EXCLUSIVE: Jay Marshall knew he had to help; he had to get down to that pile.
The real estate executive lost three rugby buddies during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and as a horrified nation sat glued to the television for days, Marshall formulated a plan. He donned makeshift firefighter gear, jumped in his car and drove from his home in suburban Connecticut to the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. In the chaotic days following the attack, he made his way to what became known as "The Pile," and spent the next seven hours working alongside emergency responders as they sifted through debris, hoping to find survivors.
“I got in a bucket line and I stood there and I stood on top of that pile,” the now-50-year-old Marshall, of New Canaan, Conn., told FoxNews.com. “All we did was pass buckets back and forth; every once in a while they asked for quiet when they thought they heard someone.”
Getting to the site as security tightened was no easy task. Using L.L. Bean fireplace gloves, work boots and a helmet as a guise, Marshall said he talked his way past cops and guards near the north and south towers of the World Trade Center complex three days after the attacks until he reached the massive pile of debris and destruction where the remains of nearly 3,000 people laid.
“I said I was a mason, I showed him my gloves,” Marshall continued. “I snuck through every checkpoint. The bottom line is three of my buddies were in there and I wanted to help if I could.”
Marshall briefly ran into trouble when one police officer noticed he looked out of place and asked what he was doing.
“’I understand you’re taking volunteers,” Marshall replied. “He said that was something the media made up.”
Marshall said he eventually “ducked” that officer and managed to get himself in a bucket line, where he removed piles of debris for roughly seven hours before he realized he was putting his own safety at risk, as well as the welfare of his two young sons, Matt and Ben, who are now 17- and 15-years-old, respectively.
“I’ve paid homage to my friends,” he said. “I paid a little tribute to them.”
Marshall said he felt compelled to risk his own well-being to honor three young stockbroker friends he lost that day: Brent Woodall, 31; Sean Lugano, 28; and Mark Ludvigsen, 32, all of whom worked for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. It was one man's humble way to pay tribute to three men who had grown so close to him during their time on the New York Athletic Club rugby team.
Eleven years later, Marshall said he hadn’t thought about his actions much recently, as his grief has moved onto other forms. He does remember the extreme “camaraderie” he found on the pile despite the sickening surroundings.
“Everyone there just had this attitude, ‘We’re going to find people,’” he said. “It was a bunch of guys working toward a common theme. It was pretty crazy. It was eerie because it was nighttime. But I’ll never forget the camaraderie. Everyone was pulling together.”
Thankfully, Marshall has not experienced any health issues due to his time on the pile, during which no survivors were found, he said.
“All they found was pieces of people, fragments of people,” he said. “The amount of devastation … it was completely pulverized. You could hear a pin drop when they ran the dogs over.”
To honor his friends today, Marshall will say a prayer for them at a local church and “think about the fellas,” he said.
“I think I was the only guy I ever known who had managed to do it,” Marshall said of talking his way onto the pile as a civilian. “I didn’t think much of it. I just did it.”