NEW YORK — It's a symbol of a flight attendant's commitment to service and care: The beverage cart that rolls up and down the narrow aisle, dispensing a complimentary drink and usually a pack of pretzels.
Sixty-two-year-old retired flight attendant Paul "Paulie" Veneto is bringing a new significance to the four-wheeled concessions wagon.
He pushed a beverage cart from Boston to New York City in a symbolic walk that was about much more than free snacks and soda.
The nearly two-week long walk was dedicated to the flight crews who died on Sept. 11, 2001, whom Paulie describes as the "first first responders" of that tragic day.
"Flight attendants are first responders because stuff happens on those airplanes... and nobody's coming to help you," Paulie explained.
Paulie, who was a flight attendant for nearly 25 years, was working for United Airlines on 9/11. Nothing can describe the shock and horror he felt when he learned what happened to his colleagues on United Flight 175, who were aboard the second plane hijackers crashed into the World Trade Center.
"It was such a shock to all of us," he described.
The trauma of that day left Paulie with enduring emotional and physical wounds.
The day of the terrorist attack, he was prescribed medication that led to a nearly 15-year-long opioid addiction that almost cost him his life.
"I was a functioning, walking zombie," he said.
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The addiction was a way for Paulie to numb the daily fear that his plane would be next, he said.
As he battled his personal trauma, there was another thing nagging him. During an era of national unity and reverence for the courageous heroes, he felt acknowledgement was lacking for the flight crews.
"They were never recognized and that bothered me every year," he said.
As the years passed, Paulie always wanted to do something to honor his colleagues, but never had the mental or physical strength to do so.
Then, six years ago, he achieved what seemed impossible: He became sober. But it still took some time until he could confront the emotions of that day.
In 2020, he finally felt healthy enough to accomplish his mission. With newfound determination, Paulie started training to walk the 10-20 miles per day that would take him on his sacred path from the Logan Airport in Boston to Ground Zero.
On Aug. 28, he set off from Boston with his beverage cart emblazed with the names of the flights that crashed on 9/11: United Airlines flights 175 and 93, and American Airlines flights 11 and 77.
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As he walked, supporters tracked his progress live on his website. He's been joined by police officers, firefighters, flight attendants and pilots, including the family of his late colleague Amy Jarret, a flight attendant who died aboard United flight 175.
When asked about his story, Paulie deflects attention away from himself, always pointing to the 34 people behind the walk.
On Friday, his emotional journey ended in Manhattan, where he was greeted by a crowd of supporters, cheering and carrying signs.
Finally, the mission that had plagued him for years was finished.
"It's long overdue," he said.