Saturday, July 16, 2011

Celebrating Life, Remembering Loss

On our way back from New York this past Thursday night Jon pulled into the parking lot of Johnny's, Boonton's long-time local watering hole. 'Gotta use the men's room, I'll be right back.' By the time he did get back a dozen and a half firemen were gathered around, wanting to know more about 'this huge hunk of metal' hanging off the back of his pickup.

We, on the other hand, were intrigued as to why eighteen volunteer firefighters would be hanging out in front of the fire station at ten o'clock at night.

'Call this guy George Gilliland,' fireman Ed Bohon told me as he scribbled a phone number on the back of the card I'd just given him. 'He's organizing the whole thing.' The following evening we found ourselves being invited to participate in the Lincoln Park Fire Department's 80th Anniversary Parade & Carnival, a two-mile display of fire trucks and EMT units followed by a field full of rides, games, food and good old Americana - all of it showered with neck-burning sunshine.

Seventeen-year-old Matthew Smith of the Par-Troy Volunteer Fire Department talked about his two uncles, one from each side of his family, who were there that day. One was working in the World Trade Center, one was driving a PATH train underneath the towers when the first plane hit. Both of them survived. Katie Skolsky told us about her uncle who was working on the floor the first plane hit. He was the only person from nearby Denville, New Jersey who perished that day. Jamie Madden took the elevator down from her 104th-floor office to step outside for a smoke. As she was getting back onto the elevator to go back up she heard a boom. She called her supervisor, who just told her 'Get out!' Jamie lost 66 friends.

We spoke with firemen who went into the city to help; firemen who wanted to help but couldn't get close enough; and many, many firemen who knew someone who died trying to help. Their voices were laced with sadness, but their words echoed with pride. Some of their brothers lost their lives doing good. The ones they left behind live on to do the same.