USC student, father discuss emotional family sacrifices
It was an average September morning for Tyler Gunther, and their family, but the day ended as one they could never forget.
Gunther, now a first-year biology student, was sitting in his third-grade class in Staten Island, N.Y., when the school principal announced something terrible had happened. After Gunther's mother arrived to pick him up, the news got worse.
"She told me that my dad had to go up to Manhattan because a plane crashed into the World Trade Center," Gunther said. "We didn't hear from him that night."
Firefighter Frank M. Gunther Jr., Engine 166 Staten Island, returned home the next day on his other son's birthday, but returned a changed man. On Sept. 13 he went back to Ground Zero and was not heard from for several days.
Frank Gunther didn't come home for over a week and was only given 24 hours off spread throughout the seven days.
"We thought he was dead," Tyler Gunther said.
At the site, Frank Gunther's job was to work what was known as "bucket brigade." The job consisted of filling up buckets with debris and to dig down in the pile to see if any survivors could be found.
"I still have flashbacks of physically putting people's body parts in buckets and finding people in the debris, shredded beyond recognition," Frank Gunther, then 33, said.
According to Tyler Gunther, upon return, his father was blank and distant. He was no longer the same man he had been prior to 9/11.
"He sat in silence on my brother's birthday," Tyler Gunther said. "My family was so worried and scared."
Frank Gunther was also affected physically by the contaminants at Ground Zero.
Every day after working, medics washed all the dust and debris out of his eyes and he soon developed a severe cough that plagued him for six months. He took medication to ease his labored breathing for six months after he had finished working on the site and still has issues breathing.
For his sacrifices, Frank Gunther received free medical care and screenings up to date. Other than that, he has not been compensated for his work at Ground Zero.
"I think [America] has done enough so far," he said. "But they still need to continue monitoring and compensating the first responders that have become terminally ill from being subjected to the contaminants they had to work in at the site."
One upsetting subject for the Gunther family is that they were not invited to the 9/11 memorial ceremony. No first responders were invited to attend because of space constraints.
It has been 10 years since the planes struck the World Trade Center, but it has not been long enough for the Gunthers to recover. Frank Gunther still has frequent flashbacks and a mind-numbing fear of low-flying planes. Driving by the site gives him chills.
"I don't think I fully understood what was going on, but now as I look back, I would have been horrified if I knew what my father was being put through," Tyler Gunther said. "I'm horrified today."
Frank Gunther is still working as a firefighter in Staten Island, N.Y.