September 11, 2007
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Captain Weldon in the Ladder 20 Office with the Certificate from Ironhorse Brigade and a patch from Fire Rescue at Q-West in front of the drawing of the flag planting at Iwo Jima, a gift from the artist, Felix De Weldon, to Ladder 20.

As I arrived at Ladder 20 in the rain I saw 2 soldiers decked out in dress uniform, a quilt of ribbons down their chests, one in blue and one in green. After chatting with some of the L20 firefighters in my usual nervous babble, I grabbed Captain Weldon to pose in front of the drawing of the Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima- a gift from the original artist, Felix De Weldon (no relation), who created the famous sculpture..
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Patch from Fire Rescue at Q-West, Iraq present the 7 patches from Renee at Fire Rescue of the Fire Department at at Q- West, Al Qayyarah, Iraq in honor of the seven men from L20 lost on 9/
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Certificate of Appreciation from Ironhorse Brigade

and the Certificate of Appreciation from Nora's Ironhorse Brigade Combat Team thanking L20 for their support.
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Sgts Mike Levasseur and Pete Sanders present flags flown over Fire Base Farah in Afghanistan on September 11, 2006 in memory of FDNY firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino to Lieutenant O'Connor of E-24 and Captain Pat McNally of Ladder 5.

The soldiers had already left for Ladder 5 Engine 24. I chased after them. Lucky for me heading west on Prince Street was all down hill.At the 5 & 24 I found the soldiers and asked them if they would present 2 more Q- West Fire Rescue patches from Renee in Iraq along with the 2 flags that the soldiers had brought from Afghanistan to honor Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino who died on August 18, 2007, at the Deutsche Bank, a building still broken by the fall of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.
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Moment of silence for the second tower at 5 & 24

The flags the soldiers presented were flown "in the face of the enemy" over Fire Base Farah in Afghanistan on September 11, 2006. As Sergeants Michael C. Levasseur and Pete Sanders began their presentation the fire bell rang.
The firefighters of 5 & 24 walked through the downpour to their positions on the rig and headed out to work as the fire truck's siren wailed behind the soldiers.

Video of the presentation 2 versions: mpeg or Youtube
This year at Mass Christina Brunn spoke to Battalion 2. Her brother Andrew Brunn, a member of Ladder 5 -previously a NYPD Sergeant and before that a Staff Sergeant for the Air National Guard, already having served in Iraq- was one of the 10 men of Ladder 5 killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Her speech was amazing. She said: "Show up for Life no matter what; Evil hates that."
I asked her after the service to send me the text of the rest of her speech- it was a no drama kind of thing, it really hit the spot. If I get it I will share. Cristina told me she has also been sending support to the troops since 2002, when I get that info I will share it as well.
Show up for Life no matter what; Evil hates that. Yeah. Ten words that sum up everything about why it's OK to laugh and talk and be happy to see friends and family on 9/11.
There is a question here about carrying on the stories for history versus respecting the privacy of the people who are living with it. Then when we are all too old for it to matter and we want the most personal stories to be known, the future does not care. When was the last time someone listened to the older folks about what they saw in WWII or Viet Nam or even the first Gulf War? And so it is. I am careful which stories I tell.
One of the troops I have stayed in touch with since 2004 wrote this week, "When are you going to write a book about the stories, the emails, the times, and the trials of those you have come to meet and befriend? " Ah well, maybe around the same time as he tells me the story behind the Bronze Star he was awarded.
Some of the stories can be told now. I tried to put them all up on (which I have noticed no one reads!!!!) But I have let the web site fall behind in favor of keeping the gifts going to the troops for the holidays. The stories multiply geometrically; the connections often require a map and a scorecard to keep up.
Like the story of how Sergeant Michael C. Levasseur ended up in the rain at E24L5 on 9/11/07 with U.S. flags from Afghanistan.

The short form goes like this:
In January 2002 I met the firefighters of Ladder 20 when I stopped in to buy a t- shirt. They looked surprised as they rummaged around looking for a t-shirt for me. They said to me they figured no one cared so much any more about the FDNY firefighters after 9/11, no one was coming in for t-shirts. I told them to reorder t- shirts. I would sell the shirts and show them that people still cared.
In October 2003 I had been selling t-shirts for Ladder20 when a fire destroyed my home. No one was hurt but the L20 t-shirts took a soot bath. I washed the shirts and started looking for a unit in Iraq or Afghanistan that might want the 180 or so shirts I could no longer sell, because they had been washed.
It's not easy to find a way to send gifts of support to the troops. We can not send gifts "To Any Soldier" like the old days, except through a third party and back in 2003 there weren't any organizations ready to do the job. There was no one who could take the shirts. Protesting was reeeeeeeeeallly easy. If you wanted to protest there were loads of organizations ready to hand you a sign with a catchy slogan, or you could attend free concerts and breakfasts and celebrities would pat you on the head just for being there. Protests were big social events. It was harder NOT to protest than to protest. (By the way, seen any protests lately?)
But if you wanted to show support, you had to be crafty and able to overcome obstacles.
Through an email list of a group of motorcycle riders who visit the 3 sites of the attacks for the benefit of first responders I found a Connecticut National Guard unit shipping out.
How many shirts should I send to them and what sizes do they wear? They had a huge group shipping out, more than the t- shirts I had. I didn't want anyone to feel left out, what was the right number to send? Well, the number 343 became obvious, the number of firefighters we lost on 9/11 (now plus 2 for Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffignino). So I called up my contact at L20 and asked him to order enough shirts for me to make the total I was sending total 343. When I got to L20 to pick up the remaining shirts, I found that the firefighters of Ladder 20 had also collected their own shirts in big bags to send to the troops.
Stuff like that just fills my heart so full it's hard to breathe.
OK, so I send out the shirts and then I feel kinda bad because the CT unit goes to Fort Drum, NY, instead of straight to Iraq and I am worried that maybe the troops who need the support the most are not going to get the shirts and the point that we are thinking of them "over there".

I told the troops getting the shirts that if they ever doubted the support they had back home, to look at these shirts and remember that the firefighters of the FDNY support them, every minute of every day.
April 2004, then-Major Kevin McMahon wrote to me:
" I hope this is the correct email address for the Rachel who sent us a box of t-shirts from the New York Fire Department. If so, please email me back and I will send you pictures of our soldiers from the Connecticut National Guard who are currently stationed in IRAQ."
Lieutenant Colonel Kevin McMahon returned from Iraq in 2005 and came to Ladder 20 on 9-11 2006

9-11-2006- We stayed in touch through 2005 when they returned, and on September 11, 2006, now-Lieutenant Colonel Kevin McMahon came to Ladder 20
Gifts from the 1st Cavalry, Nora, 115th Forward Support Battalion

and presented gifts on behalf of troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan.
9-11 2006, Ladder 20's Moment of Silence for the Second Tower
By 2007, a lot had changed. FDNY firehouses no longer sell t-shirts, so I send popcorn with help from the FDNY firefighters and patches that I can still get from firefighters and generous patch vendors, and I also can't go to firehouses to collect the used t-shirts due to new FDNY regulations. There's lots more people getting organized and getting stuff from firefighters to send to troops, not just t-shirts but fire hoods and masks and believe me, if the troops can use it the FDNY firefighters are sending it already. The motorcycle email list where I found most of my original contacts is closed but I have established good contacts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
I can't imagine what Mike Levasseur thought of me approaching him on 9/11/07 at L5E24. Here was this sweaty blond woman, half rained on, getting up in his face with some patches from Iraq asking him to present them to the firehouse. I can be a bit pushy and Mike graciously let me push him around. Although I am generally shaking at my knees around the FDNY guys and the troops, when it comes to delivering messages from the troops to the firefighters I summon up my nerve and stick my nose in like a real New Yorker (I'm originally a Philly chick).
So when I asked Michael C. Levasseur how he came to be at Ladder 20 last week, he wrote:
"You're the connection. The Connecticut Medical Battalion you sent the shirts to, that was my unit.
I have been deployed overseas to Bosnia in 2001 (thats where I was on 9/11), Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and Afghanistan from January 2006 to April 2007.
It helps me get through the things I have to do overseas knowing the sacrifice the FDNY made on 9/11, and it helps the FDNY guys get through their rough spots knowing that their sacrifice is at the front of the minds of every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine every time we go out.
The FDNY firefighters would say the opposite. They think we make all the sacrifices.
Sergeant Pete Sanders (in the green uniform) is in the same unit I am, C Company 1st Battalion 102nd Infantry. Pete has served off and on over the past 20 years. He had gotten out well before 9/11 and actually worked in the Fresh Kills Landfill during the recovery operation. He decided to get back in after he realized that the war wasn’t going to end anytime soon. Afghanistan was his first time overseas in combat..."
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Sgt. Mike's guidon flag

"...While I was in Iraq, 2003-2005, I had made a tan "guidon" flag (the one with the skull and cross bones on it). When I got back to the US in 2005, I stopped at the World Trade Center site in September to take photos of the guidon flag and my Ladder 20 shirt that I had brought home with me. At the WTC a Port Authority Officer gave me the American Flag and the Port Authority flag that were flying over the World Trade Center that day..."
At the 5 & 24, Lieutenant Gary Iorio of Ladder 20 with a Italian Firefighter Captain Paride Maccarinelli of Lumezzane, Italy. Paride has attended at least the last 5 9/11 events.

"... Then I brought the guidon flag to Ladder 20 and met Lieutenant Iorio. ..."
Lieutenant Iorio and Captain Macarinelli's message to the troops.
Sgts Mike Levasseur and Pete Sanders with Captain Pat McNally of Ladder 5 and Joseph Graffagnino's wife Linda.

"... I met many of the other FDNY companies around Battalion 2, including the men of Engine 24 Ladder 5. I met Joe Graffagnino..."
Joseph's wife Linda Graffagnino and his parents accept the flag from Sgts. Mike and Pete

The Beddia Family is requesting that in lieu of flowers donations be made to FF. Joseph Graffagnino Children's Fund.
Donations can be sent to:
FDNY Foundation/FF. Joseph Graffagnino Children's Fund
c/o FDNY Foundation
9 Metrotech Center
Brooklyn NY 11201
For more information please call 718-999-0779
As above, where Michael said, "in 2005, I stopped at the World Trade Center site in September to take photos of the guidon flag and my Ladder 20 shirt that I had brought home with me. "
9-11 2006- Sergeant Mike with his men in Afghanistan holding up the Port Authority flag given to him at Ground Zero in September 2005.

"...I was in Afghanistan from January 2006 to April 2007. When I found out the guys who died on August 18, 2007 were in Battalion 2 I felt the need to make recognition of their sacrifice on behalf of the Army. I had 2 American flags that had been flown over my fire base in Afghanistan on September 11, 2006 -about an hour before the photo with the Port Authority flag..."
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9-11 2006- Afghanistan, close up of Mike standing beside the Ladder 20 t-shirt sent in 2003
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One for each, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino

"... I felt the need to make recognition of the sacrifice of these two men from Ladder 5 on behalf of the Army, so I brought those two flags back to New York and the firehouse at E24L5..."
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9-11-2006- New York City, Ladder 20,with Captain Weldon, Lt. Colonel Kevin was happy to see the flagfrom his unit, the 118th Medical Battalion, we didn't know the story behind it until 2007.
9-11 2007, under the guidon flag is the photo of Sergeant Mike's men holding the Port Authority flag and the Ladder 20 t shirt from 9-11 2006- last thing the firefighters see before they leave the fire house

"...Today the guidon flag is still in the kitchen of Ladder 20, immediately to the right as you go out the door. And now there is also a smaller photo of me and my men in Afghanistan on September 11, 2006 with the Port Authority flag as well. That's the level of unity between the FDNY firefighters and the Army. I literally showed up on their doorstep one day out of the blue and they took me in like one of their own even though I was a total stranger."
I guess those shirts from my fire made it to the right soldiers ;). And it’s not just troops from nearby states who are welcome here and not just on September 11- when Nora came from Iraq duty Texas in June, she got the royal treatment as well. If you want to hear it from the Navy and the Marines from May:
May 30, 2007 -- On behalf of the 600 Marines and 3,000 sailors who have been in New York for Fleet Week, thank you ("Welcome to the Fleet," Editorial, New York Post, May 26).
The outpouring of hospitality, generosity and well-wishes has been overwhelming.
The Marines and sailors have unanimously reported that New Yorkers treated them to more food and drinks than they could consume and felt welcomed and appreciated in the Big Apple.
When calculating their travel time in the city, the Marines and sailors found themselves accounting for all the people who would stop them to shake their hands, pat them on the back and say, "Thank you."
This reception particularly means a lot to the Marines, who have just returned from Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
Now we are on our way home, where we will continue our training for the missions that lie ahead.
This has been a great break for us all.
As we say, "Bravo Zulu" - New Yorkers are "good to go." No city rolls out the red carpet like New York.
Col. Peter Petronzio
Commanding Officer
24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Capt. Michael Hawley
Captain, USS Wasp

You're no stranger here, this is YOUR city.
If you take these stories and multiply it by like 100 every day for 6 years and you will have some idea how many stories I know now, how full my heart is, how lucky I am to know you at all, how the connection between good people in the military, the FDNY firefighters, all first responders and the civilians they protect and how the real people in this town support the troops and the firefighters. Celebrities are everywhere with the FDNY firefighters on September 11 in New York, sitting quietly behind the heroes. They were there with us at E24L5 and at Mass. Today their names are less important and that's the way it is.
And it just keeps going.
So, what's changed in 6 years? Basically, we know how to act on 9/11, we know who we are, we know what's important, we look around and can see who our friends are and make time to show them we love and we care about them and our families. More good people have died fighting for us to live- that's never going to be acceptable. We made the connection and we continue to make the connection.
At this time of year I hear from some folks I met through supporting the FDNY firefighters and the troops who got busy with life, fell out of touch and got back in touch. I am so happy to hear from you I feel a little guilty being happy until I remember what Cristina Brunn (another blond from New York City) said at Mass:

Show up for Life no matter what; Evil hates that.
At Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, NY, FDNY firefighters and friends set up 3000 flags in a "Healing Field" to remember those who perished on 9-11

Pictures and video from the Healing Field here

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Towers of Light display on September 11, 2007 in the rain.

We are you and you are us, we love you, we miss you, we thank you and we remember.
came to see what's changed in six years
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