When Frank Marquez saw the first shards of sunrise early Tuesday morning, he was alone and overcome with emotions at the 9/11 Memorial Garden that Beverly Hills created to honor the anniversary of that tragic day.
“That day, and the days afterward live in my memory,” he said, “and I guess the only way I’ll be rid of them is when 9/11 kills me, too.”
Marquez, 55, a retired Teamsters trucker from Los Angeles, fully expects to one day be yet another victim of that day’s historic terrorist attacks.
He suffers from ulcerative colitis and esophageal reflux that were diagnosed as resulting from the exposure to the Ground Zero volunteer work that Marquez was involved in starting just days after the attacks — and for three months afterward.
“They told us of the potential danger going in,” he said. “And they were right.”
Marquez periodically suffers from gastrointestinal troubles that often leave him unable to eat or to properly digest what he does eat.
“A lot of the people I worked there with are dead, so I count myself as one of the lucky ones,” said Marquez, wearing a 9/11 memorial cap from one of the first anniversaries of the tragedy.
Marquez’s story, though, is a testament to the unselfish patriotic spirit that typified the reaction and actions of countless of Americans who rushed to help in the 9/11 aftermath in any way they could.
“I dropped what I was doing that day and immediately began making my way there to New York to help in any way I could,” he says.
“The moment I got there, I got to work in the cleanup and never let up. What can I tell you? For us, it was like war. We would work for hours on end, rest, eat, sleep where we could, and then be back again in a few hours.
“I was dirty and covered in ash and soot for months.”
And why, why that kind of dedication, from the Los Angeles-born Marquez who had spent almost his entire life in Southern California?
“Because I’m an American,” he said, “and my country had been attacked.”
On Tuesday, Marquez stayed around to take in the memorial program and then stopped to picnic in a nearby park, watching joggers pass by until he saw one wearing a Yankee cap and called out to him.
Still misty-eyed Marquez wanted to talk about baseball, memorabilia and what a special day this was — though he said he wished there was no reason for the occasion.
“I’m Mexican American – Chicano,” he said. “But you know, bottom line is I’m American. When you attack America, all our differences fade away.”