YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – As the first plane hit the World Trade Center 20 years ago, Michael Gonzales was at home in upstate New York with his young son when his now ex-wife called him.
“We started watching TV and then we watched the second plane hit,” he said.
Almost immediately, the then Air Force tech sergeant started gathering his deployment gear as his son watched.
“He asked, ‘Daddy, what’s going on?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Daddy’s going to war.'”
Two days later, Gonzales, who had already served in Kosovo and the first Gulf War, was working out of New York City’s Emergency Operations Center passing out supplies.
“I remember being at Fort Hamilton, which is where we were housed over in Brooklyn, blowing black stuff out of my nose every day,” Gonzales said.
Fast forward more than a decade, and Gonzales meets Loree Borucki. They would eventually marry, but it took months for him to open up about what he’d been through.
“He didn’t talk about it very much then. Then, as we got to know each other more and more, I learned that we had to avoid certain situations,” Loree Gonzales said.
About three years ago, Gonzales was diagnosed as having cardiomyopathy and asthma from his time at Ground Zero, as well as PTSD — the memories are still haunting.
“Looking up in the sycamore trees seeing all sorts of debris, wondering if there are body parts in that up there,” Gonzales reflected.
These days, Gonzales is retired from the Air Force and living on disability. He said the noise from C-130s flying overhead from Vienna is actually reassuring.
“That’s the sound of freedom. It’s when you don’t hear that, that’s when it gets worrisome,” he said.
There will be observances of the anniversary of 9/11 at several places around the Valley, but Gonzales rarely attends any of them and doesn’t watch them on TV, either. He hasn’t for 20 years.
“Things are starting to flood social media, the news and all that, but I basically just try to keep it blocked out,” he said.
Part of that is because of his fear of another attack, especially with what’s happened over the last month in Afghanistan.
“It’s not the ‘if,’ it’s the ‘when’ it is gonna happen,” Gonzales said.
He said the nation needs to be prepared.