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Johnson Creek man, his dog, helped in 9/11 search for victims

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JOHNSON CREEK (WITI) -- 9/11 will forever be a day to remember for a Johnson Creek man. He was part of the FEMA operation to recover bodies after the collapse of the Twin Towers -- and his cadaver dog was with him. And ironically, it was his birthday.

When A.J. Marhofke got the call to hop a military plane headed for Ground Zero, he didn't go alone. He was accompanied by his specially-trained Border Collie cadaver dog.

Marhofke calls it fate or destiny that he was born on 9/11 -- 67 years ago.

On his birthday in 2001, Marhofke got a call.

"All the sudden my pager goes off. Urgent call in. That night I was on a C-130, on my way," Marhofke said.

Marhofke flew to the site of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He worked on a team for 12 days -- not at Ground Zero, but at a place less glamorous but equally disturbing.

It was called "The Pile," on Staten Island, where truckloads of debris from Ground Zero were dumped.

Marhofke was one of eight teams of dogs and dog handlers searching for human remains.

"We would go through rubble. They'd bring in dump trucks at a time -- rake it out and we'd take the dogs through it and if they'd indicate. We'd bring in another dog to make sure, and the FBI would come in and photograph it and take that evidence for DNA," Marhofke said.

Marhofke's dog at the time, Molly Mae, has since passed on, as has every other search dog that worked that day.

"Everybody was in a state of shock literally and so many of the personell had never seen that kind of carnage before. It was tough on everybody. They had teams out. Red Cross had trauma teams out trying to help people get through this," Marhofke said.

As grizzly a task as it was, Marhofke believes his team helped identify several hundred victims through remains that were eventually tested for DNA and matched to missing people.

"If they could identify it right away, they'd have a priest or a pastor -- whatever that person's religion was and do a ceremony right there on the spot," Marhofke said.

For Marhofke, a Happy Birthday September 11th is not.

"People need closure, and I guess I was born to do that," Marhofke said.

Marhofke is now looking for the right Border Collie to train for future search work.

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