This morning I was preparing to head off to the 9/11 Ceremony the FOOLS were holding at the downtown house. I was heading out with mixed emotions, wondering if what I had written out for opening remarks would be appropriate, would it be taken well? Should I re-write it? My stomach hurt. There are so many things to consider when speaking to a large group and then again, ...sometimes you need to just shoot fromt the hip.
When I was preparing my remarks I was thinking, "What more can be said about 9/11?" What can be said? That we haven't changed, we still struggle to lay aside a few hours of our time to remember 343 (345 ref. Deutsche Fire) firefighters that were slain, killed, ....murdered. Some folks wince at the use of that word. But that is what is was, wasn't it? So I came back to my previous conclusions which I had written down already. We promised we would remember. So we must.
I look forward to it, and yet I don't. While speaking or reading names or bowing our heads as the bell peals alone, I feel inadequate and unable to do justice to the issue. We are alive, we breathe, we go home and hold our children in our arms. Those that died that day will not ever. The little toddlers they left at home are now in their teens, and the teens are grown adults.
I called up my Brother Berg. On impulse I think, I suddenly realized I wanted to talk with him above all others this morning. I interrupted his goodbye to his wife as he was leaving his house, and I thought, "how typically firemanish". Cherish every moment. I knew his wife, just like mine, holds her breath just a little as he walks away to the truck and climbs in. My wife told me once she feels guilty that I come home after every shift. Since so many have not ever come home.
Berg was feeling much like myself. Just kind of in awe of the moment. Here we are eight years later and how it seems like yesterday the towers fell and at the same time, an age. An age has come and gone. A generation of firemen has been impacted to such an extent that we will remember 9/11 in the same way that the Kennedy Assassination was for the previous generation. A haunting. No? Not you?
Don't you remember how it felt? First amazement, then disbelief, then a knowing, a knawing certainty that you knew beyond any doubt that all those New Yorkers were in those towers. Where else would they be? They're FDNY, ...you know they were up there. I doubt they knew what was coming. But then again maybe somehow they felt it. But I don't think they would have turned back, not even then.
Talking with Berg, I felt such Brotherhood, such friendship and I thought, "If anyone understands how I'm feeling this morning its this guy." This then is the legacy of 9/11. Perhaps this is where our words belong. Dwelling on what has been salvaged. For one thing I know, the Brotherhood we cherish so deeply was reborn by that tragedy. In one sweeping moment, we all became one for a time, and in so many ways we have continued to be one. Remember? Remember how badly you wanted to be there, at Ground Zero. How badly you wanted to help dig? To help them put things back together.
I know my Brother Berg felt that way, as I did. It tore us asunder. It rocked me to my foundation. Everything that is a fireman within me grieved. Still does. So Berg is in Seattle and I am in Fairbanks, and Glover is in the Carolina's, Hankins in Nor Cal, Mikey in Florida, Depoto, Shep, Lee, Big Bird, Old Gallagher, Sippy Cup, Sven, all firemen I've come to know because I began to reach out for "Brotherhood" across the miles. To be able to say yes, "I am one with you, we are of the same mind, same heart and same passion." I know that although for many old firemen this Brotherhood was never lost, for so many of us, 9/11 helped us define what we were looking for. It led the way to what was missing in the fire service, that we knew was there, but it lay hidden, under old wounds and scars, waiting to be rediscovered. It awakened on 9/11. But as it awakened it pulled in the entire nation of firemen, not just one clan.
We are, as Berg said to me today, of the "American Fire Department". The 9/11 legacy.
Here is how my short speech turned out:
"In honor of today, I've posted my opening remarks from the Fraternal Order Of Leatherheads Society, 9/11 Ceremony. The Ceremony consisted of Key note, Bell service, Reading the names of the 343 plus other public servants. In addtion we lit 343 candles.
9/11 OPENING REMARKS
PRESIDENT, FARTHEST NORTH FRATERNAL ORDER OF LEATHERHEADS
I am often asked each year why we need to observe 9/11. There is a desire to let it rest. I can understand that. As a people, Americans are never in a mood to dwell on the past, tend to forget history and are quick to forgive. Many folks do not want to feel that pain again, or be reminded of it, but it is that pain that lets us know we are alive and breathing. But eight years ago, when the towers fell and over 343 firemen and policemen, and public workers were murdered along with nearly 3000 civilians, we as a people and especially the American Fire Service made a promise. We promised to “NEVER FORGET”.
AS FOR ME, I CANNOT FORGET. I CANNOT LET IT GO, AND PERHAPS, I CHOOSE NOT TO. AND I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO KEEP MY PROMISE. I WILL NEVER FORGET.
The Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society is formed soley for the purpose of preserving the Brotherhood of the Fire Service. We are the Warrior Poets of the American Fire Service, the ones who have stepped up to defend the HERITAGE and TRADITION of our proud profession. We are not the only ones who do this, but we are formed specifically for it and will pursue it vigilantly and with purpose.
That being said, the moment the towers fell and all of those firemen died. They passed into our heritage and tradition, becoming the focal point of the Brotherhood that we represent. They were a visible, tangible, PAINFUL example of the “ULTIMATE SACRIFICE”, that firemen are bound to by our oath to serve the public.
Who would have thought that they could have made a difference by the time they reached the 80th floors? But they did! We know that now.
Who could have thought that their loss would cause a massive resurgence of the phenomenon within the American Fire Service, called “the Brotherhood”? Yet it did. And continues to do so.
Who does not remember that today, our nation, our people, our young people are still fighting a war that began that day. But many, many have forgotten.
That is why the FOOLS remember every year. We promised. It is our duty. It is our haunting. And we would have it so!!!
No other event in the history of this generation has shook us to our core as that morning did, and the weeks that followed. Today with me, on my engine company are young firefighters that were in grade school when this occurred. It is our solemn duty to teach them, and show them how we felt, how we still feel, and to never forget. We are Public Servants first. Our own lives, sacrificed, when we don the badge and are sworn to duty.
I would like to dedicate this year's ceremony to FDNY's Captain Mike Dugan, who is larger than life both physically and in reputation. He continues to work every shift, with the memory of so much loss. I only wish I could be half the fireman that he is. I was priveledged to meet him this summer, and felt small in comparision. If we did not mark this date, and set aside time to remember it, I would not be able to look him in the eye.
Thank you for joining us today."