Sifting through rubble & body bags, retired Norfolk Police Corporal recalls helping with 9/11 response

NORFOLK, Va. - Eight Norfolk Police officers traveled on an unsanctioned trip to New York City to help in recovery efforts following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The group originally asked their superiors to head to Manhattan to help but were told no, according to retired Norfolk Police Department Corporal David Huffman. He was one of the eight.

"For us, we were all stubborn and we wanted to go help," Huffman said. "We originally had about 50 officers that had wanted to go, and at the time there was a lot of uncertainty. I understand their hesitancy, looking back at it."

Determined to help, Huffman and the other seven who agreed to go loaded up their cars, put on their uniforms and left at 2 a.m. on September 14, 2001.

"It was about sunrise when we were coming into New York City," Huffman recalled. "You could see the smoke coming from the towers when we were riding in."

Huffman and his crew used two of their vacation days to help with the recovery efforts. He said it seemed no one was in charge as everyone was scrambling to do what they could. The air, with smoke and dust, he described, was snow-like.

They were given tasks based on what needed to be done and who needed help. Their jobs included unloading boxes from trucks, passing buckets of debris and even arranging body bags in a makeshift morgue.

"We had about 200 body bags that we laid out and help get that set up," Huffman said.

They returned home on September 16, 2001, because Huffman said they had to continue their duties in Norfolk. He added that Norfolk Police Department sent more officers to help in the recovery efforts thanks to their success and efforts.

Related: Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives 18 years ago at the World Trade Center on September 11. These are their names. 

"I think because our success of actually getting up there and doing something making a difference, we were able to send another 37 officers were able to go on duty. They spent two weeks up there," explained Huffman.

One of the memorable moments Huffman recalled was being cheered and thanked by people outside of Ground Zero. He said they were hugged and given American flags.

He holds onto his uniform that is still covered with dust. He also has his respirator, badges, helmet, goggles and boots that tore as he worked. He said he never wore that uniform again after returning home.

"We put everything in the garbage bags. It was in the garbage bag for quite a while," Huffman said. "It’s a piece of history. I was there that day."

Huffman said he returned to New York City five years after the attacks and twice since then, but did not go down to Ground Zero on either visits.

He retired from the Norfolk Police Department in early 2019 after 30 years of service. He is now the chief of the Norfolk Airport Authority Police.

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