HOUSTON – It is a rare sight to see former New York City police officer George Valencia showing off personal photos of his nightmare, especially on September 11th.
Valencia is still haunted by things he can’t forget. 15 years ago, he witnessed terror attacks in Manhattan.
“Just the smell of the fire and the screaming and the flames, nobody knows what it is to see what I saw,” Valencia said.
On September 11th, 2001, then-Officer Valencia left his precinct less than a block from the World Trade Center with two passengers in his NYPD van.
“As soon as I turned the corner, boom,” he said. “The plane hit. That’s how close I was. That impact was unbelieveable.”
He ran inside the damaged tower trying to save strangers. However, Valencia’s partner needed him outside to help the wounded. That’s when the second plane hit right above their heads.
“I was petrified,” Valencia said. “I was nervous as all hell.”
Still, he kept directing people to safety, at least trying to do so.
“As I’m telling people which way to go, I look up,” Valencia said. “People are like look! Look! Look! And I could just see the people (in the towers) jumping. People were just holding hands and just jumping in groups of two or three. That was shocking to me.”
So, he decided to run back to the towers to help firefighters. On his way, someone’s cry for help stopped him.
“When I turned around to help this individual, the whole ground shook,” he said. “The tower fell where I was going.”
As he ran for his life dodging falling chunks of concrete and steel, Valencia prayed to see his children again. He also called his wife just in case.
“I was praying and I was praying and I was just, oh God, just let it happen,” he said. “Let it happen. I have to get out of here.”
Several blocks away at an address Valencia cannot forget, someone opened their door.
“He said 'Officer come inside,'” Valencia recalled. “Run in here. So, I ran inside 46 Broadway. When I ran inside and looked back the debris missed me by like five seconds.”
That is when work really began. Over 100 screaming, frightened people turned to Valencia to guide them home. Two young girls in private school uniforms clung to his side until he found their mother.
However, toxic fumes from outside slowly crept inside. So, Valencia ordered everyone into the basement. As people obeyed, the second tower collapsed. More dust came in.
Once in the basement, Valencia feared another collapse.
“I said 'I have to leave to go get help,'” he said. “(The people said) 'No. Don’t leave officer. Don’t leave us. Please don’t leave us.'”
Still, he left promising to send help.
Armed with an oxygen mask, Valencia walked outside and staggered into the arms of paramedics and fellow officers who thought he was dead.
“(One officer said) 'Officer Valencia, you’re alive,'” he recalled.
An ambulance took him to a hospital, but it took nearly two days for Valencia’s wife and children, who feared his death, to find him. They discovered a changed man.
“I remember my wife took me to church that Sunday and I heard a plane outside and I ran outside the church,” he said.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder forced him to retire with disability.
“Just leaving the uniform was very sad,” Valencia said. “It was devastating.”
However, his family’s move to Texas turned into a blessing thanks to his children. They are picking up where dad left off. Both are now Houston police officers.
“To this day, I’m very proud,” Valencia said.
He has not gone back to Manhattan and has no plans to do so. 9/11 Anniversaries remain painful.
“The ones that made it out (of the towers and debris), if they act like nothing happened, believe me, just being there and seeing everything you’re going to carry a scar for many years to come,” he said.
So while he prefers to look ahead to his future, he’ll never forget what happened. He hopes no one else does either.