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The Unlikely Relationship Between Two of NYC's Finest

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 12, 2022 3:05 am

The Unlikely Relationship Between Two of NYC's Finest

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 12, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we hear about 9/11 firefighter Niels Jorgensen and billionaire David Koch, and the tragedies that brought them together.

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And we return to our 9-11 special here on Our American Stories.

And now we bring you the story of an unlikely relationship between two of New York City's finest. A firefighter named Nils Jorgensen and the late billionaire David Koch. Nils was off duty on 9-11, but when the first plane struck the World Trade Center, he complied with a total recall order for all firemen to report to their firehouses. Here's Nils to tell the rest of the story. My dad would always tell me, if there's ever a recall, you follow it or you could end up dead and no one is looking for you.

And for some unknown reason, there was no traffic. It was eerie and I'm flying and I'm going, but wait a minute, I don't have my fire gear. What the hell am I going to do? She hung up the phone screaming at me and my wife doesn't curse. She said, those effing buildings are going to go down and you'll effing die.

Go to your command where you're supposed to. And I heard my father in my ear and he's just, my father doesn't say a lot, but when he says something, it's profound. And I remember him always saying, kid, never be a freelancer. You follow your orders, you follow your training.

Something real bad goes down. And this was after the 93 bombing, because I was at that and we used to always talk and say, it's going to happen again. And he said, you follow your orders, go to your firehouse, get your gear and you get your further pending orders. I veered off the highway, went down into Brooklyn where I worked.

I checked in, I was the first one. I called into command and they said, you get 12 guys, grab a city bus and get over there. And guys came streaming in and we're watching the TV. And just as we run out the street to get the city bus to take us, we see the tower go down the first one.

And I believe the second tower hit was the first one to collapse. And I dropped to my knees and I started crying and praying. And the guys looked at me. I said, guys, now our truck from our house was gone. It was at the scene. So we were in the empty house and, you know, convening and deploying from there. And I said, guys, 114 is dead. That's our truck.

And they're like, looking at me, what are you talking about? I said, when I came in the door, I heard our boss, Dennis on the radio, 114 truck with 1084 is our code of on scene. We're at Albany and West.

Where do you need us? And the nickname of our truck is Tally Ho. And he said, Tally Ho responded into the command post, West and Albany for further orders. It was the last I heard from my Lieutenant, his rookie son, or as we call a probie, his probie son was assigned that day in another ladder company and he was killed. And that Lieutenant ended up saving our crew because as they were going into the building, he saw what he thought to be partial collapsing. And he told the guys, turn around this building's coming down behind us. And as they turn around and ran, they dove under a truck. The building came down.

The guy's 40 feet, 50 feet behind them are under it and they're dead and they're in the pile. And my Lieutenant who unfortunately did lose his son saved our crew. Unbeknownst to us, as that was going on, we got into the bus and as we were coming over the Brooklyn bridge to help and we got into the city and started running toward it, the second building just came down. And as we got into the building, it just came down and I wasn't there in the building when it collapsed.

And I would never claim to be, but I made my best effort to get there. And the crew of us that got there were horrified because we knew that our on shift platoon, our guys that we loved and work with were probably underneath that pile. And by the grace of God, that Lieutenant saved that shift himself. But unfortunately the other ladder company 105, which I had actually was my first command in the city where my Lieutenant's son was working.

His son was killed. And the strange part about it was the senior man, the older firefighter working that day on that shift with his son was working with me on the day of 1993's bombing. And he was my senior man looking over.

I'm sorry. He was looking over my shoulder. And later on, hours later after the evening of the first bombing in 93, he looked around and he said, you know what kid? He goes, these mucks didn't do it right. They blew it up in the middle. But if they did it in the corner by a column, they would have beat us today and the building would have dropped. And he said to me that the next time they come back, they'll do it right.

Don't kid yourself for a second. And that man, Hank Miller, he died. He died that day.

He almost prophesized it. And then just, and then we just, we regrouped and redeployed onto the main pile because there was confirmed a couple of people that were still alive. And we were working on shuttling gear in and out and trying to just move debris and whatnot.

And I was with an older guy and we branched off maybe a hundred yards to another section. And we were just down in a hole underneath a bunch of steel. And all you could hear was sand dropping every once in a while, like as if it was rolling down a hill and it was eerily quiet. And then you would just hear some hissing.

And that was the gas lines that were ruptured. And he just said, kid, what do you hear? And I said, I hear the hissing. I hear the debris.

It was just, everything was pulverized into gray sand. And he said, no, I know that, but what else do you hear? And I stopped for a second and I said, I don't hear anything. He said, that's right. He says, cause everyone's dead.

We're wasting our time. He goes, no, one's coming out of this kid. They're all gone. He goes, look at the concrete, look at the steel.

What happened to it? You think bodies are going to survive through that? And he was right. He was right. Everybody was pulverized and everybody was just crushed. And it was, it was just horrible. And we stayed till about four o'clock that following morning. We couldn't breathe. We couldn't, we just, we were caked and filled with dust in our throats and our eyes.

Couldn't see at points in time. And the Lieutenant just decided, he says, guys, we need to regroup. Got to try to get back to our firehouse, clean up, get some supplies and get right back here in the morning. So we hopped on a city bus and we walked down to the battery tunnel and they told us there'd be buses, hopefully to get us back over to Brooklyn. And we returned to Brooklyn and a guy couldn't, for some reason, I can't remember why he couldn't go up the main street where we were on.

So he dropped us off. So we went, we walked up the Hill and we were all having a hard time breathing. And it felt like we swallowed a box full of razorblades. And I was really having trouble walking up the Hill.

And I, it was, it was the worst sore throat you've ever had, but then down from your roof of your mouth to the insides of your stomach. And I remember one of the older guys with us, he said, you know what guys were all dead. And I said, no, no, Dan, we made it.

And he goes, no, you don't understand. He goes, this crap we breathed in, we're all dead men. And out of the 20 guys that would air that day from our crew, I think, I think eight of us have cancer. And some, a few of the guys I've been blessed with only one, but a few of the guys have had three different cancers. And by the grace of God, those particular guys are alive.

One of my other dear friends came down with three different cancers and he's been dead now for almost two years. And that guy was right. He wasn't right about all of us, but there's a lot of us that died after the fact from those hours, the first day, second day, 50th day, 80th day of being down there. And we went back to the firehouse and we cleaned off and we just got the caked dust out of our, dried out of our throats, out of our eyes. We got some fresh clothes, but the dirty toxic clothes that we were wearing, we didn't throw them out. We threw them in the wash. We threw them in the firehouse laundry or threw them in our locker where they sat for a couple of weeks until we got a chance to do laundry. And then, you know, you'd have your gear on the subsequent days and your fire gear was filthy and caked with this toxic crap. And it's in the back of your car. And then if you're lucky enough to get a day off or a half a day off, you try to clean the car out and then you tore your baby seat in the back. Not knowing that a couple of years later, they're going to say, Oh, this stuff was really, really bad and toxic.

And now you're going, Oh my God, my kids breathe this crap too. And when we return, we'll continue with a story of Nils Jorgensen here on Our American Stories. And we return to Our American Stories and our 9-11 special and with firefighter Nils Jorgensen and his story. When we last left off, a fellow firefighter had predicted that they'd get sick from the work that Nils and the others did at ground zero. And he was right. Let's continue with the story.

Long story short, they found it out. They diagnosed the leukemia. The way they explained it to me was it's different than an organ cancer.

It's not like a stage one, two, three, or four of, you know, colon or liver. Leukemia is like a car driving on a road. As they explained, you get to a cliff, the wheels go off, you're dead. I said, all right, Doc, where am I?

He goes, well, your front, your front wheels are off the cliff. You probably had about another three or four days to live. We're going to try to intervene with the spleen, get all the swelling down.

They drilled into my hip. They found out exactly what cancer it was. And it's the rarest leukemia you can have.

There's 49 different ones. There's only 500 cases in all of North America a year. And I was the seventh 9-11 rescuer in six months to come down with it.

And a couple of the guys had already died. And my cancer doctor said to me, he goes, it's statistically impossible that that many of you have this rare of a leukemia. By the grace of God, I was given very, very high doses of chemotherapy. It's, I believe I'm giving it in a layman's perspective, but it was the drug is called cladribine.

When they give you seven days of nonstop chemotherapy and these massive bags, IV bags, and it's, from what I was told by my doctor, it's almost like the equivalent of two years of chemo jammed into a week, burns out your bone marrow entirely in the hopes that your own seedling marrow will regenerate. And my angel on earth, and I haven't got a chance to recapture with him. And I regret this and shame on me for not. I had a male nurse named Mike Nunez and Mike Nunez was my angel on earth. And it was many other nurses, but Mike was my main guy. And he explained to me, he said, listen, he goes, I'm going to come in. I have to wear a hazmat suit.

We're going to start you up on this. I go, whoa, Mike, a hazmat suit. He goes, listen, he goes, you'll kind of get this cause you're a fireman. He goes, this stuff exposed to air is so caustic that it'll burn through plastic. He said, but in your vein and in your body, it's going to do its job. It'll burn.

You're going to feel like you're burning your entire body, but that means the drug is working. So I said, well, Mike, I'm forget it. I don't want it. He goes, then you're going to die. And I got my three young kids at the time. I mean, this is eight years ago.

So I got 14, 11, and nine. And I'm like, whoa, I got to do this, man. And it was like, I was flashing back to my life. My dad was in the fight of his life in 1978 when I was 10 years old. Was basically told he had an end stage, not Hodgkin's lymphoma, but if he was willing to be a test pilot for a new drug at the time, they would try it on him in the hopes that it would work. And if it didn't, he would die. And he, believe it or not, is still here.

He's 80. And I said to my father, I called him up and my father is just, just one of the greatest guys that's walked this earth. He used to get up at four in the morning on a Thursday and my mom would drop him down to a train, which from Staten Island, he'd take to a ferry and then a subway to downtown Brooklyn, because he was assigned to a desk job when he got cancer.

And I'm sorry to go on a tangent, but it's something I just have to express. And this guy would get up at four in the morning on Thursday and Thursday was his treatment day. And he'd go to work. And then at noon, instead of going on a lunch, he'd get back on the subway to the ferry, to the train, and my mom would pick him up and bring him to the cancer center. And they'd juice him up with some heavy nuke, probably similar to what I got.

But back in 78, it was cutting edge. He was a test pilot for a lot of people. And he'd get home and within two hours, he'd be vomiting everywhere and diarrhea. And as a 10 year old, it was heartbreaking because I'd go in and I'd wipe the vomit off his mouth, but he couldn't drink because it was just projectile right out. So I just tried to keep him comfortable and I'd wipe his mouth and clean him and care for him. And the next day, he'd be sick as can be.

But then it was weird. After midnight on Friday, it would start to subside. And Saturday morning, he put on a robe and he'd come down and he'd try to sit in a chair and he'd have some orange juice and some water and start to rehydrate. And then Sunday, he'd ask my mom to make him eggs and toast and black coffee. And on Monday, he'd get back on the train and the ferry and the subway. And he'd repeat that process two weeks later. And he did that for four years. And this guy is still in remission until his day.

He's 80 years old. So I called him up the night before my treatments would start. Mike said to me, you're going to feel like you're burning and that's the minute it starts. And I said, dad, how'd you do it? He said, kid, keep low, which means stay below the fire. He goes, keep low and you'll do it.

And that was it. He said, I love you. And he hung up the phone. Mike came in, Mike Nunez, the nurse came in. And when he started the IV, he jumped out of the line and it splashed. And he's got a hazmat shooting and I'm laying there. And all of a sudden the IV tube starts smoking and going on fire. And I'm like, Mike, Mike, what the frig?

You're not putting that in me. He goes, Nels, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. He goes, I got to start it all over. He goes, you're going to be okay, but you have to take this or you're going to die. And I thought about my old man, the conversation we just had. And I thought about those three little kids who came in a little while before that, my wife. I said, all right, Mike hit me.

Let's do this. And about a second after he hooked me into the vein with the IV, I started feeling this burning going up my arm and it was up my shoulder and it was in my head. And then it was within 20 seconds, it was flushed through my whole body. And I've been burned before.

I've been caught. I've ended up in the burn center and it's the worst feeling in the world when you're trapped. And that's how I felt, but it was from the inside out. And it was so painful, but I wouldn't take a pain med because I have a brother with prescription med problems and what have you. And I didn't want to go that way.

I'm thinking maybe it's in the genes. I don't know. And I laid there for the first six days and I felt like I was burning to death from the inside out of my body. And I cried and I prayed and I wanted to die.

And I had a vision of my mother-in-law, my beloved mother-in-law, who died six months before I was sick. This woman went to church every day, beautiful Irish woman. And she called me her boyfriend because we'd sit and talk because I understood her. I got her.

It's the Irish thing. We like to talk. And she came to me in a vision and I was praying to die. And unbeknownst to me, I thought it was hallucinations.

There was this raging thunderstorm going on, but it was really a raging thunderstorm. And she came to me and I had blips of all these people I loved who had died. But then all of a sudden she's facing me and she's laughing and she says, hi, my boyfriend. And we called her Nan. And I said, Nan, I want to come home. Please take me with you.

I can't do this anymore. I got to go. I'm ready. And she smiled. And she goes, no, not yet, my boyfriend. She goes, you're going to be all right. It's going to hurt, but you'll be okay.

I'll see you later. And I'm grabbing for her. And she goes, I had a doctor who was atheist and I told her the story. And she goes, oh, you're seeing things? I said, well, I don't know, but I conveyed it to her. And I'm not going to lie to you, the chemo messed my mind up a little bit too.

It was brutal. She sends a shrink in to talk to me and he's a rabbi. He's a Jewish doctor. And he starts laughing. And he goes, I believe you.

You're fine. What else do you want to talk about? I said, what do you mean?

He says, pay me for an hour. I said, you want to watch the Yankees? We watched the Yankee game. So for seven days stuff burned through my body, but it worked. And I'm here. And it was hard going through it. And it was even harder on my wife and my kids, but I'm here, man.

And I'm lucky. And when we return, we'll continue with the story of Nils Jorgensen here on our 9-11 special on Our American Story. And we're back with Our American Stories and our 9-11 special. And with firefighter Nils Jorgensen's story. Nils contracted the rarest form of leukemia from his work at Ground Zero after the events of 9-11. Thankfully, he went into remission and Nils was more than thankful. He noted that the late Koch Industries leader, David Koch, had given hundreds of millions of dollars to cancer research and New York City hospitals. And today, Nils partially credits David for being alive. And so Nils, well, he wanted to show his gratitude.

Let's continue with his story. You know what the problem is today in the world? No one is grateful anymore. There is no gratefulness.

It's just gone. And that was the main emphasis of my letter. But all I wanted to do with that letter was just say, hey, sir, thank you. This is somebody you've helped.

You have no idea who I am, no idea what my life's about. But I want you to know you've blessed my life. And that was the only reason I did it.

I was sitting there one day and I was I was just feeling thankful for everything. And I saw them hammering him on TV over some political nonsense. And I didn't agree with everything the man said or did or stood for. But they were blistering this guy over something so minute. And it upset me so much.

And I'm like, don't they realize the good that this man has done? And I just said, you know what, I want him to know that there's people out there that do appreciate it. And that was the main reason why I sat down at that very moment in my best grammar school penmanship, because I'm not a computer guy and I'm technologically horrible. And I probably would have sent an email to, I don't know, Australia somehow or whatever.

It wouldn't have gotten there. So I said, let me write an old school letter and let me look up the address for where they are headquartered and let me send it in the hopes that he gets it. And a couple of weeks later, I was like, I guess maybe they didn't get it. And it's OK. I didn't want anything.

I wanted nothing from him. I wanted to just say thank you. And I got a call from Christine Nichols from I guess it's his public relations folks. And I was blown away. And I was like, wow, you know what? This man knows that I'm grateful.

And that meant everything. Mr. Coke invited me to the dedication of his new cancer wing, Sloan Kettering. And I'm sitting there and Mr. Coke came up with his wife and he's just such a lovely guy. And he says, no, I'm so glad you made it here today. And I said, you know, Mr. Coke, I didn't expect a free launch or anything like that. And I says, but I just wanted to get a chance to shake your hand and say thank you. I said, you know this very well as a fellow survivor.

If it wasn't for research and it wasn't for people devoting their life to the cause of cancer, we wouldn't be here. And he smiled and he says, you're so right. And he just said, thanks for the acknowledgement. And I says, Mr. Coke, thank you, sir.

It's my honor. And we parted ways. And, you know, I said, hopefully I'll see you when the building's completed if we get around to it. And that was my last interaction with him, but it was wonderful.

It was so funny. I took my kids to the museum in New York a couple of weeks ago and I'm walking in the David Coke wing and I'm going, oh my God, this guy, this guy helped everybody, you know? And then we walked somewhere else. I forgot where we were in the city.

And I said, oh, we walked past the Metropolitan Opera to get to our car. And I look up and there's his wing there and I'm saying, wow, this guy did a lot of good for this city. And yeah, and just a gentleman, just a, he seemed to me a humble, unassuming gentleman. And I walked away going, wow, I can't believe this guy's like this huge business titan. He just didn't come off that way. You know, I was expecting this swaggering, almost John Wayne guy with a chip and maybe, you know, a second to put out his hand and say, yeah, how are you doing?

And keep on going. But he stood there for a good few minutes and just chatted and it was, it was really nice. It was a great memory I have, really great memory of him. And I'm sure some of my union brethren, you know, he's big business and we're not and blah, blah.

Hey, listen, I don't know the last pro union guy who's dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to cancer research or other philanthropic causes that help people. So I tell him go stick it. See, that's the problem in, you know, everyone gets a trophy now is if your trophy is bigger or you have more trophies, people are upset. But it's like, wait a minute. Back when I was a kid, you know, you had to work for stuff. You know, I studied for four years to become a fire lieutenant to get a $20,000 a year raise. And I say that to my son. My son's 19 and he's actually training to be a pilot and he's, he's not sure he's in a limbo.

He doesn't know what to do. And I said, son, let me explain something to you. I said, you're in America. I said, no one can tell you no, unless God forbid you have a huge disability or whatnot.

And even then you could probably still do it. And I said, don't tell your mother we're talking like this because my wife has a no curse policy. So I have to be really guarded. She's tough. I'm very scared of her. She's five foot two.

And she's, she's the drill Sergeant around here, but the best. I said, son, no one owes you and no one owed me. And I said, guess what I did last year. I said, I paid off my house after 25 years. It's paid off, not a big house, just a ranch, not special, but it's paid off. I said, I bought it when I was 24 years old. I got the, the quickest down payment I could scrape together. And my father said it, the minute you can buy a house, you buy a house. And I did.

And there was many, many months once my wife stopped working and the baby started coming where I want dad, this is a mistake. He said, kid, just keep as you're going. Don't worry about it. It'll be paid off. And I said that to my son, I said, guess what?

You'll do the same thing. I says, but no one's going to give it to you. So I'll help you along. If I can, you know, I pay for his flying lessons because it's not cheap. And I says, but I want you to put it to good use. And he's like, dad, I will.

I will. And that's the problem. Everybody feels like someone owes them some, no one owes me nothing. And I say to people, they ripped me all my pension, my pension. And I say, listen, I said, I know pensions are a tricky subject. I said, but I did a lot of dangerous, crazy, dirty for my pension. And I said, if it's so much money, why am I still out there working with, I don't have active cancer, thank God, but you know, it's in me or whatever. I said, why would I be out there working as a stagehand if I made so much more? I said, so thank you. Yeah, I'm grateful for my pension, but I earned every penny of it. And I said, the beautiful thing is everything I owned, I worked for. And that is so hard to instill in people.

And that's why, you know, Mr. Koch and his brother were so wildly successful because somebody instilled that the lack of fathers. And I understand sometimes divorce or sometimes death, it happens, but to be brought into the world and from day one, never have someone looking after you, that's heartbreaking. And unfortunately it's omnipresent in today's society.

And I don't care what race it's everywhere. Unfortunately, January of 2012, my career was ended. I was retired off the department medically because with certain cancers, you're not allowed to return to fire duty.

And that to me, it sounds pathetic, but that was probably the worst day of my life. One of them, because I lost what I did. I lost my priesthood. I lost being a fireman and helping people. And one of the weirdest things that totally set me straight after I got cancer, I was really down about losing a job. And my wife said to me, what's wrong with you?

I said, I can't handle not being a fireman. And she goes, listen to me. She goes, you got a second chance at life. You got these kids, you have me.

She goes, you're going to have to get past it. And one night I'm at dinner and I'm cleaning a plate and my kids are still sitting there. And my daughter goes, you know what, one of the best things about daddy getting cancer was, and my son goes, yeah, he's home with us for dinner all the time.

I washed off the plate and I put it in a dishwasher and I walked out and I cried, but it's okay. I'm alive and I'm watching my children grow. Thank God. My oldest daughter, Emily, who's 22, actually was inspired by my nursing care in Methodist hospital in Brooklyn, New York, where I spent a month. She was inspired to become a nurse and she's starting her nursing career next week. Just been hired as an emergency room nurse and I'm still very proud of her.

And hopefully that's the silver lining of cancer. Someone now is going out to the world to help and make a difference. And what a beautiful story.

A great job as always by Alex Cortez on that piece. And a special thanks to Nils Jorgensen for sharing the full depth and breadth of his story because 9-11 wasn't about a day. Indeed today still, there are unions, there are blessings, there's gratitude, and always there's loss and there's grief. And my goodness, in the area of New Jersey I grew up in, the parts of Staten Island that I ate and played in, and particularly in Queens, Breezy Point, which is where so many firefighters live, retire, and gather together. And to this day, 9-11 and my family around that New York tri-state region is just, it's not just a day. And if you have a chance, whatever you do, go to New York City and see what remarkable things the architects and the folks there have done to commemorate that day. The museum is spectacular. Every American should go to that like they should go to the Smithsonian in Washington DC and try and do the Lewis and Clark Trail. The story of 9-11, Nils Jorgensen's story here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 18:48:24 / 2023-02-17 19:01:03 / 13

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