Scott Button:
The Cape Codder

by Amy Bowers

"I had to suck it up and take that photo, it's what we were there for," said Scott Button, photographer for the Cape Codder, a weekly newspaper. "A crater," his voice dropping, "a half mile wide, a half mile long, seven stories deep... There's just nothing there."

Scott shot panoramic in the two minutes he was allowed at the edge of the crater that had been the World Trade Center. The Boston Herald held its front page for the shot, using it Monday as a back-to-back wraparound. "It looked like (the movie) Independence Day. There were a thousand pictures I could have taken. I focused on our guys."

The attack on the World Trade Center was global news, but when six local firefighters from Cape Cod went to Lower Manhattan to work search and rescue, Scott followed them to New York. When I heard from him in Manhattan, my first thought was, "did he drive his Jeep there?" I imagined him crossing the Bronx-Whitestone with his Massachusetts News Photog plates, and wondered how far he went.

No, Scott took the Greyhound bus with reporter Karen Monahan. "I called the Port Authority and they said they were running. I knew it was only a few blocks from the site." He asked his local contacts on Cape Cod to help him with PIO's at FEMA, the emergency management agency on scene.

"The people get you in there and the people justify the trip." To get an OK to work with the rescue team, Scott walked the crosstown block and a half from the bus station to the Javits Center, where one rescue officer said, "I can't believe the local paper from Cape Cod is here," but thought he might be able to link Scott with the local firefighters early Sunday morning.

Fearing that "people who get hotels miss the story," Scott decided to stay on the street Saturday night. Surgeons from the rescue center brought blankets and Salisbury Steak. "I'm not a rescue worker," Scott was quick to point out. But sadly, the blankets intended for victims were not being used and there was plenty of food.

The Cape Codder team slept in a Crown Victoria, offered to them by a FEMA worker who promised to rap on the windows in the morning. Early Sunday, Scott passed through several checkpoints between the Crown Vic and the Javits Center. "It took two hours to walk 300 feet" from checkpoint to checkpoint, until they finally got the okay to go to the crater with the rescue team from Cape Cod.

Scott passed through more checkpoints wedged between two Hyannis firefighters who warned him, "if anything happens, run and throw yourself down on the ground."

"We had a state police escort to within 100 feet of ground zero, with only one check point to get through, no less than 50 army guys, state police and local cops. We walked in two's and showed our credentials, they did try to stop me but I put on my 'do not fuck with me' face."

"When we were told that we were going to the crater the Lieutenant told the army men that we were ok'd, and that if we stayed longer than two minutes, they could boot us."

"No one in the world has seen this," thought Scott as he shot from the other side of rubbled WTC.

"It smelled so bad we put Vicks VapoRub in our masks." He saw one reporter on her knees, sobbing. Scott is what we in the trade call a "newspuke." You do your job and stay tough. "I had my shot, that was it. When we were on the way out I saw a steel worker curled up in the fetal position crying on the sidewalk. I didn't even stop to shoot it, I kept going... I was in a fog, we just ran twelve blocks to make deadline."

After transmitting their pictures and story Scott and Karen walked to a storefront where "two Muslims in a pizza shop bought us lunch. We're not rescue workers," declined Scott, "we're journalists. The guy told me, I can see it in your eyes. You've been there."

The experience for Scott Button "was very bittersweet for me." The brother of one Cape Cod firefighter phoned Scott with tearful thanks, "you showed our family why he misses birthdays and weddings."

The Cape Codder, ready to run a page one story about tuna fishermen before the hijack attacks, printed an editorial acknowledging the contributions of its young reporting team, and the Mansfield News, Scott's hometown paper in Massachusetts, interviewed him. He declined other media attention; it seemed wrong in a time of grief.
"I've cried myself to sleep every night," he confessed. When I asked whether he would see a grief counselor, he told me "I have an appointment at noon."

Scott Button pledged that when the WTC is rebuilt, he will be there to take another photo. Meanwhile his life continues as a newspaper photographer for the local weekly. His inglorious return to normalcy was a comfort. He sighed with relief, "I got back and shot local football practices."

Editor’s Notebook
by Glenn Ritt,
Publisher, The Cape Codder

Our photographer Scott Button called me last Friday and said he was heading down to New York City to cover the search and rescue effort at the World Trade Center.

At first, I was caught short. Part of me admired his ambition. But, frankly, a goodly other part felt that we’re on Cape Cod and this was not really our story. We’re a weekly newspaper whose front page was going to be on tuna fishermen before the terrorist attack last Tuesday.

Yes, we need to cover how Cape Cod is reacting to the tragedy, and we did that with nearly a dozen pages last week in all four of our Cape Cod newspapers. But, aren’t there enough journalists at the site of the disaster? Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to go?

Scott, of course, steered us on the proper course. Along with writer Karen Monahan, they understood that the tragedy was everybody’s. And the story’s scope and depth engaged us all.

It would have been presumptuous, frankly, to go had we not had our own special reason: our six Cape Cod heroes at ground zero.

Scott had seen our story last week on the half dozen firefighters who, as part of the Massachusetts Search and Rescue team were instantly recruited on Sept. 11 to set up camp by the rubble of the World Trade Center.

He then reached out to the fire chief in Hyannis, who at first rebuffed him. Scott wouldn’t accept no for an answer. He literally followed him in his car and finally connected. “I’m going regardless, but I would really appreciate you calling your lieutenant (Thomas Kenney) and alerting him that we will be coming.”

The chief did, and Scott and Karen were off in a bus to New York.

When they got there, they walked to the Jacob Javits Convention Center where all the rescuers congregated and slept between shifts.

They eventually were evicted, but not before making contact with the team leader of the Cape Cod contingent, Lieutenant Kenney.

That night, Scott and Karen slept in a car that belonged to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The next morning, they were roused and told to join rescuers heading to their shift at Ground Zero.

They still had no assurances they could get anywhere near the actual site. But, flanked by the Cape Cod rescuers, they made it step by step until was side by side with them at the edge of hell.

We are proud to share with you the story of our local heroes at work, clawing and scratching to find some survivors against waning hope.

We are very proud of Scott and Karen, too, not only for their incredible work, but for their perspective. We need to cry together on the Cape; we need to mourn together on the Cape. We also need to see our own neighbors risking their lives for their brothers and all the innocent victims that spiritually are part of our family here.

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