Virginia Beach man recalls his service on the bucket brigades at Ground Zero

Remembering 9/11

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Sept. 11, 20 years later. In all those years, we always remember what happened in America. 

People dropped everything that was part of their lives to serve a call to action. To do something meaningful to help.

Virginia Beach resident David Ashe is one of those who dropped everything and headed to New York City after two planes crashed into the North and South World Trade Center towers. 

One of the powerful images from 9/11: the Bucket Brigades, the volunteers who manned and womaned the buckets. Ashe was one of them.

Ashe was four days from ending his active service in the United States Marine Corps when 9/11 happened. The Thursday following the deadly terrorist attacks, Ashe put his anger to action.

“I was in Virginia Beach visiting my parents… I remember Katie Couric on NBC who said, ‘We have some incident at the World Trade Center,’” Ashe recalled. 

9/11 was unfolding before America’s eyes.

“The attacks happened on a Tuesday. Wednesday, I felt the way everyone felt. I couldn’t sit still I wanted to do something,” he said. “I left a note on the kitchen counter for my parents, and I went to New York. ‘I will be back when I can.’” 

Ashe arrived at Ground Zero to help.

“I presented my Marine Corps military ID which was still valid, and for whatever reasons, one of the coordinators said ‘Come on in,'” he said.

Ashe and fellow volunteers would grab five-gallon buckets and form the Bucket Brigades, 

“We were called the bucket brigades which sounded very appropriate. Lines of people would snake up into debris piles and then hand by hand, bucket by bucket, we were removing debris clearing the pile,” he recalled. 

Ashe also showed 10 On Your Side pictures he took with a disposable digital camera.

“You can see there are still some very recognizable structures, pieces of the World Trade Center, and then the rest is pulverized rubble,” he said.

He kept the pictures to remember his personal witness to history.

“Everyone thought this was ‘search and rescue.’ Every time we turned that shovel, every time we passed debris, we thought ‘We are going to find someone,’” he said.  

On the pile, optimism was tempered by reality. Ashe’s bucket brigade at one point was hit with a stark discovery.

“We could see someone in the rubble. He was in a coat and suit and tie and laying on his back. It was a male and there was nothing grotesque, but he had been flattened by the building, and you could see he was flattened by all the forces,” Ashe said.

It was haunting. Ashe showed another picture from Ground Zero.

“It’s ghostly. It was like a scar here on this building,” he said, pointing to a photo of a dug-out piece on a nearby building, which had been scraped by a falling part of the World Trade Center.  

He continued: “A very large defined chunk was hanging off and it looked like a monster had pulled a claw through that building.” 

Ashe also talked about horns.

“We knew if you hear three horn blasts, that means run off the pile, something is collapsing… and glass was falling, and when it hit, it was like a gunshot.” he said.

So deeply impacted by 9/11, Ashe would continue serving his county for two years.

In 2002, Ashe was in the Kuwait Coalition Task Force, and in 2003, he was on tour in Iraq with the 2nd battalion 5th Marines, the most highly decorated battalion in the United States Marine Corps.

Ashe says 9/11 forever changed the line between active and reserve forces, 

“We used to have a big distinction between whether you are someone who does this from time to time or full-time. Now nobody knows, and nobody cares, who is reserve or who is active duty. We all are one force one team,” Ashe said.

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