Friday, September 11, 2009 marked the 8th anniversay of 911 and the loss of more Americans in just a few minutes than the number of soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed at Pearl Harbor in a matter of hours at Pearl Harbor or during The Longest Day June 6, 1944. Sudden death is always tragic, but the victims of December 7, 1941 had as part of their job description the possibility thought then remote to be in harm's way and those in the Higgins Boats or jumping out of planes knew for certain they were going into harm's way. Our citizens and the citizens of the world who died with them were merely going to work or taking a plane.
The day is full of stark images but the one that has forever seared this poet's mind and soul is that of fireman Kehoe wearing helmet 28 walking up the stairs at the World Trade Center into potential death to fight a fire and help people he had never met. That image spawned the following poem. We still observe December 7 and to a lesser extent D-Day. 50 years from now when most of us today have long since gone, my wish is that the day is marked with reverence, resolve and with respect to the brave passengers on flight 93 a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude. I memory of those who died on 911:
His helmet bears a 28 burdened by 100 pounds of gear heading up a panic flight of stairs.
At 20 floors, his eyes are framed in soot and ash, a deer in a hunter’s headlight stare.
Outnumbered by a cascade of office horror in downward panic flight.
Most men would have tired, been brushed away, but not with a 5 alarm inferno to fight.
Was it the training, or the inner steel of the highest of all noble human traits?
To not abandon crew and total strangers to a searing, deadly fate.
Not since Operation Typhoon, have we seen planes driven at targets to explode,
Even then, only against warriors— who among us could ever fathom such a Bushido Code?
A micro globe of innocents whose sin was to be at work, bathed in high octane flames,
Desert sand chrysantimums hijacking a one way ticket passenger laden plane.
How could he or would we ever have the courage to put ourselves in harm’s way,
Climbing 8 more floors in smoke, until at 28, the building rumbled and began to sway?
As a parent most of us to a man would with relish sacrifice all to save his child,
Or to protect a spouse faced with mortal dangers running near and wild.
But these were strangers, not neighbors, kin or friends, but with his life and limb in doubt,
What courage to continue climbing burdened down and fight the urge to flee and get out.
It is said that true heroes in combat are those not in photos or who never make it home for the victory parade,
Now joined by 343 resting eternally in fields far and near within the memories of the living, never to fade.
28 could have stopped then and there at 20 floors and put himself out of danger of deadly harm,
But like true heroes, no fireman will turn tail and run from the pleading of five alarms.
Those who do not know us, say America is a soft land with heroes too few and too far between,
At their peril, if they ever forget the image of 28 trudging up the stairs into danger’s mortal scene.
If the helmet was any number from ladder 1 to 176 frozen in that famous photo frame,
The courage to climb into harm’s way to save a stranger’s life and not flee would be exactly the same,
Whether there is an eternal heaven or an eternal flame, one will never know for sure,
Or whether to avoid the fires, one’s spirit must be helping, noble and pure,
If there is, be assured 343 firemen of NYFD will hose down daily the streets of paradise,
Sweeping into the gutters of hell those who would in the name of God cause the innocents’ early demise.
If there is, it is certain that after 911, no NYFD member would ever be admitted into hell,
for too quickly on earth the brimstone sermons would end, as the devil’s damning fires they would quickly quell.
Michael P. Ridley
© December 30, 2005