My father, James Laurance Barber, served as a pilot in the newly formed Air Force during the Korean conflict of the early 1950s. Today, Veterans' Day, I honor his service to our country, and that of all veterans who have served and sacrificed so much.
I also want to share something about a young man who died in service to our country, but not as a member of the military; he was a New York City firefighter, one of 343 first responders killed on September 11, 2001, helping others escape the hellish inferno that the World Trade Center towers had become after the planes crashed into them that terrible morning. His name was Michael Brennan of Ladder 4, Division 3, Battalion 9 on the west side of Manhattan. Mike worked in my building in Manhattan for a brief time; that was how I knew him. The news that he was one of the 343 who lost their lives trying to save others hit me hard, and even now, more than thirteen years later, I still experience waves of sadness thinking about how much his family must miss and mourn him.
A few days after the solemn anniversary of 9/11 this year, I received an e mail from someone named Gail Keefe. Gail, it turns out, lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, and had participated in a "stair climb" to honor the fallen heroes of 9/11. The custom at such events is to give each participant a bib with the name and image of a firefighter who perished that day, and Gail wound up choosing Mike's. She wore his name and picture next to her heart as she ran up and down the stairs that day, and afterwards she googled Mike to learn a little about him. The Google, in its infinite wisdom, sent her to this blog, to a post about Mike I wrote more than six years ago, and Gail decided to get in touch with me to tell me about her run and let me know how glad she was to learn that young Mike had been such a decent person and beloved member of the Brennan clan. These are the photos she shared with me from her climb:
That's Gail on the left in the photo at left, and here, reprinted with her permission, is what she wrote about her experience:
Daughter Rachel Keefe Jacobs and I did the 9/11 memorial stair climb this morning. 8 flights of steps 9 times, to remember the 72 flights of stairs firefighters and police officers took to try to save the lives of the many innocent ones trapped in the Twin Towers that fateful day. If I remember the numbers they listed today, there were 343 firefighters lost and 72 police officers lost. So many lost that day, so may brave first responders taken in the act of bravery. We were able to choose a bib with the name of one of the firefighters or officers who died, and I chose Michael Brennan from Ladder 4. As I completed each flight of stairs, I touched his picture and prayed that his family would know how much he still matters. 9/11 happened just a little over a year from the day I almost lost my husband to a sudden cardiac arrest. Through the grace of God and the aid brought to him by first responders, he was saved. Thank you to all who serve in that capacity. Christopher Carlan Mitch Coleman Rest in peace, Michael Brennan. Thank you and everyone who rushed to help others that day. *grateful tears*
More than a decade after 9/11 and half a century after my father's disappearance, like Gail, I too shed grateful tears that brave men and women are willing to put their lives on the line to ensure that ours are still worth living here at home. There are more people alive today who remember and pay tribute to my father and Mike Brennan now than either of them could ever have imagined, and it is the lives they led and the sacrifices they made that have brought so many together in mourning and remembrance the way they have Gail Keefe and me.
Please thank a serviceman or -woman, or a first responder, today and every day! And stay safe out there, everyone.