Jim Smith is now a retired NYPD officer, but on the morning of 9/11 he was an instructor of law at the police academy. His wife, Moira, was a patrol officer assigned to the Thirteenth Precinct on Twenty-first Street, around the corner from the academy, and she responded to the World Trade Center. Moira helped one person out of the South Tower to safety and had returned to help others in the evacuation when the building fell.
In thinking about 9/11 and Moira’s death, I don’t think I ever got to the rage stage. I was angry about a lot of things, but I knew I couldn’t make it be about me. It couldn’t be Poor me. It couldn’t be I’m a victim of this tragedy. Rather than mourning Moira, I prefer to celebrate her. To celebrate who she was and what she did rather than commiserate about how she died. A tragedy would have been if she had been coming home from work at 4:00 in the morning and got hit by a drunk driver. The way she charged into those buildings time and again to get people out—that wasn’t a tragedy. That was heroism, the definition of what it is to be a hero. I focused on that.
Zack Fletcher is a New York City firefighter, as was his twin brother, Andre. Both brothers played football for Brooklyn Tech High School, and also football and baseball for the FDNY teams, in addition to being volunteer firefighters on Long Island. Andre was killed on 9/11 while working with Rescue 5 in the North Tower.
Over at Bellevue they still have a lot of body parts but just don’t have the DNA technology to positively identify them ... The professional fireman in me tells me that he’s not coming back. I’ve accepted that, and that’s what’s helped me move on. A lot of the things that I’ve gone through and that I’ve strived to become are not just for me anymore, but for both of us. I’m living for both of us. It’s one thing to be brothers and siblings; it’s another to be twins. Twins often feel the same thing. But when the North Tower fell, I didn’t feel anything—there was no feeling of separation. That’s why I still hold on to that little hope.
Brendan Ielpi is a New York City firefighter assigned to Ladder Co. 157 in Brooklyn. He was a probationary firefighter for just three months when he responded to Ground Zero with other firefighters who had reported in, arriving there just after the second building collapsed. His father, Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter from Rescue Co. 2, also responded to the site. Brendan’s brother, Jonathan, and every man in his company, Squad 288, were killed in the South Tower.
I don’t know if it was my young mind, my innocence. I was only twenty-five years old then, and I thought I knew everything. I was so naive about the world. We were so pampered growing up—no war, no fighting. Everything was great. I’d never seen anything like what I was seeing on 9/11, and most people haven’t. But I got to work. Whatever they told me to do that day, I did. That first day I just had to root around the pile with my hands, feeling for anything.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from A Decade of Hope by Dennis Smith. Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Smith.