991 or so, will never forget what transpired on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

He didn’t have a front-row seat for the devastation in Manhattan, when two towers of the World Trade Center were hit by airliners hijacked by terrorists, but from his vantage point in Long Island City, Queens, on the other side of the East River, he could see the flames.

It’s been said, “It took 10 years to build and 10 seconds to collapse.” More than 3,000 lives were stolen that day.

It began as a routine Tuesday for Grimando, then 42 and a dispatcher for Trane Air Conditioning. He’d sent two service techs for inspections due on some HVAC equipment at the World Trade Center.

As each was seeking a parking spot for his van, each radioed to Grimando that he’d heard an explosion — first Richie, then Claudio. (Grimando easily remembers their names.)

“I’m outta here,” Richie told him. Claudio followed, amid the pandemonium that had just started. Then, one of them told Grimando a plane had hit the WTC.

“Get to a safe place,” Grimando told them.

Joe Grimando of Rio Rancho holds the Sept. 11, 2003, issue of the New York Post, which contained numerous stories on the tragedy that occurred there two years earlier.
(Courtesy photo)

“A good half-hour passed, and then we heard about the second plane (hitting the WTC),” he said, listening to the radio by then. “We heard a plane crashed into the Pentagon. We heard that a plane crashed in Pennsylvania — so now we know terrorists are attacking the states.

“We see the towers in flames; they’re burning like crazy,” he said. “We were beside ourselves; we couldn’t understand.”

Grimando recalls looking up from the loading dock and seeing what seemed to be an airliner about seven miles above them “escorted” by two fighter jets.

Could that have been United Airlines Flight 93, in which soon-to-be killed passengers heroically rushed the cockpit?

“This was before the plane crashed in Pennsylvania; it was headed in that direction,” he said. “We believe today, in our heart of hearts, it was heading to Washington, D.C., to hit another target.”

He later learned that plane went nose-first into the ground.

“Before we left the office — Trane and almost every other business in the area had closed early — a salesman walked in through the loading dock.

“He was usually dressed in a nice shirt and tie; he was covered in ash,” Grimando said. “I said, ‘George, what the heck?’ He says, ‘I was down in the Wall Street area seeing customers when these towers came down — it was absolutely like the Earth ended.’

“We saw them fall to the ground,” Grimando said of the towers.

Back in 1972, “the year it opened,” Grimando worked in the WTC, in the lobby at Ben Hill Men’s Clothing Store.

“I took the E Train … the E Train’s last stop was the World Train Center. It was a 15-minute commute,” he recalled.

The E Train wasn’t running after the towers were struck; it had its terminus below the WTC.

“I had to walk home,” Grimando said, as did thousands of other New Yorkers.

For him, that amounted to a trek of about seven miles to his home in Forest Hills.

Grimando said he knew somebody who perished that fateful day; his younger brother lost five friends and another friend of Grimando’s lost his daughter and son-in-law.

“Another friend’s husband was a first responder; he died about nine years later,” he said.

That man was Rene Davila, the late husband of a former New York City employee he still stays in touch with, Fern Vasile-Davila.

“Do I have nightmares today? No. I had nightmares for a long time,” Grimando said. “It was just embedded; recurring nightmares, one after the other.”

As the 20th anniversary approaches of that day that will also live in infamy, he says, “It was a day not to be believed; grown men, in our 40s, just crying.”

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer