9/11 Responder Spreads Message of Love and Hope

Frank Lopez

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Photo by: Frank Lopez

Eric Field, survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, hugs a student during a speech at Fresno City College.

Eric Field sat in the emergency room of a New Jersey hospital around 2:30 in the afternoon on Sept. 11, 2001. Field noticed the nurses, orderlies and doctors staring at him and the other patient in his room. Dazed and feeling self-conscious, Field asked the doctors and nurses why they were staring at them.

A nurse told Field that he and his roommate were the only survivors of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center who were admitted to the hospital. The doctors had been waiting for more survivors to come into the hospital since the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:45 a.m. but had seen no others.

For most Americans, it is quite daunting and to comprehend what has been said about 9/11 in the 15 years since the tragedy; the fury of blind patriotism that swept the nation after the attacks; the invasion of Iraq; the rising fear and mistrust within the population and the politics of hate.

But for New Jersey native, Eric Field, relating his experiences as a first responder in the 9/11 attacks remind Fresno City College students about the human element of a historic tragedy that took nearly 3,000 lives. Field’s love for God, his sense of justice, his empathy for others and his sensitivity is powerfully relayed when he recounts his life story and what he went through on that September morning.

Born in the early 1960s, Field recalls his childhood with his four siblings as a typical suburban and religious upbringing. His parents divorced when he was about six and remarried other people. “It was a good move; they did not do well with each other at all,” Field said. “Things happened in their lives. They found other people, married them. They have had awesome marriages since.”
He grew up in the Tri-State area during the the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Field said he was aware of the social and political upheaval that was shaking the nation at the time. His parents instilled in him a sense of fairness and responsibility for others.

“I was raised by my parents in a very multicultural sense,” Field says.

Field and his family moved to a number of little towns near New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York. He moved to Philadelphia in the 1980s to attend the Philadelphia College of Art to study figure painting and sculpting. Field admits that he had a hard time explaining to the elders of his church that he was leaving to “draw naked fat people.”

He eventually lost interest in art and wanted to start working with people so he decided to study journalism. He quickly found out that he was not suited for journalism because it is “math with words” and began to get into more social work.

He continued to work in diverse fields and situations so he could help people. He worked as a missionary, a lifeguard, in healthcare and in mental health services. In the mid-90s, he was also attending Nayak University in New York to become a priest.

In 2001, Field was living in a small New York town near the woods where the Tri-State points met. He liked the quiet seclusion that the woods brought him, and he was also just a train ride away from Manhattan. On Sept. 10, 2001, he received a call from the city of New York notifying him that he had underpaid a speeding ticket by a few dollars and that a bench warrant would be issued for his arrest if he did not pay the exact amount.

The next morning he was on the train to Manhattan to pay off his ticket. He talked with a regular rider named Frank, whom he had met earlier. They did not know each other very well but they would always greet each other and make conversation on the ride into the city. When they reached their stop, Frank said goodbye and headed to work in the WTC. It would be the last time Field saw Frank.

After exiting the traffic court building, Field noticed burning papers falling from the sky. He called his work and they told him that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. The buildings were too high for Field to get a clear view and he simply thought that a pilot had accidentally crashed a small plane into the building. He remembers a lady in a work suit walked past him in a state of shock, mumbling, “It’s gone. The whole 95th floor is gone.”

Field could not make sense of her statement and continued towards the post office to send the money order.

As he left the post office, a large man was running down the street yelling, “We’re being bombed!” The second plane had hit while Field was inside the post office.
Field pulled out his cross, ran towards the WTC, and said aloud, “God, please don’t let me fuck this up.”

The first thing Field tried to do was meet up with the other chaplains and get into the building. He met up with an Italian priest who could not speak English, and they went inside together. Many people still in the building were of different beliefs, but everyone was scared, believing they were living their final moments.
Field thought that if he couldn’t save them, he could be with them when they all died.

“When I asked people, ‘Can I pray with you?’ nobody said no,” Field said. “We all figured, we’re probably going to die, and we just needed to know God was with us in the middle of this horrible thing.”

Because of speculation about a third plane heading towards the building, people were forced to evacuate. Field said he picked up the Italian priest he was with and carried him out of the building against his will just before the first tower fell.

Field said he ran from the cloud of dust and debris that swallowed the streets and escaped the cloud by running into a building.

He then ran outside to pull people from the debris. He would drag them into the safety of the building and head back outside to bring more people in. With the help of some other people, Field pulled in 300 to 400 people.

A few hours later, Field was rounded up, hosed down, and admitted to a hospital in Hoboken, New Jersey. He sat in a numb state of shock as the doctors and nurses desperately looked in on them. The room’s second occupant had worked in the WTC and so did his daughter. Field was with him when he received the call that his daughter was alive.

After being released from the hospital, Field rode the train all the way home curled in the fetal position. Even months after the tragedy, Field would suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The sound of UPS truck coming down the road would send him cowering behind the toilet.

He says that since then, he pays a lot more attention to his surroundings and the people in it. The U.S. was in shock after the attacks on 9/11. After the initial mourning, anger, fear and unbridled patriotism began to cultivate around the event. Field condemns the spectacle that has been built around 9/11, the following war, and the rise of hostility towards Muslims, and people that appear Middle-Eastern looking.

“People who were in the WTC attacks generally don’t hate other beliefs,” says Field. “We realized there is just no room in life for that. We’ve been through it. We were all attacked together. We all cried together. We all died together.”

Field has also dealt with issues of survivor’s guilt, and has been asked by people if he had wished he had died that day so he could be with God. He said that he has to continue his life after having survived such a horrible ordeal because the people that lost their lives that day would want him to.

“My being born at a certain time, and my dying at a certain time are appointments,” said Field. “They’re appointments that I have to keep. I’m not going to get out of it. It was not my turn to die on 9/11. I am in a way, kind of a tribute. I’ve had dead people in my lungs.”



Field continues to wrestle with what he went through but keeps moving forward. He came to Fresno in 2005 for a girl he had known since his college days back east. She was from Clovis, and they had kept in touch over the years. They began dating and after about a month, they broke up and Field never saw her again.

Field began taking classes for nursing at Fresno City College and was taking a political science class taught by Professor Mark Trezza. When he offered to share his experiences on 9/11, the instructor gave him the entire class session.

Though Field doesn’t tell his story too often, he recounts the WTC attacks the only way he knows how: as a human being who survived the horrific event. He tells students what he and other people went through, even if it is extremely morbid and graphic.

“Before I talk to anybody, or give a lecture, I’m praying God will remind me of stuff that will tear me up,” says Field. ”Because I can’t just let it be stale history. I can’t just let it be a historic event that happened 3,000 miles away. I’ve got to connect with it, and convey it, and it’s got to be personal.”

Field was developing his own business in the manufacturing of bicycles, gym-sets and playsets, when a back injury prevented him from that work. Now he is now shifting gears towards more clinical work. He plans to continue his social work, get back into chaplaincy, and working with people at risk.

Field’s bravery in the face of horror is rare and genuine. Though he is modest, his courage and love for other people is what is truly inspiring.
“People call me a hero. I’m not a hero,” Field says. “I’m a regular guy who’s helping people out. There is no hero thing here.”