Marco worked at Ground Zero for weeks
Elkins mayor was on FBI deployment team
ELKINS — New York City was not a popular destination in the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Current Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco, however, had no choice but to head to the Big Apple because at that time he was in the midst of a 28-year career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Actually, when 9/11 took place I was in Salt Lake City, Utah, helping prepare for the Olympics,” Marco, who was a frontline supervisor at the time of the attacks, told The Inter-Mountain.
“We had a meeting scheduled with the governor of Utah that day and my alarm went off to hear the news that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. So I flipped on the television and just as I did the second plane hit. It was one of the surreal moments where you can’t believe what you’re seeing.”
Immediately after the second plane flew into the Twin Towers, Marco picked up the phone and called back to his office on the East Coast.
“At that point everything was in turmoil, so me and my colleague who was with me figured we needed to head back east as fast as possible because we were part of a rapid deployment team,” he said.
Because most flights across the country, and especially to New York, were suspended after the attacks, Marco and his colleague spent the next three days driving across the country in a one-way rental.
“A handful of days after it happened I was in New York City with a team working on recovery and identification,” he said. “It was just a surreal moment and the thing I remember the most about it is the stench — the smell of the burning and of the fuel. And even when I go back today, even though it’s not there, I still smell it because I was there and I smelled it every day for so many weeks.”
Marco said seeing Ground Zero for the first time was like receiving a gut punch that you never recovered from.
“When you see something like that and you realize that someone came into your house and did it, it’s something you never get over,” he said. “It changed the way Americans lived their lives and changed the mission of the FBI as a whole.”
Marco, who is an Elkins native, spent two weeks in New York City after the attacks. After getting a break to go home for a short period of time, he then returned to NYC to continue his work.
“Our team was responsible for a lot of the identifications at ground zero,” Marco said. “It was a miserable job that you never want to do again, but at the same time you were giving families closure. The work itself was not good because you’re down in the muck and mud seeing these bodies. But to be able to give closure to the families and friends was the silver lining in it all.”
While working in New York, Marco said he and his colleagues’ emotions would change every so often and at times they would become very angry about what had happened. But then they would start talking about how resilient the country was and how everyone was going to get through it all.
“Our emotions were definitely changing all the time,” he said. “Especially when you see how many of the brothers and sisters were lost by the firemen and the police officers we were working alongside. Your heart really went out to them.”
After his job was done in New York, Marco decided to continue the fight against terrorism.
“I could have probably been done after my work in New York, but they asked me if I would be interested in going overseas,” Marco said. “I told them absolutely because I felt like I needed to help make a difference for our country.”
For the next 19 years Marco spent time going back and forth across the seas and tracking leads, with his primary focus being in the Middle East. Most of his time was spent in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
“I saw a lot of things that I never want to see again during my time overseas, but we accomplished a great deal in helping protect the United States,” he said. “I know we helped prevent other things from happening in this country.”
When asked about the 20th anniversary of 9/11 celebrations that are planned throughout the country this weekend, Marco replied, “I don’t want to call it a celebration, there’s nothing to celebrate, but we do need to honor all the first responders and the innocent victims.”
“Your heart goes out to them along with those who served in the military and went overseas trying to get justice for us,” he said. “Many of them gave the ultimate sacrifice and we need to pay proper respect to them.”
Marco said the one positive thing that came out of that tragic day was the unity it created among Americans.
“As terrible as 9/11 was, it actually brought this country closer together,” Marco said. “Whenever I see the 180 we’ve taken today and how much divide there is in our country, you don’t wish something like that would ever happen again, but it’s sad that it took an attack on our soil to bring us together, to make us realize we’re all Americans and we are all in this together. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people have forgotten what happened.”