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Twenty Years Later: A Story of Remembrance – Part 2
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2021-09-14

A two-part series reporting how family, friends, and members of the Fire Department of New York remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and how they share the message to "Never Forget."

 

           Back to Manhattan.

            Beautiful weather welcomed friends, family and other visitors to the Big Apple on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.  Crowds gathered to see the waterfalls at the site of the Memorial Reflecting Pools, built in the footprints of the former World Trade Center Towers, and pay their respects to the people who died in the terrorist attacks.

 

Active and retired firefighters line up in front of the firehouse for one of six mom-

ents of silence to reflect on each of the four attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and the times

that the World Trade Center Towers fell.

            The stage was full of political dignitaries that included the President of the United States along with two former presidents, a former Secretary of State, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, the U.S. Speaker of the House, the Governor and former Governor of New York, and the Mayor and a former Mayor of New York City.   Few spoke.  Another former president chose to spend time at a nearby firehouse and police station instead of the stage that day.

            The audience was limited to VIP's and the families of those who died.

            Defund the police and comparing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to the enormity of the Sept. 11 attacks wasn't on any list for presentation or discussion.  Those in attendance wanted only to reflect and remember those who perished on September 11, 2001.

            At the center of the ceremony was the recitation by family members of the names of the 2,977 who died that day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.  This year, the names of the six people who died in the 1993 terror bombing of the World Trade Center were included.

            The first sign that Saturday would be different came as the early morning sunrise was making its way over the statuesque skyline of the Manhattan skyscrapers.  Streets, for blocks around Ground Zero, were closed and normal thoroughfares to South Street and the East River were cordoned off and traffic directed well away from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport where the President of the United States would arrive.

 

Two recently landed Osprey military V-22 aircraft sit at the Downtown Manhattan

Heliport while one flies overhead as two Marine One helicopters, one carrying the

President and the other acting as a decoy, land.

            The heliport is a stone's throw away from where I spent most of Saturday morning; at the South Street building that houses the Fire Department of New York's Engine 4 and Ladder 15.  Fourteen members from that firehouse died on September 11, 2001 when the towers fell.  Six from Engine 4 and eight from Ladder 15.

            While I was there, two Marine One helicopters arrived under the protection of three Osprey military V-22 aircraft.  Two of the Ospreys landed at the heliport and one stayed in the air.  Two Marine One helicopters, one carrying the President and the other acting as a decoy, landed shortly after.  A motorcade then whisked the passengers down Old Slip Street and up to the site of the ceremony.

The motorcade carrying President Joe Biden and other VIPs traveled from the

heliport, down the exit ramp from the FDR Parkway, to Old Slip Street and up to

the site of the ceremony at the 9-11 Memorial.

 

            Standing on the corner of South Street and Old Slip Street, I could have reached out and touched the black limousine as it passed by on the single-lane road.

            This year was different than all the others at the firehouse.  Instead of a four-bay engine room full of tables and chairs, one bay was strangely empty.  The table next to me was marked "reserved". I later found out the South Street location was designated as an evacuation site and should there be a need, the president's limo would be whisked into the empty bay and he would be escorted upstairs.

            It wasn't long before the reserved table next to me was occupied by several secret-service types in suits, talking to someone through unseen radios.

            I chose to spend time at that firehouse because of the bonds I've built up over the years there.  Cultivating friendships with fellow firefighters, meeting the families of those who perished, and watching the children grow up and have children of their own.  A generation that never had the chance to meet their heroic grandfathers.

            Due to COVID restrictions, the hero-firefighters who responded two-decades ago were kept from the ceremony's main site off West Street between Vesey and Liberty streets.  

            They remembered at the firehouse, as they have for many years.  The memorial room, dedicated to their 14 fallen comrades was flush with flowers and memorial tokens placed there by family and friends.  They stood at attention and paused silently six times; once when a plane struck the North Tower and once when one struck the South Tower; two more times when each building fell.  They stood in silent remembrance also marking the time a plane struck the Pentagon; and again when a plane crashed in Shanksville, PA.

 

The Memorial Room at the home of the FDNY's Engine 4 and Ladder 15 remem-

bers the lives of all of the firefighters lost from that station, including the 14 who

died on September 11, 2001.

            There was a somber memorial service held by retired FDNY Chaplain Rev. Everett Wabst inside the firehouse that included a candle-lighting and reciting the names of the 14 lost members of Engine 4 and Ladder 15---lost two decades ago.

            As he does every year, Rev. Wabst closed his service with the prayer of Father Mychael Judge, the FDNY Chaplain who was listed as the first casualty of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  

            "Lord, take me where you want me to go; Let me meet who you want me to meet; tell me what you want me to say; and, keep me out of your way." The last line reminds us that we cannot do the work alone.

            The message of the modest group was that of healing over heroes.  Only 14 states require that educators teach about Sept. 11, 2001 in their K-12 classrooms.  Pennsylvania is not one of them.

            As generations go forward all of the honors and awards will become like our mortal remains and become dust in the wind.

            The spirit of those who died that day will remain.


 

 

 

 

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