Monday, August 31, 2015

A Man of Riches

FF Jimmy Riches of Engine 4 was only twenty-nine years old when he died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  His company was among the first firefighters at the North Tower on that terrible morning.  FF Riches had only been with the FDNY for approximately two years at the time of his death, moving over to join "New York's Bravest" only after having spent eight years as a member of the NYPD, "New York's Finest".  Fine and Brave.  Not a bad way to be known. 

FF Riches was the son of a firefighter.  His dad, Jim Riches, retred from the FDNY as a Deputy Chief.  At the time of Jimmy Riches's death, he was the only one of his father's sons who had followed his father's footsteps into the family business.  After he died, all three of his brothers joined the FDNY.  

It took until March 25, 2002 before the body of FF Jimmy Riches was recovered in the rubble of the North Tower.  A woman on a stretcher was found in his immediate proximity, which was of no surprise to his father.  Once a hero, always a hero.   When FF Riches's body was removed from  the Pit at Ground Zero, it was his dad and his three younger brothers who carried him home from that place.  

FF Jimmy Riches
Engine 4 - FDNY 


Sunday, August 30, 2015

No Small Thing

I came across something really neat on Facebook on Friday, courtesy of my cousin Patty Kelly-Decianni.  I do not know Bob Small, the man who posted it.  However, he is someone who was in the World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and lived to tell the tale.  According to the 9/11 Tribute Center "Surviving 9/11" exhibit just how he did so is nothing less than miraculous - since he was standing at  a copying machine down the hall from his 72nd floor office at Morgan Stanley in the South Tower when the building was struck.  

We are now less than two weeks away from the 14th anniversary of that terrible day.  Sharing his request here seemed to me to be an eminently worthwhile thing to do...

As most of you (my Facebook friends) know, I am a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. As the 14th anniversary approaches, I’m still looking for two people that I and my pal James helped that day.
While descending the stairs, James and I came across two women. One was four months pregnant. We were probably somewhere 60th to 65th floor range. Long story short, we helped them down. We carried their bags. We gave them water. We kept them cool. We even stopped to rest on more than one occasion. We said our good-byes when we reached the lobby and they were ushered away by EMTs.
As they thanked us for our help, I remember telling the pregnant woman that if she were to have a boy that she should name him Robert.
Later in the day, while trekking through Brooklyn, James and I were waiting on line to use a payphone to call our families in New Jersey. We overheard a man using the phone ask whoever he was talking to how he was going to get to East Brunswick in New Jersey. When he got off the phone I told him I was heading to Old Bridge… a neighboring town of East Brunswick. I asked that he join us and that we’d get him home. Another long story short… my plans to get home flopped and amazingly this guy we met from East Brunswick was able to locate friends in Brooklyn and they took me home.
If you would, please share this message with all of your friends on Facebook… hopefully someone knows someone who has told a similar story. I’m just hoping that there is some kid named Robert out there who in 13 ½ years old and I’d like to shake the hands and thank the three men responsible for getting me home.
Thanks… be cool if this works.

Mr. Small is a master of understatement.  And he is right.  It would be cool.  Damn cool in fact.

For today only, I make this request:  After you read today's silliness - and Bob Small's request - share it.  Maybe, just maybe, he can connect with the people for whom he has been looking and about whom he has been thinking for the past fourteen years.

Whether it happens for him today or not, one thing is for certain.

He shall not lose hope.

His bona fides in that area are already firmly established.    


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Like a Rock

FF William "Billy" Lake of Rescue 2 in Brooklyn spent the night of September 10, 2001 with his brothers of Rescue 2.  It was a night of celebration.  The evening's honored guest?  Billy Lake.  The occasion?  A celebration of his 20th anniversary in the FDNY.  That night he and the gang from Rescue 2 ate like kings - feasting on roast beef, shrimp, and chocolate mousse.  The next morning he and six of his brethren died like heroes in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  FF Lake and the other members of Rescue 2 were ascending the North Tower, responding to mayday calls from other firefighters who were trapped in the building and intending to go up to the 83rd floor to fight a fire there, when the building collapsed.   

At forty-four years of age, Billy Lake had spent almost half of his life serving and protecting the people of New York City.  As a member of one of the FDNY's elite Rescue units, he had seen more than his fair share of horrific stuff.  He was among the members of the FDNY who had accompanied Chief Ray Downey to Oklahoma City in the rescue/recovery effort following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.  He had a reputation among his brother firefighters for being tough as hell and for being unafraid of extending himself in an effort to effect a rescue - whether the individual in need of saving was a human being or an equine.   

FF Billy Lake was the very proud father of a very devoted son, Kyler, who was just seven years old when FF Lake was killed on September 11, 2001.  In the month following that terrible day that it took to recover FF Lake's body, Kyler pestered his mother and his godfather that he should be allowed to help in the search for his Dad.  When Billy Lake's body was recovered at Ground Zero, his former wife Dorothy (with whom he had reconciled) wondered how much longer she would have been able to keep Kyler's almost-insatiable desire to help in check and was relieved that the question did not need to be answered.  

Now just twenty-one years old, Kyler Lake is nothing short of extraordinary.  Spend a couple of minutes with him here.  I suspect you shall be glad that you did. 

FF William "Billy" Lake 
FDNY - Rescue 2 (Brooklyn)


Friday, August 28, 2015

Out of the Darkness

It has been an extraordinarily hectic week at work - and the forecast for next week (and at this point most of September) is not much better.  I was very happy, therefore, to have received a little pick-me-up yesterday afternoon from the great people at the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. I am not so vain as to think that the message I received was intended for my eyes only.  Point in fact, I know that it was not.    

Yesterday's communication was an e-mail blast to remind those of us who are registered to run in this year's event and/or have participated in this event in past years that the 2015 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run/Walk is now just one month away.  Sunday, September 27 shall be here before we know it.  It is - at the risk of putting forth an egregious understatement - an event that represents the most extraordinary example of a family turning a horrible, life-altering loss into an uplifting, life-enriching experience.  

I am neither a spiritual man nor a man who - whenever I arrive at the End of Days - will be permitted to use the "Up" escalator.  To parse a phrase from the great John Hiatt, "It gets hot down where I'm goin'" Yet on September's final Sunday every year since 2010 (the first year in which I participated in it) I have received, courtesy of the Siller Family and their incalculable generosity, the gift of participating in a day that is nothing less than extraordinary.  A day where the words "Never Forget" are not merely spoken but are lived and breathed.  

If your travels in late September afford you the opportunity to be in the New York City area on the month's final Sunday, then do yourself the great service of spending a bit of time that day in the company of these extraordinary ladies and gentlemen.  Whether you run, you walk, or you simply amble your way through Lower Manhattan in order to bear witness to it, you shall be glad you did.  


2010 T2T Run 
Sand Sculpture

2011 T2T Run 
Best Vanity Plate Ever

2012 T2T Run 
In Memory of Antoinette Duger

2013 T2T Run
FDNY on Manhattan side of BBT

2014 T2T Weekend 
National September 11 Memorial
FF John Michael Collins - FDNY Ladder Co. 25
Immaculata High School Class of '76

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Deeds, not Words

"He wasn't one to brag."  

So said Teresa Marchbanks about her husband, Joseph Marchbanks, Jr.  Battalion Chief Marchbanks died in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  He left behind Teresa and the couple's two children, Lauren and Ryan, who were fourteen and eight years of age respectively at the time of their dad's death.  

Chief Marchbanks spent slightly less than one half of his life serving and protecting the people of New York City.  At age forty-seven, he had spent twenty-two years on the job, for which he was selected in the very same week in which he had qualified to become a member of the NYPD.  

He and his family lived in Nanuet, New York where he coached Lauren's championship softball team - a group of young ladies whose praises he never tired of singing.  He was reticent in discussing his achievements but suffered from no such infirmity when talking about his little girl and her teammates.

Chief Marchbanks was the chief of the 12th Battalion in Harlem.  On that awful Tuesday morning almost fourteen years ago, he died when the South Tower collapsed while he was in the lobby trying to evacuate people from the building. 

At the time of his death, the older of his two kids - his little girl - Lauren was just fourteen.  Earlier this month, she got married.  Is there any doubt that her usually quiet dad spent her wedding day poking his colleagues in the ribs and bragging on his little girl?  


Joseph Marchbanks, Jr.
Chief - Battalion 12



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Testament to Inequity

Approximately 650 Cantor Fitzgerald employees died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 was used as a missile and was fired into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  American 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46:40 AM Eastern time, a few floors below Cantor Fitzgerald's offices, which were located on Floor 101 through 105.  

Alok Agarwal, just thirty-seven years young, had emigrated to the United States from India in 1997.  Mr. Agarwal was a computer technician and when he first came to America, neither his wife, Shakali, nor his young son, Ankush, came with him.  Shafali followed a few months later - after he was settled and had started to earn an income.  Ankush, however, was not able to join his parents.  He was beset by health problems - such as a chronic fever and cough.  He remained behind in India, living with relatives.  

Mr. Agarwal was the sole breadwinner in his household, which meant that when Shafali made her annual trek home to India to see Ankush, he was not able to take time off from his position as a Senior Programmer Analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald to join her.  He lamented to his wife just how hard it was on him during their time apart.  He missed her.  Roughly three weeks prior to Tuesday, September 11, 2001, he dropped Shafali off at the airport for what turned out to be the final time.  He never saw his wife - or his young son - again. 

Shafali Agarwal returned to the United States on September 17, 2001 She returned to the United States on Monday, September 17, 2001 in the hopes of finding her husband.  She remained in the United States for almost four months.  She returned to India without him in January 2002.  

Alok Agarwal was his wife's tie to the United States, both emotionally and legally.  She did not work in the United States and after his death, her dependent visa was no longer valid.  She and her son, Ankush, ultimately received short-term visitor's visas but when they expired on November 20, 2012 so did their stay in the United States. .. 

...not quite the ending that Alok Agarwal had envisioned to his American dream.  

A testament, perhaps, to the inherent inequity of life.   

As if the Agarwal family had not already learned that lesson.  


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"The Nut House"

Lt. Carl Bedigian was an officer in Engine Company 214.  Engine 214, Ladder 111 (a/k/a "The Nut House") calls the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn home.  

Engine 214, Ladder 111
"The Nut House"

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Lt. Bedigian was one of five firefighters from "The Nut House" who died while trying to save countless others at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.  In addition to mourning Lt. Bedigian, Engine 214 lost three firefighters on that terrible day:  FF John Florio, FF Michael Roberts, and FF Kenneth Watson. Ladder 111 also lost one of its lieutenants -   Lt. Christopher Sullivan.    

Almost fourteen years after these five men died attempting to save the lives of those whose names they did not know - and who sacrificed themselves and their futures in an effort to ensure the future of others - they remain right where life first joined them together.  Inexorably.  Eternally.  

Together, forever, at "The Nut House".   Shoulder to shoulder.  


Monday, August 24, 2015

Apples and Trees

Well now the years have gone 
And I've grown from that seed you've sown.
I didn't think there'd be so many steps
I'd have to learn on my own.
-"Walk Like A Man"
Bruce Springsteen 

FF Christopher J. Blackwell spent close to twenty years as a member of the FDNY's legendary Rescue 3 in the South Bronx.  His area of expertise was collapsed buildings.  He traveled around the United States lecturing other firefighters on what to do when dealing with such a situation. 

At age 42, FF Blackwell was a husband to Jane and a father to Alexandra, Ryan, and Samantha.  The three Blackwell children were fifteen, thirteen, and eleven at the time of his death on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  

Jane Blackwell is an extraordinary woman.  Although grieving the death of her husband, she refused to allow her life or the day-to-day of her three children to become an endless mourning period.  Instead, she insisted that her children resume their regular routine - including sports and other extra-curricular activities.  

Apples and trees.  Apples and trees.

FF Christopher J. Blackwell
FDNY - Rescue 3


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ready to Play

FF Gregory Stajk was an accomplished baseball player.  He had been a sufficiently excellent pitcher - in fact - when he toed the collegiate rubber for C.W. Post that he earned more than one tryout with a big-league team.  His best, however, proved to be not quite good enough.  His boyhood dream of pitching in the Major Leagues never was realized.  

Luckily, Gregory Stajk was not born a man with just a single dream.  Influenced in part by a firefighter uncle, his other boyhood ambition was to be a firefighter.  And for almost one-half of his life, he realized that dream.  FF Stajk, who was forty-six years old when he was killed in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was preparing to mark his twentieth year as a member of the FDNY.  

FF Stajk was a member of Ladder 13, the Ladder Company that is part of the force known as Engine 22, Ladder 13, 10th Battalion that protects the neighborhood on Manhattan's East 85th Street, between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue.  FF Stajk's firehouse lost nine men on September 11 - a particularly poignant and tragic irony given his passion for baseball.   

The further removed we are from the events of that terrible day - and the equally terrible period that followed hard upon its heels - the easier it becomes for us to forget that for an all-too-brief time many of us who otherwise share no readily discernible common traits allowed ourselves to be brought together.  We did it without thinking and without weighing every angle and without conducting a cost/benefit analysis.  An example of that?  The shrine that the people who live and work in the neighborhood that FF Stajk and his brothers from Engine 22, Ladder 13, 10th Battalion serve and protect erected in memory of the firefighters whose lives were lost on September 11 and in honor of the firefighters who survived that terrible day and had to keep on keeping on and doing the job they were sworn to do.   

His neighbors' selflessness would have likely brought a smile to FF Stajk's face.  Around his firehouse, his nickname was "Bro".  He was a bachelor and while he had no wife and/or children of his own, he recognized their importance in the lives of fellow firefighters.  He made it his practice to volunteer to work on holidays so that his brothers who had children could spend the day with them.   

There is no "I" in team.  A pitcher is dependent upon his teammates, both in the field and at the plate. Long after his dream of pitching in the big leagues faded away, Gregory Stajk remained faithful to those mantras.  He carried them with him every day.  

Including September 11, 2001...

FF Gregory Stajk
Ladder 13 - FDNY


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Dope is That There's Still Hope

If you are of a certain age - and especially if you are a fan of iconic comedies, then the first image that likely pops into your mind's eye upon hearing the name "Niedermeyer" is one associated with this fictional character.  In "Animal House", ROTC Cadet Commander Douglas Niedermeyer worked hard to try to prove to others that he was "the man".   His results were decidedly mixed.

Alfonse Niedermeyer III never wasted a moment's breath on trying to prove his worth to others.  No such need ever existed.  At age forty, Officer Niedermeyer was already a sixteen-year veteran of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department.  In 1992, he received a special citation for rescuing passengers from a US Airways jet that had skidded off a runway at LaGuardia Airport.  

Officer Niedermeyer and his wife Nancy lived in Manasquan, New Jersey with A.J., their son.  A.J. was just two years old when his dad died.  At the time of his death, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Officer Niedermeyer was assigned to the Department's Commercial Vehicle Inspection Unit in Jersey City.  However, that morning, having just returned from a two-week vacation, when he saw what was happening in Lower Manhattan, he rushed to the scene to help.  He died while helping rescue people from the South Tower. 

On the final morning of his life, Officer Niedermeyer's final radio transmission came from the 14th floor of the South Tower.  He reported that the floor was clear and that he was headed up to the 50th floor to help more people.  Almost immediately thereafter, the South Tower collapsed.  

Al Niedermeyer graduated from Dayton University 1983.  His degree was in Public Relations.  A native of Queens, N.Y., he returned to the East Coast after college and later earned a Master's Degree in Police Studies from Seton Hall University.  When his college friend Phil Cenedella spoke of "Big Al" at a memorial service on the Dayton University campus in observance of the tenth anniversary of the attacks, he said that when friends had asked Al Niedermeyer why he had become a police officer, he told them simply that "he wanted to make a difference."

Indeed he did.  

When Al Niedermeyer died, he and his wife Nancy were the proud parents of one child - A.J.  However, in October 2001 Nancy Niedermeyer learned she was pregnant.  In May 2002, Al and Nancy Niedermeyer's second child was born.  Their daughter, whom Nancy named Angelica Joy, never met her dad but nevertheless feels the bond between them.  Her birth is proof - perhaps - that even from profound tragedy comes hope...

Alfonse J. Niedermeyer III


Friday, August 21, 2015

"Death Before Shame"

Durrell V. Pearsall, Jr., all 6'2" and 285 pounds of him, capable of bench pressing 455 pounds, cut an imposing figure as a member of Rescue 4 in Queens.  His facade was fierce but, according to his squad mate, FF Liam Flaherty, FF Pearsall owned a smile that "could warm a room right up."  

FF Pearsall was larger than life, both physically and metaphorically.  He was a proud and passionate member of the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums band and traveled with the band to Ireland and Scotland to perform.  He was the captain of the FDNY's football team - "The Bravest" - on which he played offensive tackle, which position he had played for four years at C.W. Post.  

"Bronko" Pearsall, an only child whose parents had predeceased him, was in the company of men he thought of as his family when he died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  He was born, raised, and lived in Hempstead, N.Y., where he followed in the footsteps of his father by serving as a member of that town's volunteer fire department, which his dad did for fifty-seven years. As a collegiate football offensive lineman, he had tipped the scales at 300 pounds.  His nickname - an homage to the great Chicago Bears star Bronko Nagurski - grew out of his mother Carmela's belief  when he was a child that her then young son's destiny lay in sports.   Little did she know at that time that he had much bigger plans. 

It took just about a month for the body of FF Pearsall to be recovered from the rubble at Ground Zero.  He was taken home to Long Island, buried and saluted at an Irish wake that most likely would have produced one last room-warming smile.  

FF Durrell "Bronko" Pearsall, Jr.
Rescue 4 - FDNY


Thursday, August 20, 2015

By Any Other Name

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
- William Shakespeare 
"Romeo & Juliet"

Among the 343 members of the FDNY who died in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was thirty-year-old FF Adam Rand.  FF Rand, who had joined the volunteer fire department in his hometown of Bellmore, New York upon his graduation from high school - and who had remained an active member of the volunteer company even after joining the FDNY in 1995 - was a member of Squad 288 in Maspeth, Queens.  He was one of eight members of Squad 288 who died on that terrible day while saving others.   

Adam Rand was unmarried at the time of his death although that was a condition that he intended to change.  Approximately three weeks before he died, FF Rand and his longtime girlfriend, Fiona Conroy, had become engaged.  In addition to Fiona, he was survived by his parents, Mary Ann and Jim Rand, his brother Jimmy, and his sister Lisa Rand Meyer.  His life was tragically shortened but his legacy continued on after his death

It is a parent's nightmare to outlive our child.  Mary Ann Rand, in spite of being heartbroken over the loss of her son, took solace in the fact that at the time of his death he was exactly where he would have wanted to be that morning, doing exactly what he loved to do, and doing it in the company of men with whom his bond was not simply professional but fraternal and familial...

FF Adam David Rand
FDNY Squad 288

...and eternal. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Life Begins at Forty

Paul A. Tegtmeier waited twenty years to realize his dream of becoming a member of the FDNY.  It was a dream that was finally realized in 2000 when - after two decades' worth of waiting to see his name appear on the FDNY's list of new hires - his name appeared right where he had always wanted to see it.  

He was a forty-year-old rookie in 2000.  By the time he joined the FDNY, he had dedicated more than twenty years as a volunteer firefighter in the Roosevelt, New York Fire Department.  His passion was one that he shared with his wife, Cathy, who he met on the "job" as it were - both of them serving as volunteer members of the Roosevelt Fire Department.  According to Cathy, he was the happiest he had ever been in his life at the moment it ended - on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  He was living his dream. 

FF Tegtmeier had spent eighteen months with Engine 4 in Lower Manhattan but was, in fact, assigned to Ladder 46 in the Bronx.  On the final morning of his life, he was actually on his way into Manhattan to cover a shift at Engine 26 and driving on the West Side Highway when he apparently saw one of the planes hit.  He never officially signed in that morning at Engine 26 but his civilian shoes were found at the firehouse - his car parked several blocks away.  On such a day and under such a set of circumstances, who stands on ceremony?  Not a man with close to a quarter-century of experience helping others as a volunteer firefighter.  Not a man whose passion for helping others - and for being a firefighter - had kept him keeping on for the twenty years it took for him to be accepted into the FDNY.   

In addition to his wife Cathy, Paul Tegtmeier was survived by the couple's two moppet-aged children.  Aric, his son, was six years old when his dad was killed.  Andrea, his daughter, was roughly half as old as her big brother.   FF Tegtmeier's body was not recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center.  His remains were never identified.  Cathy Tegtmeier, Aric Tegtmeier, and Andrea Tegtmeier keep him alive in their hearts through their love and their memories.  Fourteen years further on up the road, their pain remains but so does their love. 

And therefore so does he.  Right where he has always been.  Right where he shall remain.  

FF Paul A. Tegtmeier
Engine 4 - FDNY


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Dream Fulfilled

In 1984, Frank Bonomo of Port Jefferson, New York tended bar at the Port Jefferson Country Club and was an active member of the Setauket Volunteer Fire Department when he received notification that he had been accepted into the FDNY.  

From the time he completed the Academy in 1984 until his life was taken from him more than seventeen years later, FF Bonomo spent his FDNY career at Engine Company 230 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.   On that terrible Tuesday morning almost fourteen years ago, Frank Bonomo was in the company of his brothers from Engine Company 230 when he was killed in the line of duty at the World Trade Center.  He was last seen in the South Tower.  

Frank Bonomo was forty-two years young when he died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  He spent almost half of his life in the service of the people of New York City as a member of the FDNY.  He balanced his career in the FDNY with his ownership/managing of a video store, his passion for the game of golf, and the love of his wife Margarite and the couple's two small children:  Joseph and Juliana.  Joseph Bonomo was only four years old when his dad died.  Juliana was just one year old. 

It is my great privilege to participate on the final Sunday of September in the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run that begins on the Brooklyn side of the Battery Tunnel and ends in Lower Manhattan in the shadow of the World Trade Center.  The Tunnel to Towers Run has been held annually since September 2002.  The 10th Anniversary Edition of the Tunnel to Towers Run took place on September 25, 2011.  I did not know then that I had had the privilege that morning of  sharing the trek from one borough to the other with eleven-year-old  Juliana Bonomo who covered the course in 59:01.  Perhaps had I run a bit more quickly, I would have been close enough to her to have made her acquaintance.  

It was a principal goal of FF Frank Bonomo to make it home to Margarite and to their children at the end of every work day.  Proof positive of the casual cruelty of the world is that slightly less than fourteen years after his death, he has still not made it home to them.  FF Frank Bonomo's body was not recovered from the World Trade Center.  His remains - to date - have not been identified.  

FF Frank J. Bonomo
Engine 230 - FDNY


Monday, August 17, 2015

Teardrops on the City

The night is dark but the sidewalk's bright
And lined with the light of the living...
- "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" 
Bruce Springsteen

The property that was once home to the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey has been home to something even more extraordinary for almost the past decade. 

"To the Struggle Against World Terrorism" is a monument that Russian sculptor Zurab Tserteli created.  The Russian people presented it as a gift to the people of the United States - to honor those who were murdered in the 1993 and September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.  It was dedicated on the 5th anniversary of the 09/11 attacks.  

The gift of the Russian people sits overlooking Bayonne Harbor.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Bayonne served as a staging area for many people who had escaped alive from New York City but who - having survived the morning's horror - had no immediate idea what to do next.  The monument is more than one hundred feet tall.  It stands on the Jersey side of the harbor staring across at the space where the Twin Towers once stood and where the new World Trade Center now stands.  

It is not where it stands, however, but what it stands for that makes it extraordinary.  

Teardrop Memorial - Harbor View Park
Bayonne, New Jersey


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rookie of the Year

In New York City, for many families firefighting is the family business.  It is a calling that is passed down from generation to generation.  The family of Christopher Santora is one such FDNY family. 

Christopher Santora  had been in the FDNY for less than two months when - on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, he joined his brothers from Engine 54/Ladder 4 in roaring downtown from Times Square to help those at the World Trade Center who needed their assistance.  He was one of his house's fifteen casualties.  

Only twenty-three years old at the time of his death, Christopher Santora was the only son of Alexander and Maureen Santora.  The lone boy, raised in the company of four sisters.  His sister Patricia described Christopher as "the king of the castle"

He was single and, not surprisingly given his young age, still living at home with Mom and Dad at the family home in Long Island City when he died on September 11, 2001.   He had only recently just gotten into the family business - on Dad's side.  His two months as a member of the FDNY had been spent at Engine 54/Ladder 4.  On the last day of his life, he died responding to the first and only fire of his FDNY career.  He died responding to a fire that started when he was off-duty.  He had just returned home when he received a call about the attacks and he did what so many members of the FDNY did on that terrible morning:  he headed as fast as he could straight into the mouth of Hell.  

Prior to joining the FDNY, Christopher Santora had taught in the New York City Public School System.  He was not a physically big man, standing 5'8" tall, but he was athletic and he was fearless.  

In the wake of the death of their only son, Al and Maureen Santora established the Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund, which has awarded scholarships annually since 2005, including this year.    

There is no greater tragedy for a parent to endure than the death of a child.  Al and Maureen Santora have spent the past fourteen years not merely mourning their son's loss.  Instead they have spent it honoring the life he lived and the man that he was deprived of the chance to become.  In honoring his life, rather than merely mourning his death, they have ensured that his spirit endures.  They have ensured that who he was matters still - and not merely to them and to his family.  

And for that - their willingness to share him and to share their pain over losing him - we owe them our gratitude.  


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Devotion by Extraction

Five-year-old Peter Bielfeld went to his dentist because he had to have his tooth extracted.  It was an extraction that very well might have shaped the direction of the next (almost) forty years of his life.  According to his father, Ernest, young Peter was so upset upon leaving the dentist's office that the elder Bielfeld stopped on the way home at a local toy store and told his sobbing son to pick out any toy that he wanted.  Young Peter's choice?  A bright, shiny fire truck.    

On Sunday, September 9, 2001, FF Peter Bielfeld, a 19-year veteran of the FDNY, which career he spent as a member of Ladder 42, which calls the Mott Haven section of the Bronx home, badly injured his right shoulder while he and his brothers were battling a fire in a five-story-building in the Bronx.  He was placed on medical leave.  It mattered not.  When hell broke loose in lower Manhattan less than forty-eight hours later, FF Bielfeld did what a member of the FDNY does instinctively - he ran as fast as he could right into it. 

There is an old saw about the marriage vows that are exchanged by and between Age and Wisdom.  At age forty-four, FF Peter Bielfeld had spent slightly less than half of his life running towards things that he might have been better served not having run towards.  That morning, he raced downtown and used gear that he found in Ladder 10, which was right across the street from the Towers, to join the fray.  Before he did, he wrote a note to his family that he left inside of a locker.  It said simply, "I am in L-42, Peter Bielfeld.  Please hold my stuff.  Tell my family I love them,  Mom and Dad, Patti and Brit, Roger & Barbara."  

It was not until May 2002 that FF Bielfeld's remains were identified.  Thereafter, on September 10, 2002, his family laid him to rest in a funeral mass at St. Anselm's Church in Mott Haven, a mass at which more than 2,000 firefighters paid their respects to him and to his family.   

FF Bielfeld's daughter Brittany was just seventeen months old when he died.  He was divorced from his wife Patricia and was estranged from girlfriend Theresa Clarner, Brittany's mother.  In the years following his death, the enmity between his former girlfriend and his family deepened.   Young Brittany Bielfeld, who was denied the chance to get to know the father who loved her, has consistently honored his memory.  

Every picture tells a story.  This mural tells a particularly heroic one... 

FF Peter Bielfeld Memorial Mural
Thwaites Place, The Bronx 


Friday, August 14, 2015

A Life Interrupted

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

Colleen Ann Meehan Barkow packed a whole lot of living into the tragically brief twenty-six years of life that she was permitted to live.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, she was in her office at Cantor Fitzgerald - where she had worked for the previous five years - on the 103rd floor of the North Tower when the Twin Towers were attacked.  She was a Project Manager at Cantor Fitzgerald.  Among the projects with which she was involved was the construction of the firm's cafeteria.  I did not know her but based upon that information alone, I suspect I would have been a very big fan.  

Mrs. Barkow was the daughter of Thomas Meehan, III and Jo Ann Meehan.  She grew up in Carteret, New Jersey and graduated from the same high school that my two kids list as their Alma mater:  Bishop Ahr High School in Edison, New Jersey.  Less than one year prior to her death, the former Colleen Ann Meehan, had married her husband Dan Barkow.  When they married, she became not only his wife but also the stepmother to his two daughters, Crystal Marie and Kayla Ann.  She and Dan were less than three weeks away from moving into their dream house, which they had constructed on a wooded lot in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.  

Dan Barkow and Colleen Ann Meehan married on September 17, 2000.  They were cheated out of the chance to celebrate even a single wedding anniversary.  In a way however, they were together on September 17, 2001.  For it was on that day - of all days - that rescue workers recovered Colleen's body.  

September 11, 2015 shall mark the fourteenth anniversary of the date on which his little girl was taken from Thomas Meehan III.  Time has passed.  Memories have not faded.  Love has not abated.  Last year, as he marked the thirteenth anniversary of his daughter's murder, Mr. Meehan wrote this simple, eloquent tribute: 

Mr. Daryl Meehan, brother of Colleen, who was volunteer reader of names on the 10th Anniversary. It took great courage to read 20 names, and remember your sister with love and affection.

Mrs. JoAnn Meehan, mother of Colleen, who was a volunteer reader of names in 2012, to whom I owe so much, we continue to share this sad journey, and dry each other’s tears. You are the tower of strength of this family.

The uniformed services who gave so much that day, and in the hours, days, months and years that followed, we owe a debt which we can never repay.

The men and women who went to war, who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we owe a debt we can never repay, they are in our prayers always, to those who serve today, know too, that you are in our prayers as well, God Bless you all .

With Great Love and Affection

Thomas J. Meehan III, Father of Colleen Ann Meehan Barkow, 
Age 26, WTC “We Will Never Forget” 


Thursday, August 13, 2015


And with the power of conviction 
There is no sacrifice...
- Pat Benatar

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the firefighters of Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 - "The Pride of Midtown" - headed south to the World Trade Center in an effort to ensure that they got as many of the buildings' occupants as they possibly could safely home to their families.  Fifteen firefighters from the firehouse that calls the Theatre District home never made it home to their own families. 

FF Jose Antonio Guadalupe was just thirty-seven years of age when he died on September 11, 2001.  He was a ten-year veteran of the FDNY.  He was one of the fifteen whose final ride was the one that carried him downtown to the Towers.   

He was survived by his wife, Elise, and his baby boy A.J.  FF Guadalupe was a quiet man, known to spend time reading anything upon which he could lay his hands.  He was a man who invited being considered a mentor for the young men who lived in and around his housing complex in Jamaica, Queens, using both his physical presence (he was 6'0" tall and 200 pounds) and the force of his personality to direct them.  He was, by all accounts, an effortless hero to those who knew him.  It was not what he set out to be.  It simply was what he turned out to be. 

As if FF Guadalupe's family had not suffered enough through his death, a second horror was to befall them towards the end of 2001.  It had initially been believed that Jose A. Guadalupe was the only member of "The Pride of Midtown" whose body had been recovered from the Towers and consistent with that belief, his family buried him on October 1, 2001.   Except it turned out that the body recovered was not that of FF Guadalupe.  It was in fact that of one of his brothers, Christopher Santora.  A heart-wrenching error that, in view of an incredible medical coincidence that both men shared (unbeknownst to one another) and in view of the Herculean task then and there confronting the Office of the Medical Examiner in New York City, was entirely understandable.  

Approximately three weeks before the tenth anniversary of the worst day of her life, FF Guadalupe's widow, Elise, remarried.  He remains, however, as much a part of her heart as he does a part of the Memorial where his name is etched along with the names of the other victims, including those of his brothers of the FDNY, whose lives all ended far sooner than they should have on that terrible Tuesday morning almost fourteen Septembers ago...

FF Jose A. Guadalupe - Engine 54

...but whose invincible spirit could not - and cannot - be broken. 


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Strength of Heart

Valor is Strength, not of arms and legs,
But of heart and soul;
It consists not in the worth 
Of our horses or our weapons,
But in our own.
- Michel de Montaigne

Denease (Denny) Conley, forty-four years young, died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, while doing something at which she excelled:  Helping someone else.  Denny Conley was manning her post in the North Tower on that terrible Tuesday morning.  Her employer, Summit Security Services,  provided the building security services for the World Trade Center.  Denny Conley worked the lobby.  She was last seen directing and guiding people out of the building to safety.  

Prior to joining Summit Security Services, Denny Conley served her country as a member of the United States Navy.  Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she made New York City her home.  She earned a Bachelor's degree from Hunter College in English and Philosophy.  On a dare, she took up - and passed - the qualifying exams to be a member of the FDNY.   

There are those among us who shrink in the face of a challenge.  Fortunately, for those who needed her that morning, Denny Conley did not.  She rose up to face it - and to conquer it.  

And the world is a better place for the time she spent in it. 


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An American Girl

Windows on the World was the restaurant located near the very top of 1 World Trade Center - the North Tower.  One could see practically forever from the 106th and 107th floor.  It was a place to be seen in New York City. 

It was a great place to be - until it was not.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Christine Olender, the Assistant General Manager at Windows on the World, was doing her job.  She was hosting a conference for the Risk Waters Group, which started with an 8:00 am breakfast and at which the first speaker was scheduled to speak at 9:00 am.  At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower - between the 94th Floor and the 98th Floor. 

Christine Olender was thirty-nine years old when she died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  A Yankee Doodle Sweetheart, she had celebrated her 39th birthday on July 4, 2001.  She became the voice of her co-workers and of her guests that morning.  She placed four separate 911 calls to the Port Authority Police Department during each of which - in spite of the chaos swirling around her - she described to the officer the situation then and there confronting the people trapped in the restaurant and a job far better than I could have done of maintaining her calm irrespective of the bad news she continued to receive.  

Knowing that there was no help coming, she called her husband to tell him she loved him and their three little girls - - Emily, Sarah, and Amy.   They were deprived of the opportunity of growing up with her in their lives.  

May she remain in their hearts forever. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

Reality Bites

Things got real yesterday in the world of marathon training.   Yesterday was the first double-digit distance training run of this training cycle.  Ten miles is nothing - in comparison to the race distance - but psychologically it represents something.  From this point forward things shall get very real.  

Very, very real.  

Not easy, of course.  But what worth doing ever is?


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fat Man and Tricky Dick

Today is August 9.  It is the second Sunday of the month.  Here in the State of Concrete Gardens, the folks who earn their living being wrong about such things have predicted that today shall be a fairly typical summer Sunday.  Hot, sunny, and humid.  

This year's edition of this particular date on the calendar might pass without anything noteworthy happening on it.  It very well might end up being just another tricky day. 

However, on at least two occasions within the past seventy years, August 9 has proven itself to be a day of more than just a little import.  It is a day on which things have happened.  Things that have shaped the course of this nation's history and, by extension, the world's history as well. 

Seventy years ago today, having not been able to prevail upon the Japanese War Council through the annihilation of Hiroshima three days earlier that unconditional surrender was the only option then and there available, the United States dropped the world's second atomic bomb, named "Fat Man", on the Japanese industrial city of Nagasaki.  Incredibly, after Hiroshima's destruction on August 6, 2015 the War Council remained divided on the subject of unconditional surrender.  Japan's Minister of War opined - after Hiroshima - that it remained far too early to say with certainty that the war had been lost.  Following the destruction of Nagasaki and the loss of perhaps as many as 80,000 Japanese lives, Emperor Hirohito ceased following his Minister of War's "advice". On the 15th of August, the Emperor announced to his people that the Japanese had accepted the Allies' terms of unconditional surrender.   

Forty-one years ago today, the United States came under the leadership of a President for whom not a single American had cast a vote.  It was on August 9, 1974 that Gerald Ford ascended to the Presidency of the United States when Richard Milhous Nixon resigned it, which he did at 12:00 PM.   Ford was actually the second Vice-President in the Nixon Administration, having been appointed by the President just eight months earlier to succeed Spiro Agnew - who was too busy being prosecuted for his own malfeasance to continue in the gig.  After he became President, Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to be his Vice-President.  For a couple of years, therefore, in the mid-1970's each of the two highest elective offices in the United States was occupied by a man for whom no one had voted.   

Perhaps "Plains, Georgia" is not the answer to the question "Where did Jimmy Carter come from?" Perhaps, instead, the answer is the South Lawn of the White House.  And the date on which his journey began was this very date -- forty-one years ago. 


Saturday, August 8, 2015

RINOs, Elephants, and Rosie O'Donnell

This summer has been so little fun at work thus far that if I did not have the ocean to calm me at week's end, by this point I would be awaiting my bail hearing.  No chance that those who occupy the world around me would have remained "punch in the throat"-free by this point in August.  None.  

A couple of observations from this New Jersey Republican (although the more I hear the candidates of "my party" speak the more I wonder if I am a RINO as opposed to an elephant) regarding Thursday night's happenings in Cleveland.  First, it takes three Fox News hosts to moderate a debate?  Really?  I do not watch Fox News - or cable news for that matter - so forgive my lack of familiarity with the bona fides (presumed at least) of the trio.  I could not shake the feeling that I was watching the Ken, Barbie, and Chris Wallace Show.  Judging from the amount of enmity they directed collectively at Trump, I presume that Reince Priebus is as terrified of Trump's continuing presence in the race as he is relieved that Jon Stewart shall not be around to comment on it.   Oh, and speaking of "The Donald", if you have not yet started reading Berkeley Breathed's triumphant "Bloom County 2015" start doing so.  

Thank you Wisconsin for the gift of Scott Walker.  I was born too late to have experienced all the fun and excitement  that Wisconsin's junior Senator, Joe McCarthy, brought to bear on the people of these United States.  I appreciate you sharing Walker with the rest of us so we can get a good look at what crazy looks like in the Cheesehead State.  I initially was confused how Wisconsin could produce Scott Walker and Vince Lombardi.  And then I remembered, Lombardi was born in Brooklyn.  

All in all, a rather entertaining evening of television.  I actually came away from the debate determined to learn more about Dr. Ben Carson and about Ohio Governor John Kasich, the latter of whom struck me as slightly crazy - but in that " Hey, don't stick your tongue on that metal pole, it's February!" sort of way.  A little off but benign. 

Walker, by comparison, gives off a "Martin Sheen in the Dead Zone" type of crazy vibe.  When he pantomimed tying a yellow ribbon around a tree I almost vomited in my own mouth.  If he wins the GOP nomination, I am writing in my own name in November 2016.  There are any number of positions for which I would not vote for him.  

For present purposes, I will limit myself to the one office he currently covets.      


Friday, August 7, 2015

Rambling Wreck

Time itself is long, 
Even if the time of Man is short.
-Pete Hamill

Programming note:  At some point within the next week or so, the focus of this space shall  shift principally (and perhaps exclusively) to one topic, which is honoring the memory of those whose lives were taken from them on September 11, 2001 by the murderous cowards who hijacked four airplanes and turned them into their own bastardized weapons of mass destruction.  Its focus shall remain on that particular topic through - at least - Friday, September 11, 2015.   I mention that now so that you can choose your time wisely and not spend any of it here if this topic is one about which you would prefer to not read.  For whether this is your first trip to this space or you frequent it, you shall notice upon inspection that first and foremost among the features it does not possess is a "Suggestion Box".  I write what I want to write, whether anyone wants to read it.  After all, this space exists as my attempt to exercise and exorcise the demons in my head - not yours. 


Sunday night HBO airs the season finale of the second (and perhaps final?) season of True Detective.  I am among those who thoroughly enjoyed the first season of this series and, because I did, was not looking forward to its second season - since Season Two bears no relationship at all to Season One.  It is a brand-new series, for all intents and purposes, set in a completely different locale than Season One and stocked with characters who have zero to do with their first-season counterparts.  While I have not enjoyed every moment of every episode thus far, this second go-round has grown on me as the weeks have passed.  Colin Farrell's work, of which I have never really been a fan, has struck me as particularly impressive.   Whether I shall watch the finale at the time HBO airs it on Sunday night remains to be seen but thanks to the magic of the DVR, I shall watch it at some point in the next week or so.  If it is something you have also watched - and perhaps even enjoyed - then I hope you find the finale satisfactory.  If it is not your cup of tea, I assure you that worries me not at all.  I neither own stock in HBO nor receive a paycheck from them as Head of Programming.  

I am happy that - at least as of right now - last week's declaration of joy regarding this Summer of Baseball in New York - has not yet completely screwed up either the Yankees or the Mets.  Every time I read somewhere a member of the now-second place Washington Nationals declare that "We are the team to beat.  We are not worried about the Mets" I laugh.  Terry Collins and his crew have set up space squarely inside of the Nats' heads.  I hope that they remain there for the remainder of the season.  I hope even more so that my Yankees know what they are doing, having decided that they did not need to make any moves at July 31st trading deadline, while their current closest pursuers in Toronto imported a slugging shortstop and a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. 

As of this morning, my beloved Colorado Buffaloes are less than four weeks away from the first game of their 2015 football season.  Ever hopeful I remain that this year shall be the one in which the effort the coaches and the kids put forth on the practice field shall translate to better results for them on game day.    They certainly appear to be heading in the right direction.  

Only time will tell.  Just as it always has.

Including a long time ago when we was fab...

"E B Enemy"