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It was a day none of us will ever forget.
I was on the Delta Shuttle at LaGuardia on my way to Washington for votes. At 9:07 a.m. I received an email from my chief staff asking, “where are you?” Then I received a second, more urgent email.
I was on the phone with my staff when I heard the news that would forever change my life – that would forever change America.
Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. America was under attack.
Moments later, my plane returned to the gate. I raced out of the terminal and called my cousin Mike, a firefighter with Ladder 3 in lower Manhattan.
I didn’t think to call my other cousin John – Mike’s brother – who was also a firefighter. John was a Battalion Chief and they don’t go into buildings, or so I thought.
I later learned that Mike had a few conversations with John that morning – the last one ending with John telling Mike that he was on his way to the site and he would see him down there.
But, Mike never did see John.
John had driven to the World Trade Center with a group of colleagues. When they reached the foot of Tower 2 John said, “Let me off here. I am going to try to make a difference”.
Those are John’s last known words.
John was one of 343 firefighters who risked everything to try to make a difference.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my cousin. And there is some comfort knowing that he ran into Tower 2 without pause. With or without uniform, on any given day John would have risked his life to help his city and his country.
There were thousands of Johns on September 11th and the days following.
They tirelessly dug through rubble and toxins searching for survivors; then for remains. They stood in line to donate blood, food and clothing. They traveled across the country to comfort friends, family and even complete strangers.
My John made the ultimate sacrifice. He sacrificed a lifetime of happiness with his wife and seeing his two young children grow up. But, he did it with honor and an unwavering commitment to community and country.
On September 12th, I stood at the crater of what was one of New York’s most majestic buildings. It was hard to imagine how in one place, on one morning such loss could occur. However, amidst the fear and mourning, there was also a sense of pride. You could feel our country’s shared pain, our unity and our determination to emerge stronger.
That spirit is something I hope - I believe - we need to recapture. America is the greatest country in the world. The men and women who ran into burning buildings; the courageous passengers who forced the crash of United Flight 93; and our service members who have fought bravely for our country overseas would never want us to forget that.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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