So often, we remember 9/11 as a horrible tragedy that happened 20 some years ago and killed thousands of people. What’s easy to forget is the survivor. There are those that there are those who lived it, truly LIVED it — like survivor Thomas Canavan, one of September 11th’s 27 survivors.
After crawling through over 75 feet of rubble (horizontally and vertically), Thomas made it out of the mass tragedy alive, but the story he lived to tell is much different than the one most of us can imagine from the footage we saw on our TV screens.
Kylee Tinney got a taste of what the real 9/11 was like when she engaged Thomas, a museum worker at the 9/11 Memorial, in a conversation that changed her perspective for life.
She shared her interaction with Thomas in a Facebook post that has now been shared almost 160,000 times by those whose lives have also been touched by this survivor’s powerful story:
“Our driver dropped us off near the 9/11 Memorial entrance. It was POURING down rain and the line was long so I ran to the nearest cover, which was by the museum exit door, while Clint went to buy tickets. Standing there was a police officer and a museum facilities dispatch worker. I eavesdropped on their casual conversation for a few minutes and finally mustered up the courage to ask them where they were on 9/11.
“The 47th floor of the North Tower”, the museum worker said. Thomas Canavan, one of twenty survivors of the collapse. Wow. He proceeded to tell me his harrowing story of being buried alive, crawling through 46 horizontal and roughly 30 vertical feet of rubble, making it out alive, severely injured (but not realizing it due to adrenaline) and sadly having lost the friends he started with.
We talked for 20 minutes as if no one else were around. I asked questions, and he gladly answered. One of the many things from that conversation that stuck out was that he said it’s so deceiving on TV when all you see is one cloud of dust and a small hole from the plane. The reality you don’t realize at home is that it was desks, file cabinets, chairs, staircases, elevators, and people falling down on him. The little holes in the Towers on TV from the planes were really 6 stories tall. The magnitude of this tragedy was so much more than most of us can imagine from our television screens. Something that’s hard for us to comprehend.
Clint came back with museum tickets for 11:30am. It was 10:45am so we were going to have to wait a bit. The rain had subsided by now. Tom without hesitation said, “You guys come with me.” He escorted us past the (still) long line, past the police officers, and told the security guards, “these are my two friends, let them in.” And without question we were quickly escorted inside, as if the President had just given orders. I could tell Tom was highly respected by everyone around. Before he left us, he told us to look for him in the museum; we would find his picture and the watch he wore that fateful day.
Sure enough, we found Tom’s watch displayed in a shadow box. From the impact of the collapse, his wristwatch stopped; a moment stuck in time. The eeriness and irony. Tom told me that was the last day he ever wore a watch. It’s easy to think of September 11 as just a terrible tragedy in our country’s history. We so often forget that these were/are REAL PEOPLE, many who still feel the effects every day. Even something as simple as not being able to wear a watch, because it brings back haunting flashbacks.
We spent two hours in the museum, but could’ve spent days. As we exited the museum we saw Tom not far away. We hollered his name and ended up chatting a bit longer. Before leaving he said in his Northern accent, “See us Yankees aren’t so bad after all. You never know what you’ll learn about people until you sit and talk to them.” This made me reflect a little…while I was talking to Tom, probably ten or more visitors came up to him and asked where is the bathroom, where is the museum entrance, nearest restaurant, and the list goes on. But I got the feeling that not many people took the time to ask him about 9/11: the reason we were all here. No one knew everything he had been through. I could only be thankful it was raining that day and I picked that particular awning to run under, or else I might have missed this happenstance and humbling conversation of fate. I can only hope he was equally as touched to share his story with us as we were to hear it.
When we told him goodbye, I let him know that we would bring his story with us back to The South, which is why I felt compelled to share with you today. I may never see my FRIEND Tom again, which makes me sad, but every September 11th I will fondly remember him and all of the other men and women who died and lived in the face of pure evil. As always, I am Proud to be an American.”
9/11 Survivor, Thomas Canavan, and Others Featured in National Geographic Docuseries
What’s more, for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, National Geographic will be covering the story from survivor, Thomas Canavan’s perspective, along with other survivors’ and first responders’ perspectives in a 7-hour docuseries. The series is called 9/11: One Day in America, created by filmmakers, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, who interviewed 54 people over three years. Those featured will share some minute-by-minute accounts of how they responded and how each survivor survived. The series also includes footage that has never been seen before from the area around the towers. Survivor, Thomas Canavan, is featured in the third episode, “The South Tower,” which aired August 30, 2021. In the episode, an announcement initially tells survivors of the attack to remain where they were just before these individuals watch the north tower be struck by second plane. At that point, those in the south tower had to race to safety, where first responders are swamped with injured survivors like Thomas Canavan. Survivor, Thomas Canavan was filmed that day as he began to leave the tragic site. He spoke to the cameras about what he’d experienced saying, “Big boom. Coming down the steps everything was fine until we got to the basement and then everything just fell in. I was trapped under there with another guy and crawled out. I kept getting hit in the head and bashed around. We finally made our way out over the rubble.”
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