(Amy Dreher photo)
Soon after 9/11, U.S. Army veteran Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez resigned from his long-distance truck driver’s job to contribute his skills to the recovery operations at Ground Zero. Determined to return to his home city, where he strongly felt he needed to be during that trying time, Rodriguez hitchhiked from Denver, arriving at the devastated World Trade Center site in late October.
As part of the recovery effort, he operated a “Euclid” earth-moving truck used for removing debris after it had been searched for any traces of victims. His work stayed in lockstep with the progressing recovery, starting at street level before moving down into the diminishing pile of wreckage known as the “pit.”
After grapplers filled Rodriguez’s Euclid with rebar, steel and other structural WTC remnants, he drove the load to street level, where uniformed personnel sorted the contents. At times, the debris pile would be sent for more refined analysis by forensic archeologists at Fresh Kills Landfill, a temporary sorting ground on Staten Island. Rodriguez worked at the World Trade Center until its cleanup operations were completed in May 2002. During that time he frequented the respite center staffed by volunteers at St. Paul’s Chapel, often eating and sleeping there.
More than 10 years later, after an introduction provided by the 9/11 Tribute Center, Rodriguez presented the 9/11 Memorial Museum with his patch-laden Teamsters Union jacket, the hard hat he wore at Ground Zero and a sculpture of the twin towers burned from World Trade Center steel. His donations were the first to document the important presence and contributions of Teamsters members at the World Trade Center site.
By Alexandra Drakakis, Assistant Collections Curator for 9/11 Memorial Museum