I still remember September 11, 2001 like it was yesterday. It goes without saying that it was a day that changed everybody’s lives and the world as we know it. And everybody has stories about their experiences from that dark day.
For Paul “Paulie” Veneto, he was a flight attendant for United Airlines who regularly worked United Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles.
Paulie was off on 9/11, but his friends and co-workers were tragically on the plane as it ended up crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
In the years that followed, Paulie fell into a downward spiral, finding himself addicted to opiates that he used to numb the pain from the grief of the tragedy.
But on the 20th anniversary of that horrific day, Paulie will celebrate 6 years clean – and he’s working hard to keep the memory of his former coworkers alive.
In honor of the crew of United 175, Paulie is pushing an airplane beverage cart from Boston to New York, the same route that the ill-fated flight took on 9/11.
Paulie says he’s making the more than 200-mile walk to make sure that the heroes – and his friends – on that plane are never forgotten:
“I feel like it’s my obligation as a fellow crew member to have them recognized for the heroics that day. They left families, and nobody has ever said, ‘Your relative was a hero.’ I can’t believe it.”
Paulie’s cart has photos of the fallen crew members on board, and he can tell you the stories as he points to their pictures:
“That’s the captain and the first officer. And that’s Amy and Michael, they were engaged to be married. That’s Amy Jarret, I used to fly with her all time.”
Paulie trained for the journey for more than a year, and he’ll end his push on September 11 at the World Trade Center.
As word spread along the route, Paulie’s been joined by others who either have their own story from 9/11 or just want to support him on his journey.
“I didn’t expect the response that I’m getting. They’re bringing their kids. It’s unbelievable! The best part is meeting the people. I love meeting the people coming out of the houses.”
And he was was even joined by a fellow flight attendant who had been scheduled to work United 175 on a different day.
Paulie’s using the journey to raise money for some worthy causes: Half of the money he raises will go to a foundation set up for the families of the flight crews, and half will go to the nonprofit Power Forward, which helps support those struggling with addiction and is sponsoring Paulie’s Push.
I obviously can’t even began to imagine all that Paulie’s been through, and the struggle it’s been to overcome the grief from losing your coworkers and friends in such a tragedy.
But Paulie’s determined to keep their memory and legacy alive, even if it means walking 15 miles a day pushing a beverage cart.
And if he gets tired or starts to feel run down on his journey? Well, Paulie says he just looks at the photos of the crew from United 175 and he finds the strength to carry on.
“The minute I feel any ache or pain or I’m sweating or whatever, I just glance over, and I see their smiling faces looking at me, and right away it clicks in. And you know something? This is nothing compared to what they endured that morning. Nothing. And I swear to God, the pain goes away.”
What an incredible tribute. May we never forget those we lost that horrible, horrible day.