I recently had a column published in Aiken Family Magazine entitled “Always Remember” Below is the text and photographs from the column.
It is a subject that I could write about on and on, but I was limited to 1,000 words.
The nice thing about the blog is that I’ll be able to include a few hyperlinks, which I couldn’t do with the magazine.
As we are only a few days away from the ten year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, let us pause and….Always Remember.
As we near the ten-year anniversary of the attack on our Country by radical muslim terrorists on September 11, 2001, most of us are so used to hearing the phrase “Never Forget” that we barely notice it any longer. A few years ago a man from Lexington, SC wrote a comment on one of my blog postings in which he pointed out that “Never Forget” makes use of two negative terms. He suggested the use of two positive words: “Always Remember.” I have since adopted that perspective.
9/11 changed our reality, and the world would never be the same. Different groups were impacted uniquely, but none like the New York City Fire Department. That day they suffered the instant loss of 343 of their 11,000 members, including most of their command staff. Those that survived were literally brought to their knees as they searched the wreckage for their brothers. There is a unique trust amongst firefighters that demands that one would never leave another behind… even unto death. The thousands of FDNY members worked twenty-four hours a day for months to bring their brothers and sisters out of the rubble.
Countless members became physically ill and subsequently died as a direct result of working in the recovery efforts. Many could not deal with the magnitude of the event and took their own lives while others retreated into themselves, never to be the same men and women they were before. The bleak, available statistics are but a peek at the tip of the iceberg of the impact. A new study will be released in late September and I believe will tell the next chapter of the horror and illness-filled lives of those involved.
I recently visited the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD.Here is where fire fighters from around the Country are recognized for making the ultimate sacrifice. There is a special monument dedicated to the 343 FDNY members who died on September 11, 2001. Sometimes, when I think of the number 343, it doesn’t seem that big, but when one gazes over the names cast in that bronze, it becomes a staggering figure.
In every organization, there is usually at least one individual who is universally well respected by his peers and is recognized as being at the top of their profession, even after their death. The FDNY uses the standard “Outstanding” for its minimal expectations. Acknowledging just one individual here doesn’t seem fair because all were heroes that day.
I never met Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown, but I felt as if I had lost a friend when I learned that he died that day. Paddy was a firefighter’s firefighter, and the highest-decorated officer in the hero-filled history of the FDNY. I first became familiar with the depth of his character after learning of how he took on the responsibility of caring for the family of Capt. John Drennan after John was severely burned in 1994 at what is remembered as “The Watts Street Fire”. Patrick committed himself to assisting Capt. Drennan’s family and also being with his brother firefighter in the burn unit. Forty days after the fire, as Drennan struggled to survive, Brown knelt at his friend’s bedside and whispered, “Look, John, if you want to go, it’s okay. It’s okay, John, you can go. We’ll take care of your family.” With those words, Drennan died. The details of that story could easily fill a book.
It was often said that if something big happened, Paddy would be there. He had an uncanny knack for being at the “big jobs” and often managed to get his face on TV and the front page of the tabloids One example was when he, along with the other members of Rescue 1, successfully executed a daring rope rescue, caught live on TV, involving two men trapped above a fire in a building near Times Square in 1991. (You Tube Video…Part 2
One of the last identifiable radio transmissions from the Number 1 Tower of The World Trade Center on 9/11 was that of Capt. Brown, with his men from Ladder Co. #3, reporting from the 35th floor, advising of burn victims and information they were receiving from people coming down the stairs, fleeing the inferno. That radio transmission ended with Brown stating, “Three Truck, and we’re still heading up!” That was the last anyone, but his company members heard from Patrick Brown.
Aiken resident, Rick Doran is retired from FDNY Rescue Co. #4. Doran has gained notoriety as being one of the firefighters in the now iconic photo showing the raising of the flag at “Ground Zero”. Rick told me that he worked with Patrick when Brown was with Rescue 1, and that Paddy was an “Outstanding firefighter, a good officer, and fun to be around.” One of the most important things for a firefighter is to have the respect of other firefighters. Patrick never had to worry about that.
One of the greatest impacts of the three hundred and forty three deaths was the massive amount of firefighting experience that was lost that day. That experience is used by the veteran firefighters in training the younger firefighters in their trade. There is a new generation of firefighters manning the approximately two hundred and fifty one firehouses in the five boroughs of New York City. There are a few left who were around on 9/11, but most are gone. The rookies are learning the traditions and hearing the stories, but they will never have had the opportunity to learn the ropes from guys like Paddy Brown. Each time however, that they climb on their rig to go to another “job,” they will go knowing the expectation to be outstanding in performing their job and to always remember.
Space restrictions have limited the amount of detail that I was able to provide. For more about Patrick Brown and his legacy, you can purchase Miss You, Pat, by Sharon Watts. If you are interested in what happened to the FDNY on and subsequent to 9/11, I encourage you to read the following books; Report From Ground Zero, by Dennis Smith, and Rescue at Engine 32 by Jessica Locke, who also wrote a beautiful piece of music entitled “Reading Of The Names”, which can be found on YouTube along with videos of Patrick Brown, including the heroic incidents mentioned in this brief tribute.
My thanks to both Sharon and Jessica for their assistance and insight.