Paul Veneto left Boston for New York City on August 21 — but the retired flight attendant didn't board a plane. Instead, he set out on foot to walk more than 200 miles — while pushing an airplane beverage cart — to honor the flight crews who lost their lives on September 11.
He started his journey at Logan International Airport, where United Flight 175 took off the morning of.
Veneto, who became a flight attendant in 1981, worked out of that airport in 2001. On September 10, he landed back home in Boston. He was off the next day — and that's when he watched tragedy unfold. Flight 175 was hijacked and used by terrorists to fly into the World Trade Center in New York City.
"I know I was in shock, obviously. When I found out it was 175, I knew I knew them," he told CBS News. "It was a surreal feeling. It was an out of body experience, I guess. I knew my life at that point was never going to be the same."
Veneto, who was friends with some of the crew members who died during the terrorist attacks, said he's always wanted to honor his late colleagues. He didn't plan on doing this journey for the 20th anniversary of the attacks, but said it was a "perfect storm."
After 9/11, Veneto, who is known as Paulie, fell into drug addiction. He said this year, he finally felt healthy enough to walk more than 200 miles to New York City. "When I roll that cart into Ground Zero, I'll be six years off the opioids on that day," he said.
Veneto spoke to CBS News during a stop in Connecticut. He was about halfway through his journey to One World Trade Center, which he plans to reach on Saturday, September 11.
He wanted the gesture to be grand so family members of the fallen would hear his message: "We all recognized what they did that day was very heroic."
"They were the first first responders of 9/11," he said, adding that fight crews who lost their lives during the September 11 terrorist attacks are sometimes overlooked. "For 20 years, these kids going to school, no one's come up to them and said, 'Your mother is a hero, or your father or your brother, whoever was a crew member,' Nobody's ever said that to them," he said.
The idea to push a beverage cart came easily, he said. "I say it all the time, I'm just a guy pushing a cart, that's all. And I'm okay with that," he said. "I push the cart and everybody else wants to take pictures with me and I know they share it with their families and friends ... and the word is getting across this country. And guess what? It's reaching these crew members' families, I know it is."
Not only can followers track Paulie's journey online and meet up with him on the road, but he also encourages people to donate. He said half of the money will go to foundations honoring crew members who lost their lives. The other half goes to Power Forward, which helps people in addiction recovery.
"I know how important this was, and maybe it was them up there that gave me this idea. I don't know, something just told me that this is what I had to do," he said.
Former CIA directors, insiders and national security experts retrace the agency's steps around 9/11 and detail the mission to hunt down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in "Race Against Time: The CIA and 9/11." The special airs Friday, September 10 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and will be available to stream on the CBS News app and Paramount+ on September 11.
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