Russell and Duenes

Memorial Day: Bravery That Deserves to Be Remembered

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FDNYI was watching PBS’s “American Experience” series on New York, and the final episode is devoted entirely to the life of the two World Trade towers, from their conception to their destruction. Of course I had known that many firefighters died on 9/11, but I did not know how many. Of the approximately 2,800 people killed in the attack, some 340 or so of them were NYFD. One of the commentators in the documentary articulated something I could not, but about which I have thought many times since 9/11, namely, that all of those people hanging out of the burning windows in the towers could see civilization below them, but could not get to it. And he wondered what that must have been like for them. It is a haunting thought, to think of oneself in that situation, likely realizing that you will never again see anything of what you are looking at in the world below, all that you have held dear. I cannot help but think that many of those firefighters, as they entered the towers, knew they were not coming out again, and yet they went in anyway.

Speaking of 9/11, let me again make a plug for the film, United 93. The film was criticized for re-opening the wounds of the victims, and perhaps, for making Muslims look bad. No one in my family was a victim of 9/11, so I cannot speak to that, though I would not fault someone for skipping the movie if that’s the case for him or her. As for the film portraying Muslims in a bad light, it does no such thing. It is entirely dispassionate in its dramatization of what happened on that flight, and therein lies its power. It memorializes the bravery of the men and women on that plane who came to realize what was going on, and who took action, well knowing they too were most likely going to die that day. One wonders again what goes through the minds of men and women who exercise such selfless bravery.

killedatnewtownWe do well to remember the bravery of the six teachers killed in the Newtown massacre. Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto. President Obama rightly said of them that their bravery “captures our belief in something bigger than ourselves – our willingness to accept certain obligations to one another and to embrace the idea that we’re all in this together.” In the hum-drum of our ordinary days, one rarely imagines that she will be called upon to give her life for someone else, and when a murderer is upon you with a gun, your reaction is simply what is in you, in your character, at that moment. Rachel D’Avino was only 29 and well on her way toward earning a PhD. Dawn Hochsprung apparently saved the lives of other teachers while she confronted the murderer. She had children and grandchildren. Anne Marie Murphy, 52, was apparently found dead covering students. She had four children of her own. Lauren Rousseau was 30 and trying desperately to become a full-time teacher. She was substituting for a teacher on the day of the shootings. Apparently Mary Sherlach, along with principal Hochsprung, moved toward the killer, rather than away. Victoria Soto, 27, apparently hid students in an attempt to save them.

Of course, we have all been reminded of ordinary bravery in the aftermath of the recent tornado in Oklahoma. I remember the story of one teacher at an elementary school in the tornado’s path who apparently piled mattresses on top of students and then got on top of them in an attempt to protect them from the storm. Fortunately they all survived. There were countless such acts along the path of devastation.

skutnikFinally, my mind goes to the 1982 crash of Air Florida, flight 90, into the icy Potomac River. I was in middle school when it happened. The Washington Post tells the story: “As a blinding snowstorm gripped the region, Air Florida Flight 90 clipped the 14th Street bridge on takeoff and plunged into the river, killing 74 passengers and four people on the bridge. Amid the chaos and sadness, several acts of bravery stood out: a helicopter pilot who plucked survivors from the freezing river; a medic who climbed out to grab a victim too weak to help herself; two bystanders who could no longer bear to watch helplessly from the sidelines. One of the injured passengers, later identified as Arland Williams Jr. of Atlanta, drowned after passing the lifeline repeatedly to others. They saved five people.” One man’s bravery, Lenny Skutnik, is worth recounting. (See video)



Written by Michael Duenes

May 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm

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