I was asleep. It was early morning and the California sun was beginning to stream through the window into my room seemingly hiding the harsh reality that had taken place earlier on that fateful day.
My mom waking me up was the first thing I remembered. I don’t recall much of what was said, but for some reason, it was urgent. I pulled my five-year-old self out of bed and came out into our main room. There, on the TV set, I remember watching the footage of two planes colliding with the twin towers in New York City. I didn’t know the ramifications of what was going on, but I knew one thing for sure: It was bad.
2900 people died on our soil that day. Of those 2900, 343 were Firefighters. Fire Department New York originally numbered 752 employees. In the disaster, almost half of them died. The entire attack was simply awful, for everyone killed... everyone injured.
Growing up as the child of a Firefighter has a lot of perks, you could say. You kind of know your way around all the stations, have met a lot of men who risk their lives to save others, get to eat the cookies, the ice cream, and the other frozen desserts out of the freezer with you dad when you visit him on duty, and ride in a rig as your second vehicle. (Okay, so the last one is kind of exaggerated! The dessert is a true story though... many times!)
But growing up in a Firefighter’s family also has its risks. Firefighting is the most dangerous job out there. If there’s one thing I remember being said that morning of September 11th, 2001, it was my dad walking out of the hallway and saying, “I’m going to be ordered in to work.” Sure enough, minutes later the phone rang and the opposite voice called him in.
I remember something else though, from the days following the attack on the World Trade Center. A news clip showed a packed street of people running away from where the towers had stood... In the midst of that, there was one fireman, pushing his way against the crowd, toward the site of disaster. My dad told me, “In the 9-11 attack, everyone was running away, except for one group of people.... the emergency workers ran toward it.”
Last night I pulled out a book that we’ve had for a long time, which commemorates the 343 Firefighters killed after the twin towers were attacked. This 200 page book has a small line of never ending text that continues along the bottom of every single page, simply listing the names of those who gave all. But it was this paragraph that struck me last night:
“It’s the custom on many Fire Departments, at the funerals of fallen Firefighters, to have them played to their rest by bagpipers. Sunday after the horror, beside a Hudson ruby-red in the setting sun, as near to the ruins as he could get, a lone piper was playing. He had no connection to the New York Fire Department; he wasn’t even from New York. He was a guy from Boston, a plumber by trade, who happened to be a bagpiper and had been moved to tears by the heroism and self-sacrifice of our firefighters. So he’d come to pay his respects. At that time the exact number of fallen was not yet known, but it was put around 300. The piper was playing a minute or so for each man, trying to keep each tribute a little different; plangent riffs on old Scottish and Irish ballads, songs of lost love and the death of heroes and the longing for home. He’d been playing for six and a half hours. But each lament was sweeter and more haunting than the last.”
May the memories of those who died that day be a blessing. May God bless America, protect her, convict her, and cause her to repent.