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Former NYPD officer remembers 9/11: 'Something you never forget'

'I can still smell the dust. I can still smell the interior of those trailers. Of those remains. It just triggers every once in a while.'
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Posted at 11:34 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 11:13:55-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Growing up, all Jason Caravaglia desired was to wear a badge.

“It was great. It was amazing and New York City was amazing,” said Jason. “It was just a calling and that is where I went.”

At the age of 21, the officer with Henrico County realized his dream. He joined NYPD in 1985.

“I was in patrol. I worked in the South Bronx and Harlem, Manhattan.”

On the rough streets, the rookie grows up fast.

“We mostly didn’t have a radio,” recalled Jason. “So you walked a foot post til midnight with no radio.”

Six years later, the father of three transfers to nearby Greenburgh Police Department.

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On the morning of September 11, 2001 Jason receives a call from his wife, who was a paramedic.

“It was absolutely beautiful. It was a blue sky. It was gorgeous,” described Jason. “It was like, ‘You got to be kidding me.’ That is when I turned the TV on and saw the second plane go into the building.”

With the World Trade Center and America under attack, Jason and hundreds of officers and firefighters wait impatiently for orders.

“It was just silence. Everyone was just in awe,” said Jason. “You know. You couldn’t believe it.”

A roar above disrupted the quiet.

“The best part of this whole thing. You have all these first responders in the parking lot. Two F-16 Fighter jets blew by us in the sky. And everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs. ‘Go get em. Go get em.’”

The night of 9/11, Jason reported to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. He assisted with the endless stream of bodies arriving.

“One vehicle would come in, and then another would come in. Even the people who were working at the morgue were crying. They were in tears. That is how bad it was.”

Officer Caravaglia escorted a canine team to Ground Zero. A sight that still shakes him to the core.

“So when I turned the corner to bring the deputies down who had the cadaver dog...the only thing that was standing was the portion of the lobby.”

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On Staten Island, where debris from Ground Zero was transported, the scene is no less shocking.

“It was scary. It really was,” Jason said. “There were firetrucks stacked. It looked like a junkyard. Police cars stacked on top of one another and debris everywhere.”

The most gut-wrenching moment of 9/11 for Jason was the loss of his friend, John D'Allara, along with 70 other officers who were killed when the World Trade Center collapsed.

“It was horrible. Horrible,” Jason said. “He was a great guy. Very thoughtful. Always had a sense of humor on him. Just a good, good guy. Always looked out for me. You know?”

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John D'Allara, Jason's friend, who was killed along with 70 other officers when the World Trade Center collapsed.

Officer Caravaglia has been serving in Henrico for 16 years now. But September 11 tied his heart to New York City forever.

“I can still smell the dust. I can still smell the interior of those trailers. Of those remains. It just triggers every once in a while,” said Jason. “Something you never forget.”

As we move farther away from 9/11, Jason hopes the memory and legacy of his fellow first responders never dim.

“What is amazing they saved over 25,000 lives that day,” Jason said. “They could have turned around and said I’m not going in that building. They didn’t do that. Sacrificed their own, but they saved a lot of lives.”

Officer John D'Allara’s body was recovered from Ground Zero and was buried in the Bronx. He was 47 years old.

To this day Jason Caravaglia remains in touch with John’s widow Carol.

If you know of a “Hero Among Us” email me at Heroes@wtvr.com

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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