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Savannah deli owner helped feed first responders on Ground Zero following 9/11 attacks

Published: Sep. 11, 2021 at 7:26 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2021 at 12:54 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Rocky’s of Savannah Deli Owner Bill Vissicchio is making sure none of his customers forget the attacks on our country 20 years later. He was at Ground Zero just days after the attack.

“I remember walking along the West Side Highway and it just being covered in white. It looked like a snowstorm in September...foot prints...that alone stands out. I’ll just never forget the smell... the smell of burning metals. Desk accessories on the ground you don’t know where they were from just walking on dust,” he remembers.

Vissicchio was working for McDonald’s at the time. The company had a mobile unit on Ground Zero to feed first responders. He said there were people who couldn’t get outside the perimeter to eat.

“These guys didn’t go home, these guys didn’t sleep. There was nothing normal about anything and to be able to help them a little bit... just a little bit, just bringing some people some food.”

He said the New York skyline was covered in smoke and there was a noticeable shift across New York after the attacks.

“My house was in the landing path of JFK airport and I used to watch planes go by the window every night just one after another after another... and then for five or six days it wasn’t anything. It was just eerie,” he said.

Vissicchio has been listening all week to people who can’t forget that day.

“I’ve heard some heart-wrenching stories and I get it.”

Reflecting on the September 11 attacks are customers at Rocky’s New York Deli. Most customers who spoke with WTOC are from New York. Some said it’s still too emotional to talk about, but a few still wanted to share what they remember 20 years later.

“On days like this, I just get up and I say a prayer for who we lost,” said Former Long Island Resident Thomas Guillo.

Thomas Guillo was born and raised in Long Island. He’s a military veteran and said he was working for the Port Authority in Savannah when he heard the news.

“I ran, I jumped off the forklift and I ran into the office to see the TV. Sure enough I was watching the Twin Towers get hit at the time. Immediately, I had called my family up there to make sure everyone was out of Manhattan,” he said.

Chief Wayne Noha was a volunteer fire chief in Chatham County and said their K-9 Cadaver dogs were the first on the scene.

“One of the K-9′s or both of them are down now, but one of them was put down not long afterwards just because of the effects of Ground Zero. I believe the handler is now suffering from Stage 3 Cancer. You can’t put that into words and I believe if you ask any of us, any of them, they’d do it again,” said Noha, Chief of Engagement and Development at Chatham Emergency Services.

Guillo knew some people with the same story.

“I do have a friend of mine back up in New York...his brother had recently passed away from cancer from helping firefighters and other police officers that day. So still to this day, it still has a place in my heart.”

Noha said 20 years later he might process it differently, but he doesn’t know anyone who isn’t still affected by what happened.

“The images that we saw, again that I wish I could forget, the firemen running up and people running down... knowing they’re going to their death. People jumping out of sides of buildings, the terror, the fear in their eyes...you just can’t explain it and I wasn’t even there.”

Vissicchio has been continuing the conversation since opening three years ago with a 9/11 wall at his restaurant. Anyone can come add to it in remembrance of first responders and victims who couldn’t live to share their stories.

“We say never forget, no one’s ever forgotten,” said Vissicchio.

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