September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:My wife and I both work at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers on 7th Ave and 53rd St in midtown Manhattan. She works an early shift; I work later. On Sept. 11 I was at home, our son, Josh, 9 yrs old then, was home from school sick. She called at about 8:55 to check on him. Before she hung up she said, "oh, turn on the TV, a plane hit the World Trade Center." I hung up and turned on the TV. I was stunned to see the amount of devastation. I thought it was a cessna. Then Wanda called back. Now her voice was filled with fear and urgency. "Billy just called!" she shouted. "He said we are under terrorist attack! He said to go home! He said, 'do you know who this is? This is Billy Burke!'" Billy was my older brother, a Capt. in the FDNY. His house was on E. 40th St. She had no idea where he called from; she said it sounded like he was in the street. She said she could hear the fear and urgency in his voice; "he yelled at me - do you know who this is? Go home! Get out of the building!" It seemed unbelievable. A minute later I watched on TV as the second plane hit the south tower.

Memory:My wife and I arranged for her to leave the hotel and head home to the Bronx, a distance of ten miles - by foot. I would get on a bike and meet her. All other means of transportation were out. Neither of us had a cell phone and we played phone tag by calling home where her older son, 19 also was. I rode through the south bronx, where my parents grew up - past St Jeromes church where they were married (they are both deceased) and through the very streets where my father earned legendary status in the FDNY in the late '60's and early '70's. He was Deputy Chief and division commandor of the 6th division - the south bronx. In those days they fought a hundred fires a week. Their efforts were documented worldwide and he and his men were considered the best of the best. Billy's admiration for our father and his men was boundless. From the road I could see the great white cloud where the Trade Center once stood - but I had no idea what it meant. My most vivid memory is finally meeting Wanda - there was a river of people fleeing Manhattan and I saw her first, she had her back to me. And it was instant relief and comfort. She turned around and smiled then saw the look on my face. "What's the matter?" "Billy's down there," I said.

Affects:It has ushered in a new era in American history. The post-vietman era is over. On that morning we all changed, changed utterly. What we were is not who we are. We have a vurnerability we did not realize; as a consequence we have discovered resources we either did not know we had or had forgotten and have found heights of character we were unaware we were capable of.

I have never been prouder to be a New Yorker or an American then I was in the days and weeks following Sept. 11. We were challenged and we responded. And the first to do this, to give the last full measure of their devotion was the firefighter of the the FDNY. Billy was a devotee of Civil War history. At his eulogy, Oct. 25, 2001 at St. Patrick's Cathedral, I quoted Gen. John Buford of the Union forces weeks after Gettysburg: "The zeal, bravery and good behavior of the officers and men on the night of June 30 and during July 1 was commendable to the extreme. A heavy task was before us; we were equal to it and we shall remember with pride that at Gettysburg we did our country much service." -- "The zeal, bravery and good behavior of the officers and men of Sept. 11 was commendable to the extreme. A heavy task was before them; they were equal to it and we shall remember with pride that at New York City they did their country much sevice."

A grave task was before all us and it remains so. We were equal to it and will continue to prove so. I believe the day will come for all of us when we shall remember with pride that we did our country and neighbors - much service.


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