Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Men of Engine 40, Ladder 35 - Part III

Courage is resistance to fear,
Mastery of fear,
Not absence of fear.
- Mark Twain

FF Michael Lynch was the seventh born of the ten Lynch children.  Thirty-one years old at the time of his death on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, FF Lynch was engaged to Stephanie Luccioni.  Had he not been killed in the line of duty on that awful September morning, he and Stephanie would have married that November.  FF Lynch had rotated over to 40/35 only a couple of months prior to September 11, 2001.  He was a member of Engine 62/Ladder 32 from the Bronx (a/k/a "the Gun Hill Gang") since first joining the FDNY in 1999.  On the final morning of his life, FF Lynch and the other men of 40/35 were at the World Trade Center effecting rescues of men and women who had been trapped there - in their offices - when the terrorists attacked.  Irony or coincidence?  Prior to joining the FDNY, FF Lynch had worked for Dean Witter at the firm's World Trade Center office.  He left that job to pursue his dream of being a member of the FDNY.

In honor of FF Lynch's life and in memory of his death, the Lynch Family established the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation.  In the years since 2001, the Foundation has generated 137 college scholarships totaling more than $3.5 Million.

FF John Daniel "Dan" Marshall rode south through Manhattan on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 with the men of Engine 40/Ladder 35 although he, himself, was not a member of the house.  FF Marshall, thirty-five years young and the son of a member of the NYPD, was assigned to Engine 23 but on the morning of September 11, 2001 he had been assigned as a substitute to Engine 40. 

In David Halberstam's wonderful "Firehouse" he wrote of Marshall, "He was a stranger to the men there.  It is likely that he had been at 40/35 for all of five minute when he went out on the last run of his life.  He tossed a bag on the floor of the house and then jumped aboard the rig; later they found the bag, which contained his personal things, including his keys and his wallet."   FF Marshall was married and he and his wife Lori were the proud parents of two little ones at the time of his death, Paige and John.

FF Steve Mercado (Engine 40) spent eleven years at 40/35 house.  FF Mercado, a thirty-eight-year-old husband to Joviana and father to two sons (Skylar and Austin) had three great passions:  His family, his job and stickball.  FF Mercado was the President of the New York Emperors Stickball League.

A Bronx boy, FF Mercado grew up playing and loving the game and, as an adult, was committed to preserving it and its place of significance in the history and the fabric of New York City.   Take a moment and read this,, which he wrote about the game he loved, the father he loved and the connection between the two. 

FF Mercado is the only man who rode into harm's way that terrible morning on Engine 40 whose body was never recovered from the World Trade Center site.  


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Men of Engine 40, Ladder 35 - Part II

Bruce Gary was fifty-one years old when died in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  FF Gary was a member of Engine 40.   In "Firehouse", David Halberstam wrote of FF Gary's incredible physical prowess and his recognized  place atop the food chain in the firehouse.  FF Gary, divorced several years prior to his death, was a hands on, involved presence in the lives of his three children.  He raised the three of them alone after his divorce from their mother in 1991.  FF Gary lived in Bellmore, Long Island. When he completed his tours at Engine 40, he would head out to Bellmore where he worked as a plumber. He was, at the time of his death, the vice-president of the Bellmore Little League, a position he held for the final twelve years of his life.  

Jimmy Giberson was a firefighter and a member of Engine 35.  Less than one week prior to his death on September 11, 2001, FF Giberson celebrated his twentieth anniversary as a member of the FDNY.  He spent his entire career at Engine 35.  FF Giberson was survived by his wife of seventeen years, Susan, and the couple's three daughters, Erika, Kari and Sara.  He was as comfortable at home as the lone man in a household that included four women as he was in the all-male domain of the firehouse.  It was well-known among his colleagues that the only reason why he ever missed an outing or event at the firehouse was to cheer on his girls at one of their swim meets.  The people who live in the neighborhood of the 40/35 firehouse knew him as the gentle giant who always appeared to have time to help repair a child's bike chain or some such thing.  

Lieutenant John Ginley was only thirty-seven years old when he died on September 11, 2001.  For Lt. Ginley, the FDNY was the family business.  His father had been a member of the FDNY.  Three of Lt. Ginley's brothers were too.  Lt. Ginley was the ranking officer of Engine 40 on scene that morning.  Lt. Ginley was survived by his wife, April, and his two young children, his daughter Taylor and his son Connor. Both of Lt. Ginley's children were ten years old and younger at the time of their father's death.  

A hero has faced it all:
he need not be undefeated,
but he must be undaunted.
- Andrew Bernstein


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Men Of Engine 40, Ladder 35 - Part I

The firehouse that is home to Engine 40, Ladder 35 in Manhattan is located at Sixty-Sixth Street and Amsterdam Avenue.  On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 thirteen men from this firehouse headed south into the maelstrom that was the World Trade Center.  Twelve of the thirteen men died.  Beginning today - and over the course of the next three days thereafter - this space's purpose shall be to pay homage to those dozen heroes.  I might suggest that you might avail yourself of David Halberstam's beautiful work, "Firehouse", which tells their story far better and in far more detail than I could ever hope to do.  

Kevin Bracken was a Firefighter at Engine 40.  FF Bracken was thirty-seven years old when he died in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  He had been a member of the FDNY for eight years at the time of his death.  His first house was Engine 23 in Manhattan.  He and his wife, Jennifer Liang, has been married for five years.  Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was Primary Election Day in the City of New York. Jennifer Liang and her husband said their goodbyes that morning at their local polling place, after having performed their civic duty and voted.  In addition to his wife Jennifer, FF Bracken was survived by his parents, one brother and three sisters.

Captain Frank Callahan  was a twenty-eight year veteran of the FDNY and the ranking officer of Engine 35 on scene at the World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  One of Captain Callahan's four children, his twenty-year-old daughter Nora, worked part-time at the World Trade Center.  Prior to heading down that morning Captain Callahan called home to make sure that Nora was not in harm's way.  He was relieved to discover that she was not at work that morning.  Captain Callahan had been a member of the FDNY for twenty-four years when Callahan was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1997.  Shortly after he was promoted to the rank of Captain, he was assigned to Engine 35, the house he would call home for the remainder of his career.  Captain Callahan was survived by his wife Angela, their two sons, Harry and Peter, and their two daughters, Nora and Rosie.

Michael D'Auria was a new member of the FDNY.  FF D'Auria had only graduated from the Academy and joined Engine 40 on May 2, 2001.  A bright, physically capable young man, FF D'Auria scored perfect scores on the physical and written tests.  He was only twenty-five years young but in spite of his youth and his own relative lack of experience on the job, his firefighting pedigree was well-established.  He was one of nine firefighters on his mother's side of the family.  When he responded to the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001 he was responding to his second fire.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life
To something bigger than oneself. 
- Joseph Campbell 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Young Lions

Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty.
Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.
- Franz Kafka

Death shall come for all of us.  It is a natural process.  It is a part of life.  But it is not supposed to come for a child.  The death of a child is nothing less than a disturbance in the natural order of the universe.  On September 11, 2001, the universe's natural order was disturbed multiple times.

Bernard C. Brown II  was eleven years young when he was murdered on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Bernard was a sixth-grade student who was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77 that morning that had departed Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles only to be hijacked and flown into the Pentagon, where his father Bernard, Sr., was stationed as a member of the United States Navy.  He was on his way to California for a four-day National Geographic trip for which he had been chosen - along with other Washington, D.C. elementary school students - as a reward for academic excellence.  His two great passions were basketball and going to school.  According to his mother Sinita on a day that he woke up feeling sick or a little under the weather, rather than using that as an excuse to avoid school he would implore his mom to let him go, downplaying how he felt so that he would not be required to stay home.  

Asia S. Cottom was also eleven years young when she was one of the people aboard American Airlines Flight 77 who was killed when terrorists crashed the Los Angeles-bound flight out of Dulles into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001.  Asia was on the flight to California to participate in the four-day National Geographic Society Ecology Conference with her teacher.  She had just started the sixth grade - and had done so in a new school.  Fortunately for Asia, her father worked at her school - the Bertie Backus Middle School - and was very well-liked by students and staff alike, which made Asia's transition smoother than it otherwise might have been.  Asia was survived by her parents, Clifton and Michelle, and a little brother.  

Rodney Dickens was the second-oldest of his mother LaShawn's five children and the oldest of her three boys.  Rodney was a perpetual member of the honor roll at Ketcham Elementary School in Washington, D.C. and he, too, was aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it was crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.  Rodney was an avid reader.  He also loved playing computer games and playing with his brothers and sisters but the thing about which he was most passionate was professional wrestling.  He would watch it wherever and whenever he could - and would hang out at his uncle's apartment to watch any pay-per-view events.   His friends from school described Rodney as a good friend who was always willing to help anyone with anything - including homework.  

It's never too late to have a happy childhood.
- Tom Robbins


Saturday, August 16, 2014

From Here Inside My House Of Glass

Sometimes no Truth is more powerful
Than one expressed in Anger
By a melancholy Man.
- Pete Hamill

A departure from the regularly-scheduled programming today.  I do so, well because I use this space as I see fit and I see fit to do what I do and to write what I write here today.  I do so also in recognition of the fact that there may indeed be an interrelationship between what has occupied this space all week (and shall resume doing so, again, tomorrow) and what appears here today. 

Robin Williams died earlier this week.  He took his own life.  In the immediate aftermath of his suicide, not only did expressions of shock and sadness reverberate around the world, so did condolences for his children and his wife and, sadly but certainly not surprisingly, expressions of disappointment and even ridicule (Yes Rush Limbaugh you fat fuck and perpetual waste of oxygen that would otherwise be available for my yet-to-be-born grandchildren to breathe someday I am looking squarely at you) as to how one who seemingly had "everything" could commit suicide.  

The great facade of the age in which we live, the age of instant information, is that the more gadgetry and resources we have at our disposal the less connected to one another we sometimes become.  I point the accusatory finger not outward but inward.  For someone such as me, who has a day-to-day that the interruption of and deviation from is a cause of much consternation, the allure of social media can be intoxicating.  It requires little to no effort to maintain "friendships" via Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or whatever hip service the kids are using today.  Ask yourself though whether these connections are actually contact or whether they are in fact something significantly less than that.  Now ask yourself these questions:  (a) How many of your Facebook friends have you never met; (b) For how many of them (without looking at their personal profile information) can you identify by name their spouse, their children and/or whether they have one or both of the above; and (c) When and where was the last time (presuming that you answered "Zero" to Question (a)) that you and this particular friend were somewhere together?  

Here in the age of instant information we know a little about a lot.  And not just "things" and "stuff" but each other too.  You cannot - as a matter of course - know what another is experiencing unless and until you put your feet into his or her shoes.  You cannot therefore - not without showing an absence of empathy that would make a sociopath blush - pretend to "know" what another is going through.  If you are sitting right now reading this and either mouthing to yourself of even saying aloud perhaps, "Yes I can" then do me a favor.  Stop reading right now.  Take your self-congratulatory, delusional bullshit someplace else.  Feel free to tell yourself whatever lies you need to get through your day-to-day.  You may not, however, do it here.   

Every day - for reasons that are exclusively their own - men and women of all colors, creeds, races and religious affiliations end their own lives.  Suffering is a human condition.  It belongs to all of us.  Life is inherently unfair.  If it was not, then we would not die at the end of it.  Inside each and every one of us there is a reservoir.  It, and it alone, serves to let us know just how much suffering we can withstand.  And much like us, the reservoir inside of us is not "one size fits all".    Maybe yours can hold a significantly greater amount of suffering than mine.  Maybe mine is bigger than yours and everyone else I have ever met.  I know not.  And neither do you.  We cannot. 

And it is because we cannot that we need to be a bit more judicious in our rush to judgment when things happen such as someone choosing to take his or her own life.  By the time I was eighteen years old, I had buried all four of my grandparents, a number of aunts and uncles and - the cherry atop the sundae of fun - my father.  Yet I had never been at a more somber, sullen funeral than the one I attended in the Summer of '85 for my friend and former classmate, Brian.  I did not know then - and I do not know now - what made a young man - hell a boy - of eighteen commit suicide.  And my understanding - or lack thereof - is as singularly unimportant today as it was twenty-nine years ago. 

Good people die by their own hand every day.  And a person's decision to end his or her own life makes that person neither a coward nor selfish.  It does however likely make the people who loved that person and whose lives have been directly affected by that person's decision profoundly sad.  And it is them - should we be among those who know them and can perhaps be of some comfort to them - for whom we should look to provide shelter and comfort.  We may not ever be able to understand.  But it does not mean that we cannot be there to listen and to offer support.  

Remember, the shoes you walk in are your own. 

Not mine. 

Not anyone else's. 

Not now. 

Not ever...  


Friday, August 15, 2014

Men of Honor

There is a Land of the Living
And a Land of the Dead,
And the Bridge is Love,
The only Survival,
The only Meaning.
- Thornton Wilder

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 thirty of those who were murdered by the cowards who hijacked the four jet planes were at the Pentagon.  They died when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, which crash killed all of the passengers and crew on the plane as well as thirty souls on the ground. 

Kris Romeo Bishundat was twenty-three years old when he died on September 11, 2001.  He was an Information Systems Technician, Second Class, in the United States Navy.  Bishundat was the eldest of three children.  He had been in the United States Navy for six years as of the time of his death.  In addition to serving our country, Bishundat had found the time to attend college - balancing the taking of classes as the University of Maryland's University College with his duties at his post at the Pentagon.  Bishundat had only been assigned to the Pentagon approximately three months before he died.   He was survived by his parents, Bhola and Basmattie, who had to endure every parent's worst nightmare in burying their child, and his two younger sisters, Danita and Devita.  On October 18, 2001 this young American hero was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Daniel M. Caballero was twenty-one years old when he was murdered on the morning of September 11, 2001.  He too was a member of the United States Navy.  He was a Petty Officer, Third Class.  Petty Officer Caballero had been in the United States Navy for three years at the time of his death.  His area of expertise was electronics.  Petty Officer Caballero was a native Texan, born in Houston.  While posted at the Pentagon, he worked at the Chief of Operations Naval Communications Center.  During his relatively brief time in the Navy, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal twice, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and a Purple Heart.  His parents, Andres and Carmen, were too tasked with the tragedy of having to bury their own child.  In addition to his parents, Petty Officer Caballero was survived by his sisters, Andrea and Claudia.

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near to God is Man, 
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must",
The Youth replies, "I can". 
-Ralph Waldo Emerson    

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Perseverance and Endurance

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength
To persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
- Christopher Reeve

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 the Fire Department of the City of New York suffered the greatest, single-day loss of life in its history.  343 members of the FDNY, heroes all, died while trying to save those trapped in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.  This is the story of two of those 343 heroes...

Dennis Mojica had been on the job for twenty-eight years.  At the time of his death on September 11, 2001 he was a Lieutenant with the elite Rescue 1 unit, which unit he had been a member of since 1990.  Lieutenant Mojica was fifty years old at the time of his death.  He had dedicated more than one-half of his life to the service and protection of the people of New York City as a member of the FDNY.  Prior to joining the FDNY, Lt. Mojica served honorably in the United States Navy.  In the course of his duties as a member of Rescue 1, Lt. Mojica also lent his talents and his compassion to those beyond the geographical boundaries of New York City.  He went to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to assist the victims of the bombing of the Murrah federal building and, thereafter, to Atlanta, Georgia to assist those injured in the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was among the first FDNY members that entered the stairwell of the North Tower to rescue those who were injured and trapped inside.  He was one of eleven members of Rescue 1 killed that morning when the North Tower collapsed.  He died two months prior to his planned wedding to his fiance, Maria.    

Manuel Mojica, Jr.  Firefighter Manual Mojica, Jr. was a thirty-seven year-old husband to Anna Marie, father to Stephanie Ann and Manny Alexander and a member of Squad 18 of the FDNY when he was killed in the line of duty on September 11, 2001.   He had a reputation for keeping calm even in the most stressful of situations and for doing whatever he could to insulate Anna Marie and his children from the often difficult and occasionally terrifying experiences he encountered in the course of his day-to-day.  Proof that everyone needs a good ritual to soothe them, FF Mojica was known for his end-of-shift/bedtime snack:  milk and cookies.  Not the first thing one thinks of when thinking of a tattooed, Harley-riding, muscle-bound firefighter?   A reminder therefore that one cannot always judge the contents of a book by a simple perusal of its cover.  

Heroes are selfless people who perform extraordinary acts.
The mark of heroes is not necessarily the result of their actions
but what they are willing to do for others and for their chosen cause.
Even if they fail, their determination lives on for others to follow.
The glory lies not in the achievement, but in the sacrifice.
- Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono