ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Gregory Mertz still gets emotional looking at pictures he took from Ground Zero in New York the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I would say I still have memories that bring me to tears on a regular basis,” said Mertz.
Mertz, who served under four sitting presidents in his 21 years in the Secret Service, was with President George W. Bush in Sarasota when the twin towers were hit.
“We’re under attack, we need to move, we’re at a public venue, we have to relocate the president,” said Mertz, thinking back to the split-second decisions that had to be made.
Mertz's next assignment brought him to New York City where he spent 12 days recovering the remains of victims.
“We didn’t find full bodies, we only found body parts, it was a very devastating experience emotionally,” said Mertz.
The rubble was carried to a nearby landfill where it was sorted. Mertz still has a difficult time talking about it.
“We had family members standing at the entrances holding up pictures of their loved ones, you know, ‘find Jimmy, find Billy, find Joey,’” said Mertz.
Mertz said it’s important to reflect on that time in America because out of the sorrow rose hope. That’s what he plans to speak about during Friday’s memorial service outside Tropicana Field.
“Our whole country came together, and it was a devastating blow, but we worked through it as a country, we worked through with our political parties and we put our heads together and moved forward and we honored our military and we honored our first responders and we lost that,” said Mertz.
The organization Remember, Honor, Support, is hosting the memorial. Jo Brower is in charge of the nonprofit and organizes something special every year.
“I was not going to let this invisible war stop us, we must commemorate,” said Brower.
The socially distanced ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m. in parking lot 7 at Tropicana Field.
On www.rememberhonorsupport.org they will be posting pre-recorded speeches from a variety of officials.
“We need to spread the word, we need to share the love, and we need love right now,” said Brower.