Skip to comments.For the Innocents of September
Posted on 09/11/2008 5:32:24 AM PDT by Ravnagora
Seven years have passed since the thousands of you Innocents of September left us. How easy time passes, how fast.
This season we will be reminded of you as the images of the year roll by across our TV screens, and the retrospectives once again remind us of that day in September through your visages.
I didnt know any of you, but yet I know who you were. I can imagine your lives as they were ongoing, up until those last moments when they were taken away by strangers.
You were Mothers and Fathers Sons and Daughters Husbands and Wives Friends of others Who miss you still, And still dont understand how you could be taken away so mercilessly on a beautiful September day.
You each began your day, like youd begun thousands of days before. You each had your plan of how youd do the things you had to do.
You had your obligations and responsibilities, the schedules you were going to follow, a schedule that would be broken for each of you.
You each had your immediate simple plans, away from the rooms of the Twin Towers. The things you were going to do that evening The meal that you would have for supper The phone calls you would make The bills you had to pay The errands you were going to run that youd put off for long enough.
Then there were your plans for fun. The friends youd see The vacation youd be taking to a place that would bring you closer to nature and out of the hustle and bustle of the big city The movie youd catch, all the while remembering that there was a time when going to the movies didnt cost an arm and a leg
Then, without warning, you became the Innocents of September.
You were John, who complained that the subway ride to work took so long that morning. You were worried about your child whod been sick all night, and you wanted to get a phone call in to your wife just to make sure it hadnt gotten worse since youd left them that morning
You were Sally, who wasnt speaking to the love of her life since three days before on account of something your future mother-in-law had said You were planning on setting things straight and finally biting the bullet and committing to that wedding date
You were Mark, who hadnt seen your ill mother for a week. How did it happen that youd gotten so busy, you asked yourself. She had never been too busy to take care of you when you had needed her. You couldnt wait for the evening to come. Youd go for that overdue visit and take care of her. Youd tell her that evening how much she was loved and appreciated
You were Mickey, whose mortgage payment on that dream house was late. That night you were determined to leave work early by 15 minutes to make it to the post office on time. You were always running late, and this time you vowed it would never happen again
You were Faith, whod be finding out later that day if youd been accepted to Julliard. Music was your life, And you didnt know what you would do if the envelope that came was one of those thin ones that said We regret to inform you But, you had a good feeling about this. This day was going to bring good news
You were Joe, who hated wearing a tie to work and really wanted to be a farmer. Besides, skyscrapers had never impressed you. But acres of fertile land and a fine herd of cattle, with hearty horses and a loyal dog, That for you was success. Thats how you would retire some day
You were Christy, who would have accepted a cut in pay, just for the opportunity to work in that office with the windows that looked out over that view you daydreamed about. For you, New York City was a canvas of infinite possibilities. And you planned on conquering it by the time you were 32.
You were Adam, whose wife would be in the doctors office promptly at 9:00 a.m. that morning to find out if her suspicions were true and that you were going to be Dad. Youd have a hard time concentrating that morning and hoped that nobody would notice at the meeting that you werent paying attention. All you cared about was that phone call from your wife
You were Bob, who, after surviving five agonizing, torturous interviews and just as many haircuts, learned that you were in. This day would be your first on the job. Your friends, how jealous they were, your parents, how proud
You were the passengers on the planes, all strangers to each other until fate and destiny forced your lives to converge. You would become heroes that were real and lasting in this age of arbitrary fame for a day for nothing much.
You were the men in uniform who just went out and did your job and fulfilled your obligations. You didnt ask why. And on account of you, well never look at the men and women in uniform the same way again or take the jobs that you do, that you do for us, for granted.
I wonder how many of you I might have met on the journey through life. We all know how small the world is and how paths cross in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
That lovely September 11th day in 2001, our paths did cross. Sitting in a family room in a home in America, I watched as our country as we know it was changed forever within a matter of minutes. And I cried for you...
My hope is that you are in a better place, and that you did not feel pain in your last moments on this earth. My wish is that what happened to you will never happen again. My desire is that you will not be forgotten, and that you will not just be casualties, but a constant reminder of how fragile life can be and how it can be taken away without warning.
What I want you to know is that what happened afterwards is something bigger than what happened to you.
With your passing, America found itself again. She was forced out of her lazy complacency and comfortable existence, and awoke. We suddenly found our soul again as a nation, and instead of being conquered, we were filled with resolve. We were reminded of who we were, and how fortunate we are, and how foolish we were for taking anything for granted. Our pride in ourselves and in our nation was renewed. The American flag once again pervaded the nations landscape. We were reminded of what that flag stands for, and what kind of sacrifice it took to make it fly.
Theres another thing that happened, too, after this thing that happened to you. You brought God back to the forefront of peoples minds and hearts. You reminded us of his infinite Grace and the business we all need to take care of in order to make ourselves right with Him.
Please know that these things that happened that September 11th day will always be greater than what happened to you.
You, the Innocents of September, paid the ultimate price, but you will be a constant reminder that they did not win. What was born instead was a spirit that will always prevail over destruction and evil. That spirit will always carry your legacy. Though most of you may have been ordinary, everyday people, like most of us ordinary, everyday people, unlike us, you have now gone down in history through no choice of your own,
You will not be forgotten.
Thank you, Innocents of September, For what your sacrifice has given, to those of us who survive you.
It's one of the most enduring images we have of the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In the chaotic hours following the deadly assault, when the fear of further attacks was still extremely high and the fate of so many New Yorkers was still unknown, three city firefighters did something so simple, yet so extraordinary, considering the circumstances. They raised up an American flag that had been displaced among the wreckage and destruction around them.
The photo that ran in various newspapers the day afterwards inspired New Yorkers and Americans still struggling to regain some sense after the inhumane attack, and that image will remain with them for years to come. It was so appropriate, and yet so bitterly ironic, that one of the firefighters in the picture - that fellow on the left - was George Johnson, a resident of Rockaway Beach.
Known mostly for its picturesque beaches and strong Irish American population, Rockaway has taken on a grisly infamy since the terrorist attacks. In terms of people missing and loss of life, it is among the hardest hit places in all of New York City - some reports have claimed as many as 70 Rockaway residents, many of them firefighters, were either confirmed dead or still unaccounted for.
There are few places in New York City that have the type of community spirit that Rockaway has, and much of it is drawn from an Irish American heritage that means so much to so many of its residents. There are so many stories of people missing or dead, all of them heartbreaking in one way or another.
On the morning of September 11th, Agnello and 5 of his fellow firefighters aboard Ladder 118 responded to what was to become their final fire. They parked their rig at West and Vesey Street by the towers and vanished into the thick cloudy smoke and soot of the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel. Accounts by those rescued speak of the Ladder 118 crew ushering hundreds of the building occupants to safety. Survivor Bobby Graff says, "Their families should be proud of them. They knew what was going on, and they went down with their ship. They weren't going to leave until everyone got out. They must have saved a couple hundred people that day. I know they saved my life." Graff recalls, "Joey helped me bring handicapped people down from the 19th floor in the elevator. We then went up to the 12th floor where people were screaming and brought them down. Then the mayday call came on the radio and the command was 'Get out! Get out! Get out!'. Joey and the other guys used their bodies like a brace - like a riot squad - directing the people out. They knew what was coming, but they stayed where they were. I'll never forget that. The men of Ladder 118 died side by side. A simple man, Joey, 35, never looked for credit for his accomplishments, nor wanted for material possessions. He found comfort and happiness in the little things: being with his family and looking up at the sky on a starry night. "Sometimes, when I take the dogs to the beach for a walk and I look up, I know he's still around," his wife said. "Like tonight. There's the most beautiful moon, and I know he's with me."
Summer after summer, Richie stood watch along the beaches of the Rockaways, keeping swimmers out of danger. He had his share of ocean rescues, and then there was the one he pulled off on dry land, after a couple of people dug a giant hole in the sand that then collapsed around them. When he was not in the tall lifeguard's chair himself, he was never very far away. He'd create a hammock by tying a sheet to the supports beneath the chair and rest there awhile, enjoying the breeze blowing and the gulls calling and the pace of one more nice warm day. He was the much-adored oldest of six children, and his siblings trailed him into lifeguarding. "Growing up in Rockaway, if you can swim, then that's the best job to have," said Judy, one of his sisters. He got other jobs substitute teacher, sanitation worker before the Fire Department called him to work in May of 2001, when he was 31. He spent seven weeks with Engine Company 4 in Lower Manhattan, and then moved to Ladder Company 15 in the same firehouse. On Sept. 11, he rode with the engine company to the World Trade Center, even though he was off duty after having worked all night. The Sunday before, he and his mother, father, sisters and brothers had all spent the day together on the beach. And they realized that their lifeguard had become a firefighter. "He said how much he absolutely loved the job," said his mother, Gail. "It was part of his breathing, almost. He was saying he couldn't wait for his first fire." Beach 91 Street has been named, "Richie Allens Way.
Stephen E. Belson, 51, had different nicknames from different stages of his life. At Rockaway Beach, where he worked after college as a lifeguard, he was known as "Bells". But at the fire station on West 31st Street in Manhattan where he spent most of his career as a firefighter, he was given the title ''Mr. Ladder 24.'' ''He was our ambassador, so to speak,'' said John Montani, another firefighter in Ladder Company 24. Firefighter Belson attended all the functions, was always available for holiday duty and could back a fire engine into a station in five seconds flat. His last job was as a driver for one of the battalion chiefs, Orio J. Palmer. Both rushed to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11; neither returned. Before he joined the department, Firefighter Belson was something of a beach bum, a surfer, a devotee of the Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna, or as one friend said, a free spirit. Then, one day, he and his lifeguard buddies decided to get real jobs. Firefighter Belson who grew up in Flushing, Queens, moved to Rockaway Beach, bought a house and fit right into the tightknit community of firefighters and police officers. Unlike many of his neighbors, he wasn't Irish or Roman Catholic. But that made no difference. ''While he was Jewish, he was considered one of them,'' said his mother, Madeline Brandstadter. ''They even named Beach 92nd Street after him: Bells' Beach.'' His mother recalls the two most important pronouncements in her son's life "I love Rockaway and will never live anywhere else" and "I love the Fire Department and will never work anywhere else" ".
Gerard Dewan was only 35 years old on September 11, 2001. On that day, he and eleven others from Ladder Company 3 (Battalion 6) in Lower Manhattan were called to duty at the World Trade Center. He was one of the first rescuers to enter the twin towers, but he never made it out. He was born and rasied in Boston and came to Rockaway Beach to begin his career as an NYC firefighter in 1996. The Gerard Dewan Memorial Fund was established to keep Gerard's memory alive and to honor his commitment to helping others.
When Kevin's family moved to Colorado while he was still a child, he moved in with a sister in Rockaway Beach and graduated from Far Rockaway High School in 1972. He had worked various jobs in construction, including as a "sand-hog" or tunnel digger, before he got the call to join the New York City Police Department in 1980. A year later, Dowdell got a call from the New York Fire Department. He couldn't pass up the opportunity and left the NYPD. "He loved the fire department," his wife said. "It was really like a home away from home." A member of Rescue Co. 4 in Woodside, Lt. Kevin Dowdell, 47, is presumed dead in the terrorist attacks. Kevin's work ethic and other traits of his personality are evident in both of his sons. His living spirit carried one son, James, into the FDNY and another to West Point. Army 1st Lt. Patrick Dowdell, departed for Iraq on St. Patricks Day.
When John Heffernan died on Sept. 11, it robbed New York's punk community of one of its strongest creative forces. When he met The Bullys in 1998, Marky Ramone liked the band so much he produced their first album, Stomposition. Bandmates remember the charismatic redhead with "a map of Ireland and a few bar brawls" on his face. Heffernan, who ran his band's business and designed thebullys.com, wrote and produced the band's next album, We Fight Again; the title track an ode to his native Rockaway. Those were his streets, that's where he grew up, that's what he wrote about, Rockaway. "It's Still My Home" was an oath of blood loyalty, a Celtic warrior's do-or-die pledge to love and defend his turf. Hef, 37, was a New York firefighter since 1993. Beach 114th Street has been renamed Firefighter John Heffernan Street.
Walter G. Hynes, was a 32-year resident of Rockaway. He valiantly gave his life on the morning of September 11, 2001 while assisting victims of the World Trade Center attack. Walter worshipped at St. Francis De Sales and was the Captain of Ladder Company 13 for the New York City Fire Department. He was 46. Walter was a family man, as well as a jack of all trades. In addition to his job with the FDNY, he was also an attorney, and the co-owner of a restaurant in Rockaway Beach. Beach 93rd Street has been renamed in honor of Walter Hynes.
If God was interested in good company he found it in John Moran. John was truly a modern day Renaissance man. He displayed equally assets of physical and intellectual prowess, all wrapped up in true humility. Think of society's loss of an individual who dedicated his life to service in the form of fighting fires and saving lives. He answered the call for leadership by rising to the rank of Battalion Chief, enduring departmental exams for years and at the same time attaining a Juris Doctorate from Fordham University School of Law! An accomplished musician, John played bass guitar, guitar, piano, the Irish tin whistle, drums and I would imagine a few other instruments I am not aware of as well as singing. John Moran was an Irish Lion with a heart to match, he embodied so much that makes me proud to be an Irish-American, and his brother Mike did us all justice by plainly stating what we all felt. Beach 118th Street at Ocean Promenade has been renamed Chief John Moran Way.
Stephen P. Russell was a firefighter with Engine Co. 55 in Little Italy. Steve and his fellow firefighters were investigating a gas leak nearby on September 11, 2001. They rushed to the towers and joined other FDNY units in evacuating those moving down from the upper floors. They called him "MacGyver" at the firehouse. He could fix anything, and do anything that needed to be done. He worked wonders with wood. He was a member of the Carpenters Union. He was so skilled that he built his own furniture and many items for the firehouse as well. He had even built a display case which has now become a memorial to him and his four fellow firefighters who died at the World Trade Center. Steve was born and raised in Rockaway Beach and lived in his house on Jamaica Bay. Steve loved the water. He was a master scuba diver, a sailor, and an avid water-skier.
Daniel Suhr sacrificed his life trying to rescue victims in the World Trade Center attack, but it was the efforts to save him once he was injured that ended up saving the lives of several city firefighters. Suhr, 37, was fatally injured when someone jumped from Tower Two and struck him. Seven firefighters, including four members of his Engine Co. 216 in Williamsburg, came to Suhr's aid. Minutes after Suhr was rushed to Bellevue Hospital, the tower came crashing down. Suhr and his colleagues would have been in that tower if he had not been injured. "We're alive because of Danny, firefighter Tony Sanseviro said. "It was almost like he knew, firefighter Chris Barry said. "He didn't look scared, but he knew it was bad. Before Suhr died, the Rockaway native was the captain for the FDNY football team and the Brooklyn Mariners, a semi-pro team.
"He was no saint!" said Eugene Whelan's mother, Joan, her laughter bubbling up. "Yeah, he could be a giant pain!" her husband, Alfred, added, chuckling about the ninth of their 10 children. But examples eluded them. While Firefighter Whelan, 31, undoubtedly jettisoned saint eligibility at some Rockaway Beach pub or Grateful Dead concert a captain called him "the king of fun" he was still terrific. He kept extra winter jackets in his Jeep in case he spotted a shivering homeless person. He was a persistent serial hugger, spreading those burly embraces known as "Eugene hugs." He was a Mr. Fix-it and human Velcro to kids. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the neighborhood served by Engine Company 230, children would arrive at the firehouse with broken bicycles for Firefighter Whelan to make whole. During a school visit, he asked why one child was left in the bus. The child was paralyzed, a teacher replied. Mr. Whelan carried the child to the fire truck. "He understood what life was really about," said his father, "so we feel pretty good about him." Beach 37 Street has been renamed "Firefighter Eugene Whelan Street".
In the company of heroes, Stackpoles story is one that stands out from the pack. He was first recognized for his heroism after surviving an East New York inferno in 1998 that killed two firefighters. He and four other firefighters had raced into the building, mistakenly believing that an elderly woman was trapped within. The floor gave way, killing two of his fellow firefighters. Stackpole of Brooklyn, NY was left critically injured. Stackpole underwent a heroic recovery and joked from his hospital bed that because of the injury hed have to retire after 40 years on the job instead of 50. This despite the fact that his severe injuries would have qualified him to retire with a full pension. He underwent years of rehabilitation, dozens of surgeries and painful skin grafts. He made it back to active duty, promoted to captain at Division 11 in Downtown Brooklyn just days before he died. On Sept. 11, Stackpole formed a company that rushed into the South Tower shortly before it collapsed.
Firefighter David Weiss, 41, was declared missing on September 11, 2001. Born and raised in Freeport, NY, he joined the Freeport Volunteer Fire Department in 1978 and the Iron Workers Local 580 in New York City. He was appointed to FDNY in 1989 and became a member of Manhattan's elite Rescue Company 1 after receiving the Emily Trevor-Mary B. Warren Medal for a daring rescue attempt of a man in the East River. In addition David was a recipient of various awards including Firefighters Quarterly Man of the Year 1993, Firehouse Magazine Heroism Award and a NYC Transit Award.