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Ottumwa Native Recounts Watching Twin Towers Fall, Volunteering At Ground Zero

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

On September 11, 2001, John Paluska of Ottumwa was a freshman attending Fordham University in New York City. He was 18 years old and planning to major in business.

It was on that day, from the roof of his dormitory, that Paluska witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Centers. Paluska spent the next six days volunteering at ground zero, aiding in the rescue and recovery operations. He subsequently joined the U.S. Army and later became a Green Beret with combat deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations.

Paluska is a Purple Heart recipient and medically retired from the military in 2017. He is also co-founder of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Visionary Network.

Paluska and Ben Kieffer discuss why he ran toward the twin towers after their collapse, his service in the military and how he is helping preserve the memory of 9/11.


  • John Paluska, native of Ottumwa, retired U.S. Army Green Beret, 9/11 recovery and rescue volunteer, co-founder of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Visionary Network
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River