It is the worst accidental structural collapse in U.S. history. On July 17,1981, two skywalks collapsed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, killing 114 people.
Some emergency response workers are still living with the trauma of that night, including Mark Retzer. He was a 19-year-old paramedic at the time.
KMBC caught up with Retzer to discuss the cloud that loomed over his life and career for too long.
“It’s been 40 years and up until a couple years ago, I thought I buried it,” Retzer said.
In 1981, Retzer was a young Kansas City paramedic.
“I was young. I was full of it. I was invincible. I was going to make a difference,” Retzer said.
But when disaster struck that Friday night in July, first responders were called to go far beyond their training at the time. The scene was grim.
“You second guess yourself, then you live with the regret, the guilt, the shame,” he said.
Many like him would walk away with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I had gotten to some very dark places,” Retzer said. “I am convinced it was a huge contributor to the failure of two marriages.”
Two years ago, Retzer turned to a new organization — The Battle Within, which offers specialized therapy that is open to veterans and first responders.
“It was a group with the intention of helping each other,” he said.
Retzer said it saved his life. He is now sharing his story, hoping that someone suffering hears it and reaches out for help.
“Here’s the thing about trauma: It doesn’t take an event of July 17, 1981. Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes,” Retzer said.
The Battle Within hosts several five-day programs for veterans and first responders each year.