Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11:Four Great Men

When reflecting back upon that horrible day of September 11, 2001, the worst in American history, there are many things that stand out in my mind. The face of radical Islam left unchecked for so long. A face that had manifested itself as Robert F. Kennedy assassinator Sirhan Sirhan, or the fiery anti-American Ayatollah Khomeini, or the covered faces of those terrorists that killed the 11 Israeli Olympians in Munich, and finally the face of Usama bin Laden and his brand of fanatical terrorists. For years the threat of militant Islam had been ignored until it came to the island of Manhattan.

What I believe makes America great is the people. Yes, there were some politicians who performed admirably in the wake of the attacks, and of course there were those politicians who did what they do best, and just performed. But facing such devastation and unprecedented horror there were those incredibly brave souls who looked into the gates of hell and walked in without a flinch. The everyday guy going to work in the concrete jungle trying to make a buck. As well as, a man who warned the world of the threat of extremists, but was ostracized by the "good guys".

There are four men who I want to remember. These four were tragically killed on that dreadful day, yet their memory will live on.

Captain Timothy Stackpole. As a long-time listener and sometimes first-time caller to WFAN, I remember hearing the distinct, heavily New York accented voice of Stackpole doing a commercial in which he talks about how much the The Burn Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital had helped him to recover. In 1998, the Brooklyn native was fighting a fire in a city-owned building when the floor collapsed causing him and two other firemen to fall ten feet into a fierce blaze. More than 30% of Stackpole's body was burned on a night that three other firefighters had died. Stackpole and the other two firefighters were well-compensated because NYC was found to be negligent in taking care of the building's structural flaws. Stackpole spent two months in the hospital and then worked out vigorously to come back to do what he loved.

I remember picking up the New York Post and seeing a picture of Mayor Rudy Giuliani standing next to Stackpole's wife and five children at his funeral services. The picture is heartbreaking but the memory of this brave man is inspiring. I wish I had known him. But when I used to hear that commercial, it was so uplifting and inspiring you kind of felt as though you did know him and you rooted hard for him. Stackpole, 42, by all accounts was a regular guy doing what he loved. Stackpole had the heart of a lion and unparalleled bravery. I am not ashamed to admit he is a hero of mine.

Fire Marshall Ronnie Bucca. On September 16, 1986, Westchester County resident and New York City Firefighter Ronnie Bucca broke his back as a result of falling five stories during a rescue attempt at a burning West Side tenement. He was not expected to live, yet one year later he returned to Rescue One.

Bucca, an ex-Green Beret paratrooper was preparing for an Army reserve course in Virginia. He would be leaving September 15, 2001. On September 11 the Fire Marshall would actually make it up to the 78th floor of the South Tower where United Airlines Flight 175 had cut a gaping hole into the building. Bucca found a standpipe and began fighting the inferno along with fellow fireman Orio Palmer. Amazingly Bucca took off his flame-retardant turncoat and used it to cover some crash victims huddled in a corner.

Ronnie Bucca had also worked as a US Army Reserve Warrant Officer in the 3413th Military Intelligence Detachment. Bucca, a bit of a whistleblower, was snubbed by the FBI when he reported the shady dealings of an Egyptian accountant in the FDNY, who among other things had stolen some floor plans of the WTC and was part of terrorist Sheik Abdel Rahman's inner circle.

Bucca had investigated the 1993 WTC attack and had studied the threat of Islamic terrorism with great vigor. He warned for years that New York City was still not safe and that "they" would come back again. According to author Peter Lance, Bucca believed that the Islamic militants were willing to wait one thousand years for revenge and that the time was nearly up. He was quoted as telling a friend that these radical Islamists sought revenge for the Crusaders' burning of the Muslim's castles in the eleventh century.

Ironically, their is a saying in the homeland of Ramzi Yousef who orchestrated the '93 attacks referencing this concept: "If it takes me ten centuries to kill my enemy, I will wait a thousand years for revenge."

In total Bucca spent 23 years with the FDNY and 29 years in the military. A true American hero.

John O'Neill. An FBI counterterrorism expert who left the bureau after being maligned for his "obsession" with Usama bin Laden. O'Neill, 49, investigated the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Africa and the USS Cole. It was during the Cole investigation, in particular, that he was so harshly chastised. I take it that O'Neill wanted to dig further into the investigation as opposed to taking at face value what the Yemeni government was offering, which he felt was worth nothing. He clashed with U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine who had O'Neill taken off the investigation. Many people felt that if the investigation had gone further it would have led right to the 9/11 hijackers.

O'Neill spent 25 years working for the FBI. He was last seen rushing back into the South Tower to try and save people.

Joe Riverso. Mostly, though, I remember "Big Joe." A 34-year-old guy who worked as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. Joe was an assistant football coach at Archbishop Stepinac High School, but was most well-known as a bartender at the Sports Page in White Plains. Joe was one of those guys who probably didn't have much use for sleep, with such a busy schedule I don't know how he found time. Joe was a regular guy who every day rode multiple trains to get to the WTC and then up to the 104th floor of the South Tower. He was doing what you and I do every single day which is he was going to work.

Many people I know, myself included, only went to the Sports Page on nights that Joe was working. His personality was that endearing. He always greeted you with a smile and a firm handshake. The only time I ever heard Joe complain was when he would discuss his golf game.

A fond memory I have of him took place in 1995. It was a late July day with very threatening storm clouds up above. He and I were both working at Ridgeway Country Club and decided to take advantage of the fact that all the golf pros were away that day playing in a pro-am and all the members were scared away by the ominous clouds. Well, it never rained a drop and nobody else played that day. Except me and Joe. Both of us were quick players and were able to get in 54 holes of golf. Yep, 54 holes! A record that I don't think I will break in my lifetime. A memorable day with a great guy. Truly the good old days!

I feel it is important that we remember those who were lost on September 11, 2001, and move forward as a nation. The world saw something which hopefully will never take place again. If America remembers and honors those who died in the 9/11 attacks such as Stackpole, Bucca, O'Neill, and Riverso, we will be more vigilant in preventing a future attack.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated many critics did not think America would move on. But she did. Stronger than ever. I believe America is stronger today than it was five years ago. Call it sappy, but I do believe America is a "shining city on a hill." A leader to the rest of the world and a country looked to in times of crisis.

The USA has moved forward, while simultaneously, honoring those who perished in the attacks of September 11. Once again the critics have been proven wrong.

May God Bless America!


Anonymous said...

awesome writing! great people emerged in such a chaotic situation.


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Anonymous said...

Wasn't it John O'Neill's first day on the job. God only knows your fate.
Life does go on......

Anonymous said...

You are an awesome writer. I hope you are writing for a big time newspaper or magazine some day!!


david hicks said...

yeah it was a great story and an example to all of us.. if we quit believing in this country, this people, then there will be nothing left worth believing in. Yes, we must remember those who have given everything.
As for the deranged person posting above.. dont fret about these people.. it is the easiest thing in the world to criticize, slander and cast stones..but to see the good, to force the good out of even the worst of all of us.. that is something to work for, to be proud of.
Not anonymous

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Brits said...
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