Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11: A Survivor's Request

When my husband Ron came home Tuesday night from his Beer Crawl, his eyes were red.  Moved by a simple request, he wrote an e-mail and sent it to everyone he could think of. With his permission, I have included it here:  

 I recently befriended a New York City ex-pat who now calls Utah home.  Eddie O’ is a mountain of a man standing about 6 foot 4 inches tall with not an ounce of fat on his chiseled body.  Eddie fills a room both with his mere physical presence and his Irish-New York brogue.
Eddie, Ray, Ken and I get together every other Wednesday to share a few drinks, laugh at each others old jokes, and regale one another with tales from our past. 
Ray is a local businessman from here in Salt Lake City. Ken works with me at Sportsman’s Warehouse but he has previously worked around the world as a member of the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic corp.  Angie claims he was in the CIA; a fact Ken has never denied. 
But it was Eddie who dominated the discussion at this week's gathering as none of us could top the tales he unveiled.   Oh I forgot to mention;  Eddie O’ is a retired New York City fireman. He was in the lobby of the twin towers as first one then the other tower crumbled around him ten years ago this Sunday. 
As a member of Fire Company 22, Eddie was enjoying the clear fall New York morning on the upper end of Manhattan when he decided to turn on the television.  That was when he first heard about the events taking place 5 miles away at the World Trade Center.  Moments later the All-Call came in summoning his battalion and all other fire companies in the city to what would soon be termed Ground Zero.  Upon his arrival Eddie said there was no other way to describe what he saw other than “Hell on Earth”!
Entering the lobby area between the two towers Eddie described the chaos and din of emergency personnel doing whatever they could to help whoever they could.  The one overriding sound he heard was the thud of bodies hitting the canopy covering the lobby.  As a veteran firefighter he knew the choice these people were making.  Knowing they were going to die anyway, they opted to jump, rather than suffer the torture of the flames.  Eddie was told to report to the 75th floor staging area in tower 2 and help with the evacuation process. 
A devout Irish Catholic, Eddie turned to see the Fire Department Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge who was also in the lobby offering last rites to victims as they were being hauled out of the fiery towers. 
It was then Eddie made a decision that probably saved his life.  Seeing a rolling food cart which had probably been set up for an early morning business meeting somewhere in the Trade Center towers, he chose to drop his secondary air tank figuring if he was going to climb 75 stories he would rather not carry the tank and instead he began filling his pockets with bottles of water he found on the cart.  
As he stood out of the main passageway filling his pockets with the water, a low rumbling sound was heard, and then it was felt.  He looked across the lobby just as a huge chunk of debris struck Father Judge in the head.  The Chaplain was later certified as the first fatality of the 9/11 attacks. 
Eddie didn’t have but a few seconds to realize what he had just witnessed before the lobby filled with 110 stories worth of debris.  The forceful rush of the onslaught ripped through Eddie stripping him of his gear knocking him every which way and leaving him no longer a rescuer, but a victim.  
As he told us this story he said he does not know how he survived or who pulled him to safety but with his Irish accent becoming a little more pronounced he said “Fellas, for the past ten years I have been living on borrowed time.”   
 It wasn’t until March of 2002 that Eddie’s helmet was found in the rubble of the twin towers... it’s shield a twisted piece of metal. That shield now resides as the centerpiece of a plaque featuring all the shields from Eddie’s different company assignments while with the FDNY.  
Eddie never returned to the fire department.  He accepted a healthy settlement from the city of New York and quietly retired.  But quiet does not describe Eddie O’s life.  For the past decade, after coming so close to death, Eddie lives like he was dying.  He hikes, he skis, and travels the world.  He does not just exist, he lives!
Eddie won’t be in New York on Sunday.  He made that pilgrimage last week.  He went to the reflecting pools which now sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers.  He visited his old station and saw the jerseys of his fallen comrades hanging on the walls.  It was too much for him.  He quickly excused himself and fled the building…stumbling onto the steps of the nearby Lincoln Center where he broke down and cried.   Eddie will be in Seattle on Sunday marking the day with an old friend who lost her firefighter fianc√© in the attack. 
But Eddie asked us all to do one thing for him. 
With trembling hands, this man giant fought to hold back the tears as he reached into his fanny pack and pulled out several small pieces of paper. He handed one to each of us and asked that at sometime on Sunday we read the prayer found on the paper.  It was written by his good friend and fellow victim, Father Mychal F. Judge. 
I am asking that each of you also take a few seconds on Sunday to read the Chaplain's words and remember those who perished in the 9/11 attacks on America.

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