Over a year ago, Gary Cassanelli, the Fire Commissioner in Springfield Massachusetts, asked me to write a speech for him to deliver on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. During the ceremony a steel beam from the Twin Towers was to be dedicated in memorial to those who perished on 9/11. I was flattered, but more than that, I was honored.
I met Gary shortly after I began working on my yet unfinished book about fire fighters. He generously volunteered several of the Springfield firefighters for interviews, offered me a space to meet with them, and finished the day by treating me to lunch. He is well-educated, articulate and introspective, and endlessly encouraging of my writing. He could easily write a perfectly appropriate speech by himself, but he asked me to speak for him, and in a sense, I was to speak for fire fighters everywhere.
Writing the speech became a labor of love. We all have feelings about September eleventh and this gave me the opportunity to lay my heart on a page- to speak not only of the loss and heartache we all felt, but of my undying belief that in all circumstances we have the opportunity- the responsibility- to turn evil to good.
So, here is my voice. I am so grateful to live in a country where it can be heard.
There is hardly an American alive who doesn’t remember where he was when the clear blue skies over our nation were split open by the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that forever changed history. For the past ten years we have remembered those who perished, but this year, we have the opportunity to pay special tribute to the 343 firefighters of the Fire Department of New York who bravely charged into the face of danger, giving the ultimate sacrifice in their quest to save the lives of others.
How fitting that a column of steel from the Twin Towers is to be the focal point for this ceremony. Much like firefighters, steel is tough- forged to be strong enough to withstand great pressure. It is resilient and adaptable under the right circumstances, but unbending and unrelenting when necessary. This steel will remind us of the firefighters who, like the steel within Twin Towers, struggled until the very end to hold the weight of those who cried out for their help.
In the weeks that followed the attacks of September 11th , Americans responded with a mighty roar to the terrorists who desired to endanger the fabric that weaves our country. In a moment, we were reminded of what is important. We reached for our loved ones. We held fast to our children. We helped our neighbors. Streets became neighborhoods, neighborhoods became communities and communities were once again united into one strong, resolute nation.
Let me challenge you today to honor those who died on that tragic and fateful day. Honor the victims of the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and those who bravely perished in the fields of Pennsylvania. Honor those who have sacrificed and fought for our freedom since that horrific day, and those who continue to fight today. Honor them by living your life as we all did in the days that followed September 11th. Live with pride and compassion. Each day brings a new opportunity to make a better world for our children, to feed the hungry and to help the needy. There is no better message, and no better victory over terrorism than that of the American spirit. Let us never forget 9/11, and let us always we remember what it means to be an American, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
Every year since their deaths, I take a moment to look at the photos of the 343 firefighters who died in the Twin Towers. I stare at their faces and search their eyes; and I wonder if they could speak- if they could tell us just one more thing- what they might say. And although I can’t tell for sure, I think this line from a poem by John MacRae might speak for them.
“To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.”