Wednesday, December 05, 2007

To Honor My Neighbor Killed on 9/11

I honestly can’t remember how I found out about your web site; probably a related link through either Rolling Thunder or the Yellow Ribbon Foundation or some other POW/MIA/veterans-related site. Either way, I am glad I did. The initial motivation for buying the bracelets was to honor my neighbor, Michael Gann, who was killed on 9/11 (he was in NYC for a meeting; he lived here in Atlanta). All stories from that day are sad but Mike’s was particularly tragic. He had only recently remarried for the second time and their blended family included five children who adored him. He was active with youth ministry at the local Catholic parish. Ironically, he had resisted going to NYC for the meeting; he had had a premonition that something might happen. He had asked his boss if he could stay behind and (from what I have heard) he was told that if he didn’t go, his career would be in jeopardy. So he went. He was on a high floor (in the 100s) in the north tower when the first plane hit. Apparently he called his wife Robin from his cell phone (she wasn’t available) and he left a voice message assuring her that they were all certain they would be rescued soon. Shortly afterward, he left her another message—a goodbye message—telling her he loved her and the children. His wife heard the messages later. I’m sure they haunt her to this day. They never found Mike’s remains; he was memorialized 6 weeks after 9/11 and at the service, each one of his children brought something to the altar that reminded him or her of their father/stepfather. One brought a guitar, a reminder of Mike’s propensity to play for the kids and the youth group. Another brought a pair of running shoes—reminding them of Mike’s love of sports. It was a gut-wrenching service. One year later, I was teaching high school part-time (in addition to my “regular” business) and I had my students prepare a large canvas and sign it with “thank you” messages for the New York City firefighters. I flew to New York, also carrying a laminated version of the bulletin from Mike’s memorial service. On Sept. 10 I gave the canvas to a firehouse in the Chelsea district in lower Manhattan that had lost many of its firefighters in 9/11. On Sept. 11 I tied Mike’s bulletin to the fence next to St. Paul’s church, across from the WTC site, and stood on the steps of a nearby building as they read off the nearly 3000 names of the dead or missing, Mike’s among them. I was alone during the trip and, to be honest, it was a very emotional experience. At 3 different times during the day on Sept. 11, 2002, I encountered three different woman who walked or talked or just stayed with me for periods of time—sort of like 3 angels sent to comfort me. I don’t even know their names. I will never forget them.

So that is the motivation for my initial purchase. There is a post-script as well. Although I grew up mostly in the South, my parents are from New York City and I have many cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. still there. On 9/11, two of my cousins (a father and son) were in the South tower. The son got out after the first plane hit but his father was still in the building, around the 55th or so floor. Police cleared the area and sent the son away, not knowing for 8 hours whether or not his father got out. In the meantime the second plane hit the south tower. The father started making his way down the stairwell but after about 20 floors, he could no longer walk (he has serious knee problems) so he just sat down and gave up. A man came along and practically carried him down the remaining 30 floors; they made their way up the street just seconds before the south tower came down. For years the father and the man who saved him had a reunion on 9/11 (the father has since moved to Florida). The son’s wife also worked in the WTC area but she had called in sick that day or she would have been trapped underground in the train tunnels. So 9/11 is very close to my heart.

That is probably more than you wanted to know but there it is. The other bracelet I ordered is for Sgt. Matt Maupin, whose case I became familiar with intimately as result of meeting his parents two years ago at the Memorial Day Rolling Thunder event in WashingtonDC. I was in high school and college during the Vietnam war and we all wore POW bracelets then. I had hoped we would not have to do it again. Thank you for providing this opportunity for people like me to honor and remember those who are lost or missing. 

God bless you and your work!


No comments: