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One Special 9/11 Hero Remembered By Arlington County Police

Patch logo Patch 4 days ago Dan Taylor
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ARLINGTON, VA — Just outside the Arlington County Courthouse stands a statue of a uniformed man cast in bronze with the words "In Valor There Is Hope" written underneath. And beneath his feet, there is a plaque dedicated to a man who will be forefront in the hearts and minds of those in the Arlington County Police Department on Wednesday, the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Corp. Harvey Snook, who had served the department for more than 20 years, died from cancer on Jan. 14, 2016. This was no ordinary cancer: it was a direct result of his response to the Pentagon on that fateful day.

Snook certainly couldn't have imagined what his day would be like that Tuesday nearly two decades ago. He was off duty, enjoying a sunny day on a boat in the Potomac River with one of his friends — also an officer — when they observed a plane overhead behaving unlike other flights that routinely land at nearby Reagan National Airport. It was Flight 77, and it was moments from slamming into the Pentagon.

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"They believed it had crashed, and immediately they turned around and responded to the area," said Arlington County Police spokesperson Ashley Savage. "That's pretty typical for the entire agency. He and the other officer observed what occurred and self-reported, because that is what the police do."

Once there, Snook immediately got to work on the task he volunteered for: evidence collection in the midst of the smoldering rubble. It was an act that would ultimately cost him his life.

"The first day he worked the rubble pile, he came home and had a splitting migraine," ACPD Sgt. Matt Lafley told Patch. "The soles of his work boots were melting off. We still have those boots. The diesel fuel was eating through them, but he still went back the next day. They had no protection the first three to four days."

Snook was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 9, 2014, almost 13 years to the day of the attacks. He died a little more than a year later. But you wouldn't have been able to tell he was sick by talking to the 6'4", 230-pound "gentle giant" who always brought smiles to the faces of everyone around him, Lafley said.

"He just was passionate," he said. "Even when he got cancer, he was never upset over why he got it. He kept saying we had to do it. We had to do our jobs."

Snook's attitude of duty that day was emblematic of how many others responded to an unspeakable event, said Lafley, who was also there. He said he felt a "numb feeling" as pagers and beepers all around him went off and people raced out the door to answer the call.

"We train and we're prepared to handle a lot, but that was something we had never seen before," he said.

But no matter how great the tragedy, people in Arlington and beyond were ready to go back to work immediately despite the circumstances.

"I can remember that morning after the plane hit, they had me work security for the main road coming in [to the Pentagon]," he recalled. "They said, 'radio command post if any vehicle shows up.' They all came to work the next day. I called my command post and said there are over 100 vehicles out there wanting to come back to work. That just shows how strong America is."

Snook is forever immortalized under that unwavering bronze statue in front of the courthouse. He was honored during the 2017 Arlington County Observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Even though nearly two decades have passed — and most who were at the Arlington County Police Department on that day have moved on or have retired — Sept. 11, 2001, will always hold tremendous meaning for the department. While the temptation is to dwell on the tragedy, Snook showed how to take a moment of tribulation and turn it into an opportunity for leadership, Lafley said.

"He never, ever complained — never a sad moment until the day he died," he said. "I think that reflected well on our young officers that are here today."

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