Bainbridge man looks back on 9-11

Published 12:17 am Saturday, September 12, 2015


Billy Ward was living in New York when the World Trade Center was attacked. Fourteen years later, the memory is still crystal clear on what happened to him that day. — Powell Cobb

He still remembers the smell of the smoke in the air on that Monday morning in New York. It was thick and could be smelt for miles.

Billy Ward, a Bainbridge resident who lived in New York for 41 years, watched the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when two airline planes crashed into each of the towers and killed almost 3,000 people. He was in Queens, just 10 miles from the chaos, but could see the mayhem clearly.

“I got a phone call once it happened that I needed to get to the television as quickly as possible,” Ward recalled. He was managing a high-riser apartment at the time and had one of the taller buildings in the area. “I went to the roof and I saw one of the towers was on fire. I found out a plane had went into one of the towers.”

Email newsletter signup

As Ward began snapping photos, he realized only one tower was still standing. The first one had collapsed just moments before.

What were the first things going through his mind?

“Friends, family and relatives,” Ward said.

His son, Andre, was an officer with the New York Police Department at the time. His grandchildren were at school and his daughter was stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to them. It was chaos.

As he moved back and forth between his apartment roof and the television, information on the disaster became clear. It was an act of terrorism.

“I was numb,” Ward said. “I didn’t actually know what was going on.”

Ward hurried to pick up his grandchildren from school—on his feet. Walking was the only option as the entire city and the surrounding boroughs were shut down. Traffic did not move. Where you were is where you stayed, for most people.

One of the most sobering moments for Ward was talking to his best friend, Charles, who worked at the World Trade Center. Charles had planned to take that Monday off as a water pipe was scheduled for connection to his home.

“I said, ‘Charles, let me do that.’ He said, ‘No, I paid for it and it’s under warranty, let them hook it up,” Ward said. “If I hooked up the waterline an he went to work that day, I have no idea what would’ve happened.”

Ward’s family was okay. But he later found that 13 of his friends lost their lives. Many of them were fireman and policeman who he got to know closely through refereeing youth basketball games.

“Now they’re gone,” Ward said. “Not even a fingernail. Nothing.”

Ward left New York shortly after to return to Bainbridge. The smell of the smoke wouldn’t go away and he was ready to return South—to home—a place he hadn’t lived in since 1965. What had happened was a travesty he would never forget.

But through the disaster, Ward saw a glimmer of hope.

“For the first time in my life, I saw humanity come together,” Ward said. “It wasn’t racial. It was one common denominator that we are human, and the unity from that. How it bound us together should be a bond forever.”

Unfortunately, he sees that bond beginning to slip away. People are drifting back to where they were before 9-11.

In an effort to remind people that humanity can still come together to make a difference, Ward has helped start a cleanup crew in Bainbridge that cleans streets every weekend in the city.