Sunday, September 11, 2011
Mourning and Honoring Victims of 9/11
September 11, 2011 – Joseph Nardone, the now retired Battalion 9 Chief of the New York City Fire Department, is a friend of mine.
What follows is a speech he gave today at a memorial ceremony for firefighter victims of 9/11/2001. That day firefighters on duty under his command died. Joe was not among the dead because 9/11 was his day off. By the time he arrived at the Towers collapse scene, most of the 343 firefighters who died had already perished. Joe will never forget their sacrifice or their families' fate.
I thank Lt. Pat Brady for this opportunity to speak to you. I consider this a special honor and privilege.
This morning Firehouses across the city are conducting memorial services, just like this one.
For good reason. This is a day for remembering broken hearts and unspeakable horrors.
On September 11, 2001, radical Islamic terrorists murdered over 3000 innocent people, including 343 New York City Firefighters lost while rescuing thousands of civilians from the Towers.
On that horrible day, all Battalion units (E-23, E-40, L-35, L-4, E-54, and Battalion 9) responded to calls for help from the World Trade Center. Tragically – too many on- duty members made the supreme sacrifice – including 15 from E-4, L-4, and Battalion 9.
For ten years now, we have come together to honor the memory of brave men who died in the line of duty on September 11, 2011.
We have vowed to “Never Forget,” and we never will.
Our friends who have come to this memorial park for the last ten years have not forgotten. On behalf of Engine 54, Ladder 4, and Battalion 9, I want to express our deepest appreciation and to say “thank you.”
At my age, ten years is an insignificant bump in the road. Yet when I look at the children, your children, I realize ten years is a significant mile marker. The children have grown into teenagers and young adults. In our firehouse, 28 children have grown up without fathers in their lives since 9/11/01.
We Firefighters are always mindful of the mothers and grandparents of these children. They have carried the heavy burden of raising these children while suffering endless grief.
We will never forget your grief and sacrifice. You have our profound respect and love. Your husbands and sweethearts would be proud of you.
What is it about these anniversaries?
As for me, as this 10th anniversary approached, I began to feel a weight upon my emotions. The closer the date, the heavier my emotions become. I am sure this holds true for you here today.
I remember the first anniversary. While driving into the City, my cell phone rang. It was 6:30 AM. My youngest son, Jim, the 22, was on the phone. Upon hearing my voice, he burst out crying.
I struggled to explain it was a tough day for everyone. I tried to reassure him it was OK to feel as he did.
It is hard for me to describe in one all -encompassing way how I feel about the scope of the destruction and loss of life with the collapse of the Towers. I have never seen the Grand Canyon, but I doubt if you can grasp its vastness and its details in just one visit or one viewing.
So it is with events surrounding the World Trade Center tragedy. At first, America was shown on TV the now iconic images of firefighters and other rescuers working endlessly to find everybody alive and then later recovering the victims.
Behind the scenes, others were at work. At pier 4, many of our members were working on a massive family assistance program for every family that had lost loved ones, offering medical, counseling, and legal services.
Some served hot meals to Firefighters and other rescue workers. Some scrubbed the soles of our boots before we sat down to eat so we didn’t contaminate the eating area.
Still other Firefighters had the vital and difficult role of attending to the needs of families.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, hotels and car rental companies donated to families. Donated food covered the firehouse kitchen tables for months. Thousands sent well-wishing cards.
We all remember flowers and candles that covered the front sidewalk and adorned the Statute of Liberty. We remember the lady who attended the flowers, keeping them fresh, organized, and respectful. We knew her simply as “Flower.”
Then there were local groups – friends in the theatre community and folks in the immediate neighborhood.
Finally, people in the hundreds, including many celebrities , came from across America, including First Ladies Laura Bush and Libby Pataki. It was not just our tragedy, but America’s tragedy as well.
Gratitude to Fellow Firefighters
I shall be forever grateful to Captains Ray Ziegler of Ladder 4 and Barry Mead to Ladder 35. They had left their respective units before 9/1l, but requested to return and take command of their decimated companies.
They boosted morale tremendously, and Firefighters desperately needed their experience.
In addition, Engine 54’s Captain Parenty, Engine 23’s Captain Bendict, and Engine 40’s Captain Gorley were the bedrock of unit cohesiveness and morale. They were indispensable during this difficult period.
These captains had a huge burden placed upon them. They were the major sources of contact for grieving families. They arranged for funerals and memorial services, trained new members, and responded to fires among other pressing duties.
And who among us will ever forget the unwavering steadfastness of Lieutenant Bob Jackson, LBJ as his men called him. For me, Bob was my right hand. For families, he was their best friend and supporter. Bob was totally committed.
He would say, “Let’s circle the wagons for the families.” Nothing came before that principle.
America and the world saw the true character of our New York City Firefighters – their unwavering determination and resolve to bring home the remains of brother Firefighters and civilians so that families could conduct proper funerals.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, Firefighters returned to the site to search for lost brothers and other victims, exposing themselves to dangerous conditions and toxins.
I shall never forget, and I stand in awe of the nobility and brotherhood of the New York City Fire Department as I would see our members recover a brother from Ground Zero, then proudly and with dignity carry the remains up a long ramp to the street, then stand as uniformed honor guards at the funerals, act as pall bearers into and out of church, and then return to work to answer fire alarms.
This forever will be the legacy other fire departments will have to live up to.
In the weeks, months, and years that followed, you, the officers and Firefighters who were members of 54, 4, and Battalion 9 on 9/11 and who are still working there today, you are an inspiration. You have lived up to the vow we made to “Never forget.”
After 9/11, we have had several notable events to help us with our grief and to help to “Never forget.”
In March 2002, we dedicated this Firefighter Memorial Park. You may recall that moving rendition of the song, “On Angel’s Wings,” as sung by MaryAnn Regan.
In May of 2003, on board the Intrepid, we dedicated that beautiful Bas relief by the noted sculptor Arcard Kotler. It is mounted in front of our quarters. The relief depicts all the units in the 9th Battalion. It was here that Young David Wooley gave his eloquent and inspiring speech.
Later our lost members’ names were placed on the nose cowlings of F-18 Super Hornets for the air craft carrier Abraham Lincoln. In addition, “Tail Hooks” had a fly-over at Steward Airport.
Captain Paranty commissioned the outstanding mural on the firehouse front door.
Firefighter Keith Kerns built the beautiful memorial display walls inside the fire house.
Last September 10, Darrel Lynn kicked off project “Hero Portraits” from our firehouse. Darrell intends to paint oil portraits of all 343 lost Fire Department members. Those in the audience had the opportunity to hear the composer Judy Gold sings her beautiful song, “From a Distance.”
And most recently President Barack Obama visited our quarters to have lunch with our members and to recognize the huge sacrifice our members made on 9/11.
Today, in the spirit of “Never Forget, “we honor the members of our lost Firefighters but also the men and women of the Armed Services and the thousands who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.
They are all heroes. Thucydides, the Greek philosopher, said “But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.”
Although our lost loved ones’ absence is felt today, we should not feel hollow because they are gone. We should be filled with the inspiration their example has given us.
The memory of their valiant service and sacrifice will help us move forward. The brave souls who gave their lives in the line of duty are too great to die.
We will not let them. They are part of our own lives, and they will always be part of our Department’s proud history and honorable traditions.
Their lasting legacy will be found in the way we honor all those who have been lost by striving everyday to live up to their example of duty, honor, courage, and sacrifice.
God Bless the New York City Fire Department, and their families and remember: “Never Forget.”
Tweet: 343 New York City firefighters perished on 9/11/2001. We must never forget their sacrifice and the impact of 9/11 on their families.