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A former soldier from Ottumwa recounts watching the twin towers fall, volunteering at ground zero

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

After witnessing the collapse of the two towers on Sept. 11, an Ottumwa native ran to ground zero and has been working to memorialize it since.

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 twin towers at the World Trade Center. 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.

Last year, River to River host Ben Kieffer spoke with Paluska about 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.

This show was first produced on September 10, 2021.


  • John Paluska, from Ottumwa, retired U.S. Army Green Beret, 9/11 recovery and rescue volunteer, co-founder of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Visionary Network
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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