I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed nor am I a complete idiot. That said, I know that I am not nor have I ever been what most folks would call “normal”. I also know that “normal” is something I will never be.
Rhett, Zach Green and I have just returned from a trip up to New York City. Much like most of the journeys Rhett and I embark on ( ie; 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs, NFFF Memorial Weekends, etc), this trip was life altering. I find myself back home and even on duty today but so far from the person who left Roanoke a mere 5 days ago.
For those of you who follow this site regularly, you know that of all the things my postings can be described as, “brief” is usually not on that list. I used the word “brief” in the above link because there is so much detail that I left out. I did this intentionally.
First, there are some parts / details about our trip that we just can’t talk about yet. You’ll understand why when we are allowed to release details. Secondly, I just didn’t have the time for a 10 page post describing everything we experienced. Third, I felt that the parts of this trip that affected me most deserved its own post. Now, I know that it will most likely take 2 or 3 installments.
Early in my career, I was (and remain today) a huge FDNY “buff”. They are the “benchmark” for America’s Fire Service … the elite of the elite if you will. Good friend and Brother Captain Todd Stone and I made a trip up, spent the night and got to ride with Rescue 4 in the early 1990′s. I WAS HOOKED ! We returned each year following (together or alone) to do the same. In the years following, I had the honor of staying with Rescue 1 and later with 39 / 16 (Todd would spend many nights with Rescue 2).
I met the men of these houses. We talked and ate together. I was one of thousands that they meet yearly but they were the only NYC firefighters I knew. It was on one these rides where I met Joey Angelini of Rescue 1.
These men made an impression on me. One that I carry still today. I’ve returned only once since the September 11 attacks when I stayed with 39/16 and marched along side them in the 2002 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Every FDNY House has plaques and memorials. The run boards from that fateful day have never been erased. We all have heard the names and seen the faces. In these houses, for me; it was more than a name or picture on a wall …. I knew these men.
Stepping into these houses, I concentrated hard to mask my emotion. I didn’t want my being upset / emotional to affect the men on duty. I think I did ok but “something” must have shown. Upon entering the House, I would ask to see the Officer. I never mentioned having been there “before”. As far as they knew, this was my first visit. That’s whats so amazing about our Brotherhood… I didn’t have to. After a brief introduction and eye contact, it was almost as if they knew. We were immediately accepted as one of their own and the House opened up to us.
This would be my first time meeting Rescue 1′s Lt. Tarabocchia …. what a great guy! We “clicked” from the get go. He wanted me to wear his Lt’s shirt because the Chief was due for a visit… it was a mustache thing. Before we could make the switch, the Chief arrived but it still made for a good laugh.
It was an AWESOME visit. Lt. Tarabocchia even gave me somewhat of a private tour of the house. He never pointed them out but I believe purposely took me past several “personal” memorials for the House. He even shared some personal stories and photographs.
Joey’s name or picture was everywhere and after all my climbs etc in honor and memory of him, it was almost peaceful to be seeing it in that House. I just can’t explain it. I guess if I was to sum it up in a single word, it word be the one found atop their rig and throughout the House … ” OUTSTANDING ” !
Even the “small” things on this trip triggered emotion…. a ride on the subway.
Our first night in the City, we left Times Square and headed down to Ground Zero. We took the subway. Little did we know we would emerge right between St. Paul’s Chapel and Ground Zero. It took my breath…. each of us knowing exactly where we were … unable to speak. I wish I could describe the sight. A clear city sky … a slight nip in the air … everything going on and moving around us yet it felt as if time had stopped. Rhett and I made eye contact and without saying knew… “THIS” has been our destination for the past 10 years.
I’ll fast forward to the following day. Rhett headed down to New Jersey to teach his Social Media in the Fire Service class. I would stay behind with Zach and work on a different project.
My various work with Rhett, Zach and Fox Fire has allowed me to travel to some fantastic places and meet some great people. One of those folks is Chief Billy Goldfeder. Chief Goldfeder is a true Fire Service Leader and I am honored and privileged to know him. We had reached out to Chief Billy for this trip and he came through in an unbelievable way. What he did for us was the most emotional part of this journey and I’m not sure if I will ever be able to repay the debt.
Chief Billy arranged a tour for us at the WTC Tribute Center . Chief didn’t arrange just any tour mind you … he set it up with the Center’s founder, Lee Ielpi.
At the times of the attacks, Lee was a retired member from Rescue 2 in Brooklyn. His son was on the job with Squad 288 of Queens. Jonathan ( Lee’s son) made his last phone call to his father that day. Squad 288 lost more members than any other company that day .. 19 .. Jonathan Ielpi was one of those members.
Lee grabbed his gear and headed to Ground Zero … HE HASN’T LEFT YET ! His story should touch each of you. Before I get to it, PLEASE take a moment and watch the videos below …
Meeting Lee was much like meeting the members that we had back in the Houses … as soon as we made eye contact, “something” was understood and a bond made. Lee would keep hold of my arm or his hand on my shoulder throughout our tour. It was a comforting feeling …
Lee had a meeting to attend and at first told us he regretted the tour would be brief. Within moments, we both knew that he would be late for that meeting.
The tour he gave us was nothing short of AMAZING. Words can not describe it. It was beyond personal. He was there. Lee gave detail of each exhibit that very few know. Lee and I cried together several times that day ….
He told us the story of the 8 dads. Eight fathers searching through the rubble for their sons. Exactly 3 months to the day from the attacks, Jonathan was found. Lee was the only father of the eight to get his son back and the amazing thing was that his body was in tact. Later, they would find parts of his gear (also mostly in tact). Jonathan’s turnout coat and helmet are one of the exhibits at the Tribute Center.
Lee told us the story then turned away as we approached Jonathan’s gear … I followed, both crying once again. I thought of Lee and Jonathan as well as of me and my dad. It’s a powerful story and exhibit. It also speaks of the kind of man Lee is to have that exhibit in the Tribute Center.
I didn’t take any pictures inside the Tribute Center. It is allowed and welcomed but for me, it didn’t feel right. Beyond that, I didn’t want to interrupt Lee’s conversation / stories nor did I want to be released from his touch. I hesitate even to add the picture to the right … it’s Lee by the actual exhibit. I add it only in hopes that it will “speak” to you as the entire experience did for me.
Beyond the exhibits, Lee told a bigger story … a story he wants everyone to know. He needs our help!
The center is staffed mostly with volunteers. Not just any volunteer either. Most of the folks giving tours etc are survivors of the attack in one way or another. People who escaped the collapse, who lost loved ones, who were outside watching as the towers fell, etc. The story is being told through so many perspectives yet through the same focus … from the ones who were there.
The thing is, the only way to hear this story is to go to the tribute Center. Do you know that the details and events of that day (as well as those preceding and following) are not in our children’s history books? Ten years later and it’s not mentioned in school !!!
Who will teach our children? What will they teach them? I think about the Buckaroo … what will he learn of that day?? As it stands now… NOTHING. Nothing other than what I will teach him. It needs to be in our children’s history books! The entire story … the TRUTH.
The Tribute Center has several classroom resource kits that teach the important lessons of 9/11. “Eight videos reveal personal stories from people who were directly impacted by September 11, 2001 and who in response developed projects to make this world a more peaceful, tolerant place. Each story is accompanied by discussion questions, historical context, research links and projects.”
I will post more on Lee, The Tribute Center and their mission in the future. A LOT more. If interested, you can find the resource kits HERE .
Thanks for reading …