Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11 -- remembering a guy I hardly knew

By The FDH New York Bureau (Note: This is posted by Rick Morris. We received this from our humble, behind-the-scenes contributor and wanted to post it for all of our readers. It is an excellent human perspective on what was both the most consequential day of our country's history during our lifetimes and also a mosaic of countless individual stories. We hope that it is a much-needed reminder of what this country went through on that day.)

Hardcore listeners of the FDH Lounge have heard my name dropped in from time to time when Rick credits me with getting on a particular guest or coming up with an idea for the show. I'm not much for attention, or even blogging, but I kind of felt that sharing this story would be a good thing.

Yesterday, I attended a memorial service at my alma mater for the 27 graduates of the College who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. They were being inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. When I walked over to the service, I was handed a program of the events of the day. I read down the list of the names and was surprised to see the name of a guy I graduated high school with.

His name was Mark, and although I knew he had died in the tragedy, I didn't know we were at the same college at the same time, graduating the same year. I remember being in homeroom and different classes with him back then but I barely knew the guy, for no other reason that we just ran in different circles. In fact, if he were alive today and we bumped into each other he probably wouldn't have even known who I was.

At the conclusion of the service, which was very well done and respectful with members of the FDNY and colorguard present, along with a bagpipe player, they unveiled a lasting memorial with the names of all the honorees engraved on it. After the dedication, they invited the family members of the victims to come up and place a rose at the base of the new memorial. When I saw the members of Mark's family, who I didn't know at all, get up and receive this honor for their son, I made a decision that I was going to go up and speak to them after the service was over.

Now, granted, this was no easy thing for me. I didn't lose anyone close to me in those attacks (although I did know of one other guy who did die in them). I mean, what do you say to someone who's son has basically been murdered? I approached a tall man who looked to be Mark's brother if I had to guess. I introduced myself and said "I went to high school with Mark. I just happened to see his name in the program and I just wanted to say I'm sorry for your loss". He thanked me and then called his parents over. He was Mark's older brother, Al. "This guy went to school with Mark", he told them.

Mark's parents came over and before I said anything immediately shook my hand, I explained to them that although I didn't really know him, I knew he had died, and I didn't know we had attended the same college. When I looked into Mark's Father's eyes, a real sadness came over me. I said I used to work in the World Trade Center, I was in the middle of New York Harbor when the planes hit, and if a plane had hit the water that day I would not be here most likely. My wife was pregnant with our son at the time, and I would have never seen him be born if I had died that day, so 9/11 hits a little close to home for me.

I asked Mark's Mom if he had any kids since I knew he was married from reading his obituary. She said no, but was happy to tell me that his wife Nicole had remarried. I asked, "How does that make you feel?" She said, "Hey, she's young, she has to get on with her life". There was not a hint of any kind of hard feelings from her about that. I learned a couple of things about Mark from his Mom. She said that he didn't even work in the World Trade Center, he was actually located across the street, and was up in Cantor Fitzgerald for a meeting. He had just gotten his Broker's license. The plane cut through the building making it nearly impossible for those who were trapped on the top floors to escape the tower he was in.

What she told me next was quite unbelievable - "His brother Al (the tall man who I first spoke to) is a fireman...and he was off that day. The one who wasn't the fireman was who we lost". (The New York City Fire Department lost 343 members that day). She also even mentioned that Mark's ashes had been recovered and where they had been spread. I have to tell you, this woman did not cry one time in front of me as we were talking, she seemed to be at peace with where her son is.

In the course of speaking with the family, Mark's Dad must have shook my hand 2-3 times. I could tell that they were happy and appreciative that someone new, someone, anyone, wanted to let them know that their son was remembered, that he wasn't just another name on a long list.

I told them, "My Dad died back in 2001 also, not in the attacks, but on an operating table. It was a total shock, and I always remember that after the wake and funeral were over, all the phone calls stopped. All I was left with was loneliness." What I wouldn't have given for just one person to come out of the blue and want to talk about my Dad, or just offer me some sympathy. I had friends who didn't even show up at the wake, and didn't even call when I spread the word that he had died. I didn't get that support, but it didn't stop me from giving it to someone else.

Mark's family told me that today there will be a memorial service at our old high school. I won't be able to attend that, but it's good that every year they also honor all their former students who lost their lives that day. At our 20 year reunion in 2010, I'm sure he will be mentioned, as he was the only member of our graduating class to die that day.

We parted company, but not before getting a nice hug from Mark's Mom and a hearty handshake from his Father and Brother.

Meeting an actual family who lost their son on 9/11 is something that I'll probably never forget, nor should I. I'm currently going through my share of problems - my Mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer, and I've been going through a separation, I'm even having a problem with a co-worker at my job, but all of that dosen't matter to me quite as much today, because as a close friend once told me..."Every day above ground is a good day".

One more thing...If you happen to see a soldier in fatigues walking around in an airport, in a mall, at a game, or just down the street sometime, if possible, walk up to them and thank them for serving us. I started doing that about a year or so ago. You have no idea how much that means to these men and women. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have what we have, and who knows, my own son and/or daughter may become one of them someday.

(Hey, somebody's gotta defend our right to make bad fantasy draft picks,

Ok, I'm gonna slip back behind the FDH curtains now........ ;>)

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