We spent the last two nights running around bars with firemen. We ran into guys from all over the world. All these men found different ways of paying tribute to our lost brothers. Some rode their bicycles, some rode motorcycles, some marched, others flew, we all found ways of paying our respects. We talked about 9/11. We talked about how we paid tribute. We talked about our brothers. We talked about our brothers that lost their lives. We talked about our brothers that we live with in the fire house. We talked about our brothers both good and bad. We talked about our job and our culture, our bugets and
our dying traditions. New York is where we hold our family reunion. We come here to remember why we do what we do. Fire fighting is a family run business.
It would be very easy to allow ambulance rides for profit to turn our business into a corporate run money maker. The current trend of EMS is to make money. Most hospitals, ambulance companys, and pharm companies are using their service personnel and the tradition they have built to promote their own personal gain. We must remain loyal to those we serve, the citizens of this great country.
As I sit on the plane and write, I am watching a show about tobacco companies selling cigarettes over seas. The tobacco company said, “Yes, we know it is a harmful product, if we don’t sell them someone else will.” Come on, really? My point is that we must stop just accepting things because the don’t affect us directly. We must stand up for what is right. Even when it is not popular.
We woke up early (4:45am) on Sept 11th to attend the FDNY Memorial Service on Riverside Dr. We showed up a little early. With time to spare, we went to breakfast with a fireman from the North Pole Fire Dept. While we were waiting for the ceremony to start, Andre and I were given the honor of participating in the presentation of the Ground Zero Flag ( http://www.thegroundzeroflag.org ). This was truly humbling. Hundreds of firemen from all over the world and we get the honor of holding this glorious flag that looked over the beautiful people that worked day and night to restore order to our battle scarred country.
The ceremony started with The Star Spangled Banner. We dropped to one knee with our half of the flag, while the other half stood erect. All the firemen were brought to attention. “Company,” a short pause, “ATTENTION.” Everyone snapped to attention with heels together, hands along the pants seam, and a peering stare that demands respect. This is that moment when firemen present their A-game. A moment when there is a job to do. Everything stops, and for a moment we are warriors paying respect to our dead. A loud voice yells, “PRESENT ARMS!” as everyone’s right hand snaps to the bill of their cover. The song begins, it sounded like it was being sung by angels. “PARADE REST,” a voice demands. All the firemens’ hands snap behind their backs and they are allowed to move their feet to a more comfortable position. They are allowed a moment to stand comfortable, but not to rest. An opening prayer is given by the FDNY Chaplin. And then the reading of the names begins. Firefighter Joseph Agnello, Ladder 118, Lieutenant Brian G. Ahearn, Engine 230, Firefighter Eric T Allen Squad 18. The names continue like the credits in a movie. There is a pause, the time is 09:59, a moment of silence, this is the time the first tower fell. Then the names continue and just keep going, you picture them, you compare them to people you know. You listen to their ranks and where they worked. Were they on a truck, an engine, a rescue? Was the next names in line going to be brothers or a father and son? There is a short pause in the reading, “thank God, it’s over,” I say to myself. Then another lists starts to be read, “Captain James M. Amato, Squad 1, Fireman Calixto Anaya, Jr. Engine 4, Fireman Joseph J. Angelini, Sr., Rescue 1, Fireman Joseph J Angelini, Jr., Ladder 4. “My God, a dad and son both killed,” I think.
The names stop. The time is 10:29, the time of the second tower collapse, another moment of silence. The names continue, Fireman Faustino Apostol Jr., Battalion 2, Fireman David G. Arce, Engine 33. We have an LAFD Engine 33, I know a bunch of guys that work there. The list continues, Fireman Louis Arena, Ladder 5, hell, I work at LAFD Ladder 5. The longer the list is read the more I realize that once again I am listening to my own mortality being read out loud in front of me. Fireman Carl F. Asaro Battalion 9. I look around and I am somehow comforted that if we do have to give all, it’s not in vane. Lieutenant Gregg Atlas, Engine 10. From where I am standing I can see my wife and her two sisters. I think about how they have signed up for this also. I am happy that they are here participating in this. It’s good to know your family is behind you when the time comes to go to work. Its good to know they understand what they are a part off. Nicole is a nurse in the hospital. We both know what we signed up for. We know that if something big happens in Los Angeles that we may not talk for days. We know that we are a part of something bigger. Fireman Gerald T. Atwood, Ladder 21, I just want the names to stop. Almost like if I can stop the names, that many Firemen won’t really have to die. They don’t stop, the names continue on, and on. The lady on the street in front of me must be related to a Fireman she is visibly crying in pain. There is a lady consoling her. Fireman Gerard Baptise, Ladder 9, “Damn, this is a lot of men .” Finally the names stop. I take a deep breath, are the names going to start again? There is silence for a moment and an Angel begins to sing Amazing Grace. I can not see her, yet I know she is an Angel, I can hear it in her voice. She sings it from her heart, from her soul. Then her voice begins to fade a little, then a crack, the Angel begins to weep. I hear men clearing their throats, trying to stop their noses from running, trying not to cry while standing tall. It’s no use, we have all been touched by this Angel. The Angel weeps until the crowd begins to thank her for her generosity with applause. Then she begins to sing with tears in her voice. Her song was unlike any I have ever heard. It was pure goodness cutting through me like a knife. I’m not sure what you believe in, this was undeniable, this was pure. We were in the presence of an Angel and she was singing for us. She opened the gates of heaven for us. For a brief moment we were allowed to look into the heavens, and then the Chaplin prayed. They presented a wreath as the Bag Pipes played. Voices from the past chanting through the sound of the pipes, the voices that say “Don’t Forget Me.” Taps played as a reminder of what we are willing to do for others. “Company, DISMISSED.” And just like that we were dismissed to return to our duty, our duty to serve. We turn and embrace the flag. We fold her up and replace her in her home. We pray she may rest in peace. We hope that she will never again see the things she has seen. We hope that her only job will be to make sure we honor what we have sworn to our fallen. “We Shall Never Forget!”
The next day we visited the Statue of Liberty. As I stood in front of her, my journey came full circle. It was finally complete. I had done my job. I finished my tribute to honor the men and women of the fire service, I paid my respects to the the 343 men that died at Ground Zero. And now I was standing in front of the symbol of Liberty. I was paying tribute to the one thing they all died to protect, our FREEDOM! God Bless your country, and God bless mine, The United States of America.
I have been given a chance to do something great. With your support, I did not fail. Now it is your turn. Do what is right and you will be taken care of, you will not fail. Times will get tough, you will get tired, you will want to quit, you won’t. We will be with you. Do that thing you have been afraid to try, that thing you know your supposed to do, it’s your personal legend. That voice in your head is trying to tell you something, listen.
So what did I learn in 47 days and 3500 miles. There is no such thing as a flat road. Every uphill has a downhill. Every downhill has an uphill. Don’t follow a suggested route unless that person has ridden it before you. Sometimes you have to ride in the rain. Friends and family matter. You don’t ever have to be alone, even when you are alone. You can fix anything. And the most important thing I learned was from my 6 year old brother in law Kyle, no matter how bad things get, KEEP PEDALING UNTIL YOU GET THERE! I’ll see you on the road. Life is short, Live it with Love.
Love your brother,
A special thank you to Virgin America Airlines. When they heard about my ride they thanked me on the PA, offered me an upgrade to first class, and everything was on the house, or should I say plane. Thank you everyone.
Thanks to my Brothers at LAFD Fire Station 80. As we landed at LAX, the pilot announced a special welcome home for me. My brothers from Fire Station 80 met our plane on the tarmac and escorted my plane to the gate. The guys met me at the gate to welcome me home. Fire Department tradition is alive and well today. Thanks Greg.
Please check in periodically for updates, photos,and video. I will be putting a video/photo montage together, and I will make it available in the near future. I will announce it here and on Facebook. Also watch for my adventure to Aconcagua.