NEW YORK CITY - As we near the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 where pandemonium broke out, leaving thousands in hysteria, Transport Workers Union Local 100 honored eight MTA unsung heroes Monday, replaying images that felt like yesterday for retired train operator Carlos Johnson.
"I started having flashbacks," Johnson shared. "I was right there in the middle of things. Didn’t know what was going on at the time."
He and 1,000 other transit workers stood shoulder to shoulder with firefighters, police and EMT clearing debris, touching scorching metal and transporting New Yorkers from what looked and felt like a war zone to safety, suffering medical conditions as a result.
"When things do happen on the railroads, buses and everything else, we are the responders," Johnson said. "Before police, fire, EMS get there, we’re on scene. We have to be calm, we have to be knowledgeable and help people get out the area."
Among the men honored was late Edward Lee, whose widow, Joyslynn, accepted the medal on his behalf.
"Unfortunately, we lost him in 2016, and it was a direct medical condition to 9/11, but when I got the call that he was going to be honored, I was like, my heart felt like he was alive again," his wife told FOX 5 NY. "It brought him alive again."
The prized possession is a symbol of a bond she and Hector Soto share. He is a retired train operator, who was working alongside Edward Lee on 9/11.
"Like I said, he owns a piece of real estate in my heart," Soto said. "I’ll never forget him. I know that one day we’ll be together, he owns a big piece of real estate in my heart."
While they couldn’t have predicted the level of bravery their job would require that morning, the months that followed, decades later – validation, recognition and praises long over due, yet well received.
"It’s sad that it took 22 years to finally acknowledge the sacrifices we made," Soto said. "We were only doing our jobs, we’re not looking for anybody pat us on the back, but it’s nice to be recognized."
Lee and Soto both live out-of-state now, and will proudly bring the medals back to their new homes.
"They’re already asking when are you coming back? When are you coming back? Bring the medal home, it’s like an Olympic medal," said Lee.
"I try to tell people listen, validate the people you love because 3,000 walked out of their door that morning not knowing they were never going to come back, so I just thank God every day before I leave my house," Soto expressed.