Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rule of Three - Lesson I

One year ago, on a late September Sunday, I took part in what has been to date one of the most amazing days of my life. The 2010 edition of the Tunnel to Towers Run was the first one in which I had participated. I had not yet crossed the finish line when I knew that I would participate this year. And every year going forward on which it is run. You cannot emerge into the daylight on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and see the column of FDNY members who line both sides of the street, wearing large sandwich board-sized photographs of the 343 members of the FDNY who died on September 11, 2001 without noting the palpable lump in your throat. And even if you could, when they burst out into applause (you read that right - the firefighters are clapping for you), it is game over.

The series finale of Denis Leary's "Rescue Me" wrapped up the series where it had started seven years ago with a new class of FDNY recruits getting reamed out by Tommy Gavin. For good measure, in the finale Gavin turned over the indoctrination to Lieutenant Franco. As the recruits stood before a tapestry/mural bearing the names of each of the 343 FDNY members killed on September 11, Franco made it their homework to learn something about 3 of the 343. Each recruit was assigned three names. Driving to work Friday morning, it occurred to me that Franco's assignment was an excellent one.

So, although between today and next Sunday I cannot - at a rate of 3 a day - share the results of my "homework" on all 343, this space shall be devoted to the application of this particular "Rule of Three" between this day and that one. If it is something you would rather not read, then feel free to step out for a while. Even if I had feelings, your decision would not hurt them. Promise.

Father Mychal Judge was the Fire Department of New York's Chaplain. Father Judge was a Franciscan friar, having started on his path towards it at age 15. He was ordained a priest in 1961. At the time he was twenty-eight years old.

Father Judge became the Chaplain of the FDNY in 1992. His charitable works and good deeds during the decade that he was the Chaplain were the things from which legends and fables are often woven. Father Judge died while in the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killed by debris that entered the lobby from the South Tower when the latter collapsed. His helmet and his fire jacket, recovered from the rubble of the Twin Towers were enshrined earlier this month in the Fire Museum as part of its permanent collection. In "Report From Ground Zero", Dennis Smith described seeing him in the lobby of the North Tower in what turned out to be the final moments of Father Judge's life:

Father Judge is again left alone with his prayers. He has no one to counsel, no one to console, no one to shepherd. It is only him and God now, together, trying to work the greatest emergency New York has ever seen. It is obvious that Father Judge is trying to make some agreement about the safety of his firefighters.

Joseph Agnello was a firefighter with Ladder 118 in Brooklyn. FF Agnello was thirty-five years old. He was married. He and his wife, Vinnie Carla Agnello, were the parents of two little boys. Salvatore turned three two months after his father's death. Vincent was nineteen months old. FF Agnello's company, Ladder 118, was among the first companies to respond to the World Trade Center on September 11.

Among FF Agnello's attributes was the understated way in which he went about his business. "People on my block didn't know my husband was a fireman," said his wife, Vinnie Carla Agnello. "He never need to talk about himself or the job. He wasn't the type of person who needed attention."

Firefighter Raymond R. York, Jr. was forty-five years old. He was married. A father of four. Firefighter York was a nineteen year veteran of the FDNY. In 2000, a shoulder injury had forced him to light duty. On September 11, he was at the Fire Zone Store in Rockefeller Square teaching children about fire safety when the first plane struck the North Tower. Upon hearing the news of the attack from a news crew, he jumped on a fire truck passing by. That truck got stuck in traffic. So, he jumped into an ambulance headed for the Trade Center. He arrived just before the collapse of Tower 2.

Joan York, speaking of her husband said, "We're so proud and we just want everybody to know what a great guy Ray was. Everybody's saying, 'He's a hero, he's a hero.' He was always my hero. Now the world knows he's a hero."


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