‘Daddy if I knew you weren’t coming home…’
The two o clock sky was a bowl of blazed out blue when the first small hints of the horror trickled through on the car radio. By the time we were back with with the load of straw the images were splotched on the TV.
New York, iconic Queen of Cities, was bleeding & we watched with a half detached horror that TV endengers, sympathetic but not involved. Watched the smoke, the falling bodies, the collapse, over & over the plane like some delicate, lost insect fly into the glassy apse of the tower to trigger the horror, watched and went on with our day.
James Michael Gray was to involve us.
James Michael Gray was one of the 343 heroes from the NY Fire Department who died that day. He was also the son of a man who emigrated from Ireland, his grandfather, Paddy Gray, worked beside my uncle as a mechanic. My mother met Paddy the next day. He asked her to pray for Michael, that he was missing.
He would stay missing.
The photographs show a handsome, serious looking young man. He had a wife & two daughters that he loved but that day he was a member of the NYFD . Michael & the men of Ladder 20, Capt. John R. Fischer, 46,John Patrick Burnside, 36
Sean S. Hanley, 35
David Laforge, 50
Robert Thomas Linnane, 33
Robert D. McMahon, 35 all died when Tower 1 (North Tower) collapsed at 10.27am.
More than a month later on October 27th, with no hope of finding Michael’s body, the family held a commeration service. Michael’s 8 year old daughter,Coleen, spoke. Her heartbreaking declaration ‘Daddy if I knew you weren’t coming home I’d let you tickle me a little harder.” has become one of the phrases that defined 9/11.
They were all sons & daughters & grandchildren, all of them who died.They were parents too. Seven thousand children including Colleen lost a parent that day.
Some died because the communications system was a mess. Emergency telephone operators -911- were swamped with calls & had no idea what was happening in the buildings1. Firemen could not communicate on their radios2 so most of those inside Tower 1 were never aware Tower 2 had collapsed or that an immediate evacuation order had been given3.Some the men of Ladder 20 were last seen on the 35 floor, unable to reach their companions by radio to tell them to evacuate. 4
All who died did so because of the actions of very evil men
Men who hated life, who hated others, the hijacker’s & planners of 9/11 saw other people merely as ciphers in thier grand plan to provoke a global war. There are no political excuses, no reasons, no causes for what they did except their own dark hearts. Unfortunately it is all to easy to find verses in the Quran to justify such attacks: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush”(Surah 9, ayah 5) just as it is perfectly possible to find verses that counsel against such action:”Fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you; but do not commit aggression, for, verily, God does not love aggressors” (Surah 2:ayah 190). Man brings to religion his own darkness.
The United States found itself in an invidious position after Sepember 11. The public wanted a range of otions from justice to blood. The Taliban Leadership, already virtually pariah, had no intention of extraditing Osama Bin laden, the Saudi Waahabist mastermind of the horror. Like Austria in 1914 when faced with the obdurate refusal of Serbia to arrest the asassins of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand, the US had little option but invade Afghanistan. For that lack of options the US has paid a terrible price in blood & treasure. So to have the people of Afghanistan paid a terrible price. Why then, in the midst of the quagmire that is an Afghani Campaign, they leaders of the US chose to go to war with & invade Iraq is a question worthy of more serious investigation than I could muster.
Three quarters of those 343 who died from the NYFD were either Irish or of direct Irish descent. Largely those men can be said to have ended up on the ends of ladders & fire hoses in Manhattan that day because of Irish History, the impoverishment of the country by conquest. It is scaldingly ironic then that their faces, their Fire Company t-shirts are worn now as part of the battle dress of conquering army in two countries. Ladder 20, James Grays ladder, is very popular. If Irish history teaches us anything it is that conquerors, however well meaning in the end, are still invaders to be resisted.
War brings out the worst in the worst of men.
We had plenty of evidence that no Quranic verses were needed to give men (and women) permission to do bad things to people in their power. The revalation, just this week, that an Iraqi hotel worker was tortured to death by British soldiers with at least the complicity of a Catholic Priest chaplain & an army doctor5 teaches us again the perils we embrace when when we go to war.
Nothing is the same after this is an abused & hackneyed phrase because all horror fades. What has not faded in the aftermath of 9/11 is the busy body state. In the name of security (and who can deny the need for security when an airplane can be a weapon?) elderly pilgrims to Lourdes must empty their holy water bottles & states employ an army of jobsworths to watch us, search us & spy on us.
In a sense 9/11 is remembered because we saw it. We saw the terror , the horror, and the heroism. In time the heroism will be questioned, like all things are questioned and we will have to remember that ordinary men did the extraordinary: they went into a terrible place armed only with their courage & faith in each other. They did not want to die but much more they did not want to leave their comrades & their duty. We can remember that faith, that heroism, that horror & still avoid both Abu Ghraib & the hysteria that needs constant threat.