Paul Veneto, a former flight attendant, barely missed being on one of the flights that went down on Sept. 11, 2001.
Now, he’s planning to push a beverage cart from Boston to New York City to honor his colleagues who died on that fateful day nearly 20 years ago.
At the time, Veneto, now 62 and known to many as Paulie, was working United Airlines Flight 175 -- the same flight that was hijacked by five al-Qaeda terrorists on the morning of Sept. 11 and flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
On the flight, that departed from Boston, headed for Los Angeles, were nine crew members and 56 passengers, five of whom were the hijackers.
Veneto had worked closely with some of the victims who ultimately died that day.
Fortunately for Veneto, he wasn’t on the flight that morning -- he had just returned on the plane the night before and had the day off.
“I ended up flying out on (Sept. 8) and I came back (Sept. 10) at 8 p.m.,” Veneto told People. “They went out Tuesday morning.”
Veneto was at a friend’s house on Sept. 11. He learned about the first plane striking the North Tower, then watched as the plane on which he worked crashed into the South Tower.
“From that point on, my life was changed forever,” he said. “It was just mayhem.”
Veneto said each time he got on a plane after that, he was suffering, just waiting for something to go wrong. It was part of what led him into a 15-year battle with opioid addiction.
“A lot of people didn’t come back to work, and I didn’t blame them, but I wasn’t giving in. I said, ‘I’m not letting them take my career.’ And so that’s where the opioid addiction came in for me,” Veneto said. “I was numbed out. I wasn’t feeling the true effects of what was going on. I didn’t know it then, but every year the anniversary would come up, it would just fuel the addiction.”
Roughly six years ago, Veneto got sober; that’s when he made the decision to honor the flight attendants who lost their lives that day by pushing a beverage cart from Boston to New York City: Paulie’s Push, as it’s called.
Veneto will push the cart from Logan International Airpot to Ground Zero.
“After almost 15 years of numbing myself out from the thoughts of that day, I have finally been freed from addiction since 2015. I can now finally give tribute to my fallen crew members,” he said.
Veneto thought doing it for the 20th anniversary would be fitting.
“It just seemed logical,” Veneto told People. “A lot of people run across the country or walk, but I’ve pushed beverage carts all over the world. Everybody that’s been on planes knows flight attendants push beverage carts. And I can do it now. I’m not handcuffed in that addiction no more.”
As the plan has unfolded, Veneto has begun taking donations -- ones that will help to support a variety of causes: Paulie’s Push, the 9/11 crew members’ families’ registered not-for-profit organizations, and Power Forward, which efforts to establish Power Forward Sober Living Scholarships for those dealing with addiction.
Veneto said he hopes that along his walk, he will get support from fellow flight attendant coworkers, victims’ families and even strangers.
He acknowledged that, while his story is part of it, the walk is really not about him.
“I’m doing it because these people deserve this recognition,” Veneto said. “I know that’s going to be something. But this whole thing is not about me. It never was and it won’t be.”
Still, Veneto believes no matter what’s going on in anyone’s life, there’s always hope.
“I am doing this because I want these crew members’ families to know how courageous they were that day,” Veneto said on his Paulie’s Push website. “I want the public to understand that, under those conditions that morning, what those crew members did, nobody could have trained for. They really need to be recognized as heroes. They were the very first first responders.”
Veneto’s journey will begin Aug. 21.
Anyone who wants to follow along can click or tap here.