METROPOLIS, Ill. — For 43 years, Metropolis has celebrated its own superhero.
But, this weekend a true Superman is coming to Metropolis.
Joe Torrillo, a retired New York City Fire Department (FDNY) lieutenant, who survived being buried alive twice on Sept. 11, 2001, along with organizer Mitch Mendler, is bringing the Patriot Flag II to the Superman Celebration. The 28-by-60-foot flag, which weighs 50 pounds, is touring the United States in honor of the fallen from the Sept. 11 attacks.
The flag will be ceremonially presented to the Superman Celebration crowd at 1 p.m. Saturday in front of the Superman Statue. Torrillo will speak at 2 p.m. at the City National Tent and will greet attendees afterward. The flag will be on display all day Sunday at the Superman Statue.
Torrillo’s Sept. 11 story
Torrillo spent the first 15 years of his FDNY career in Engine Company No. 10, across the street from the South Tower of the World Trade Center. While recuperating from a severe injury on New Year’s Eve 1996, He was assigned in early 1997 to convalesce in the office of fire safety education. Eight months into this “light-duty” position, Torrillo was named the director of fire safety education. In this public-based program, he co-designed a state-of-the-art children’s fire safety learning center. “The Fire Zone” opened in October 2000 in the heart of Manhattan.
In January 2001, Torrillo worked on a project with Fisher-Price Toys to design a new children’s “action figure” as part of their “Rescue Heroes” line. Named “Billy Blazes,” the figure was in the likeness of a NYC firefighter. To introduce “Billy Blazes,” a press conference was scheduled at The Fire Zone on Sept. 11, 2001, a date chosen because 9/11 is the emergency phone number in New York City, keeping with the safety theme.
But on the way to the 9 a.m. news conference, something else happened.
Torrillo was about an eighth of a mile away from the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight No. 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Fearing for his firefighter brothers in Engine Company 10 and Ladder Company 10 across the street from the Towers, Torrillo diverted to the scene to render assistance.
Three minutes after donning borrowed bunker gear, at 9:03 a.m. the second jet flew over Torrillo’s head and slammed into the South Tower. With a background in structural engineering, he made an immediate assessment that everyone above the fire was doomed to death, and the buildings would collapse.
While Torrillo was involved in the rescue operation, the South Tower fell at 9:59 a.m. He was buried alive with a fractured skull, broken ribs, broken arm, crushed spine and heavy internal bleeding. Shortly after being found alive in the rubble, he was removed on a long spine board and placed on a boat deck on the Hudson River with the expectation of going to a hospital. As emergency personnel were holding his split scalp together, the North Tower fell, burying Torrillo alive again.
About 45 minutes later, Torrillo was once again rescued from the debris. Taken across the Hudson, he awoke in a hospital room at the Jersey City Trauma Center in New Jersey. Because he was wearing borrowed firefighting gear with the name Thomas McNamara, Torrillo was misidentified and was declared missing for three days.
By the time the sun set on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, Torrillo had miraculously survived the collapse of both towers, but with lifelong injuries. Sadly, “Billy Blazes” came to represent the 343 New York City firefighters who made the supreme sacrifice of their lives in the rescue effort.
Torrillo retired on disability as a 25-year lieutenant with the FDNY. He now travels the world as a professional speaker with a quest to make our country the “Re-United States of America,” resurrecting patriotism, trumpeting the men and women of the armed services, mentoring adolescents and inspiring audiences of all sizes to embrace change and never give up on their dreams.
The Patriot Flag Project
World Memorial Foundation is a charity begun on Sept. 11, 2001, by an American Airlines pilot. While the World Memorial Foundation has many layers, the Flag Project was started to bring about a new wave of patriotism to the United States, demonstrating how its 50 states are united under one flag.
The first Patriot Flag toured all 50 states — and in France — over 50 weeks during the “Never Forget Tour” leading into the 10th anniversary of the attacks. It is now semi-retired and displayed in an American Legion Post near the crash site of United Flight 93.
Patriot Flag II began “The Old Glory Tour” on the 15th anniversary. The 50-month tour now coincides with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the attacks.
Both flags were retired from service and destined to be properly destroyed under the U.S. Flag Code. Patriot Flag II is being taken to every state capitol and significant monuments, memorials, landmarks and anniversaries around the nation.
For more information, visit www.worldmemorial. foundation.