KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Americans are observing it by remembering where they were and who they were with.
A Kalamazoo man with New York roots decided to make sure his brethren in the Big Apple were not alone. Though time and distance kept them apart, a connection he made with one of them is still intact.
On one of America’s darkest days, licensed psychologist and professional counselor Larry Beer was speechlessly watching the images of the twin towers from his Kalamazoo-based practice, Child & Family Psychological Services. He worried about his family living in New York.
“It’s the kind of thing where you see it happening, but you can’t really believe that it’s really happening,” Beer said. “It’s just like how could this happen?”
Less than a month after the attacks, Beer joined the army of volunteers flocking to ground zero to help with the efforts. He had experience in disasters, including an assignment with the American Red Cross following Hurricane Andrew. But Beer says this one was different.
“I was trained on how to respond to disasters. But this was a disaster beyond what I had seen. This was beyond a hurricane,” Beer said. “I went there and I could even see the other mental health professionals were also just going through trauma. Like they were there, but they didn’t seem like they were really there, at least some of them.”
Beer says while cleanup and recovery were the goal, forming bonds through camaraderie and conversation was also on the minds of first responders and volunteers whenever on break.
“You see them sitting there,” Beer explained. “You just go up to them and you just say like, ‘How’s it going?’ Maybe you wind up talking about sports, the Yankees or something else. The next thing they know, they talk about whatever they wanted to.”
One of them is now-retired Sgt. Gaspar Perez. After serving one active Army tour in Vietnam, he came home and registered with the Army National Guard. Once his battalion was activated during the attacks, he saw only one tower standing as they were making their way to lower Manhattan.
“There was a big, big smell in all of that from the rubbish, from the parts of the airplane that fell,” Perez said. “I’m looking up and people are jumping out of the World Trade Center — it’s really horrible.”
Perez says that Tuesday marked the beginning of a three-month mission to help secure ground zero and the area surrounding it. But what helped accomplish his mission was the company he had, especially from Kalamazoo.
“We all got together. We introduced ourselves. (Beer) asked me, ‘How long have you been in the National Guard?’ I told him, ‘Since 1975.’ And that’s a long time,” Perez said. “For him to leave his family behind coming over to help us, especially with me, it’s a tremendous feat, and I applaud him very much.”
“I’m really blessed that I had the chance to be able to be a part of such an effort of resilience to help bounce back and that I was able to be part of it,” Perez continued.
The two told News 8 they routinely stay in touch. Beer said he will be in New York in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and to pay a visit to Perez. It’ll be the first time they’ll see each other in person in at least 10 years.