Around this time of year, Gus Cabarcas and others who were on site both on and after Sept. 11, 2001 feel very tense.
“We know the day’s approaching, and to me it feels like it was yesterday,” he said.
Cabarcas was just about to get off of work that morning after a night shift as a sergeant for the New York City Police Department. He was scheduled to have a few days off.
An officer came up to him and said they needed him back. He mentioned something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, Cabarcas said.
“I immediately got back in uniform and went across into lower Manhattan, and as I was going across the Brooklyn Bridge, that’s when I saw the second plane strike,” he said.
Cabarcas describes that night at ground zero as feeling like a nuclear bomb had gone off.
“The bottom of our shoes melted due to the heat,” he said. “We kept hearing all these sounds, and every time we heard a sound, we would try to go where the sound was coming from, and basically we just started digging on our hands and knees.”
He spent over 600 hours working both at ground zero and at the landfill in Staten Island where ground zero debris was delivered, he said.
In 2012, Cabarcas retired from the department and moved to McKinney, where he has been for about eight years.
“What McKinney puts out every year, it’s a good way to remember,” he said. “And unfortunately a lot of people are starting to forget.”
The Leadership McKinney Alumni Network puts together an annual event to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. This year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the network approached the event differently.
To allow for social distancing, the network has put together a three-day self-guided tour at Dr. Glenn Mitchell Memorial Park featuring a timeline that walks visitors through the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The outdoor tour, which opened Friday, will be available through 8 p.m. Sunday.
“It's not only a self-guided tour, but it's a very personal event, and people can take away what they want from it,” said Keith King, communications manager with the McKinney Chamber of Commerce.
McKinney Fire Chief Danny Kistner said that for him, the greater message is the courage that first responders and civilians exhibited that day.
“They were just going about their daily lives, regular life, and they were thrust into an extraordinary circumstance,” he said, “and there was a lot of courage demonstrated that day.”
Cabarcas wants people to remember. He pulls out an old picture on his phone, featuring a group of first responders wearing white face masks.
“That was me as a young man,” he said.
He points to three men on one side of the group. They each have died due to exposures during the Sept. 11 response. Cabarcas said he hears of co-workers who were there who have died around the age of 50 from being exposed to chemicals.
“Every time I hear of a friend passing away, it’s always in the back of my mind. ‘Hey, am I next?’” he said. “But I don’t worry about it. I’ve got to keep on living. My plan is to live for 100 years.”