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NYPD vet: We are all first responders

Posted September 11, 2015

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— James Johnson was a New York City police officer for 20 years, including on that city's darkest day, Sept. 11, 2001. He was witness to the attacks on the World Trade Center and worked for weeks afterward to help the city heal.

Three years later, he moved to Cary and works as director of the Durham Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs, but the memories and the mourning remain fresh even after 14 years.

"It’s always with me," he said Friday. "Though it was a tragedy, I’ll never forget how we bonded as a people especially in today’s climate when there’s a disconnect between the community and police. That was the day we remembered, 'Wow. Police officers are here to serve.'"

Johnson said he thinks about 9/11 when the skies are clear, like that perfect September morning.

"There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I saw the building smoking, then I saw the big flash," he said.

Along with seven others, Johnson headed to what would become ground zero in the worst terror attack on American soil.

"I was nervous," he said. "I thought back and realized why – because now I had two children and a lovely wife, and I began to imagine their life without me."

He survived that day and shares the lesson of a nation united.

"Everyone put flags on their cars," he said. "They put flags on their windows, and everyone remembered we were together. We suffered together, but we came together so we could get through it together."

He said being a first responder goes beyond the news-making events.

"We are all first responders," Johnson said. "When we have a chance to respond to people, respond in kindness, respond in love, so we can move another generation and our people to another level of togetherness."

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