Indianapolis firefighter relives 9/11 memories

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The dedication of the September 11 memorial museum in New York City is reviving the painful memories of the day more than a dozen years ago.

When Gregg Hess visits the city's 9/11 memorial with his girlfriend Kim, he usually feels at peace. But Thursday, he pointed to his arm.

"Goose bumps," he said, "and it's not because I'm cold."

It's because of the opening of the September 11 memorial museum. Televised coverage of its dedication show a gut-wrenching reminder of one of America's worst days and greatest comebacks.

"All the memories keep roaring back," Hess said. "There are good memories and bad memories"

In 2001, the Indianapolis firefighter and EMT was a member of Indiana's Task Force One. Rescuers rushed to the rubble of the Twin Towers, first searching for survivors, then recovering the dead. There was heroism ,then later, horror.

"Remnants of clothing, fire helmets that were destroyed, remnants of air packs that were destroyed," Hess explained.

He knew people who had been wearing those helmets and didn't survive, he said, and never found.

The museum memorializes those people and displays the artifacts of the horrible day Hess experienced as both a rescuer and a victim. Years later, he was diagnosed with cancer, resulting from his exposure to the hazardous debris.

"There are victims being diagnosed every day," Hess said. "Since 9/11, over 800 rescuers have died because of illnesses.

Asked how he has recovered, Hess answers with a smile.

"Well, I kicked cancer's butt," he said.

He led the effort to build Indianapolis' memorial to September 11. He hopes visitors to the new memorial museum are both reminded and inspired.

"This was a horrible event in our history, but we as a nation responded and rebounded from that and refused to let them get the best of us," Hess said, as if he were thinking out loud.

He plans to visit New York City and the museum. Because Hess said 9/11 and all that's happened since that day is now part of the fabric of his life.