Soledad O'Brien: An Uptown memorial for New York's bravest
New York firefighters observe a moment of silence Sunday at the city's firefighters memorial at Riverside Park.
September 11th, 2011
02:48 PM ET

Soledad O'Brien: An Uptown memorial for New York's bravest

Among the memorials placed along Riverside Drive in Manhattan's Upper West Side is a massive statue - 12 feet long and 8 feet wide, and easily one of the most beautiful. It was dedicated in 1913 to firefighters who died on the job, but for the past 10 years it's become a focal point for members of the New York Fire Department. It's become a place to carve out a private ceremony where each year after 9/11 they've remembered the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the terror attacks of that day.

"It's not about speeches and it's not about politicians," FDNY Lt. Ken Durante told me. His title is "event organizer," but really he's the guy wrangling the dozen TV crews and cameras that have set up at 100th Street and Riverside Drive, about eight miles north of ground zero. They didn't want the media attention. This memorial was intended to be simple and to focus on the firefighters. But a bit of controversy - when firefighters were not invited to Sunday's ground zero ceremonies - focused more attention on this usually low-key event.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano says not going down to the site of the World Trade Center attacks is no big deal. Firefighters want to remember the day in their own way, with their own colleagues.

The Uptown ceremony unfolds with prayer and moments of silence to mark the terrible timeline that many of us will never forget - the moments the planes hit and the towers fell. Then, similar to the ceremony at ground zero, the reading of the 343 names. A bell chimes after each one. The sheer number, the massive loss, has changed the way firefighters view their job and train new recruits. Many experienced firefighters perished when the towers fell and hundreds of cumulative years of service and experience were lost.

The reading of the names takes more than half an hour. The simplicity seems to make the ceremony even more intense and emotional. It's not warm, but two firefighters are overcome and carried off through the crowd.

When the last name is read, Katie Devlin walks through the sea of blue uniforms to the microphone. Her father was Battalion Chief Dennis Devlin, who died at the World Trade Center. She sings "Amazing Grace." With no accompaniment, her pretty voice floats over those assembled. She sounds strong and confident. But close to the song's end, she begins to falter; her voice wavers. "I once was lost ..." she sings, but she simply can't continue. Katie starts sobbing softly. The crowd of firefighters, still standing at attention, and their families and the random New Yorkers who are jogging by or walking their dogs begin to clap for her, trying to give her courage. Katie starts up again, soft and hesitant. "... but now I'm found. Was blind, but now I see." She has finished strong, and the crowd breaks into applause again. Many of us are crying with her as the ceremony ends.

By noon the crowd has dispersed. Many of these firefighters will head back to their firehouses in Brooklyn, Staten Island and other parts of New York. Others tell me they're heading to church. And several say they will "just head downtown" to be near the site that was a graveyard for 343 fire fighters who were lost on 9/11.

Left behind are nine rows of American flags, each one stuck in the ground to symbolize a fallen firefighter. They run in perfect lines up the hill to the firefighters monument, now surrounded by flowers.

Five firefighters started this tradition the first year after 9/11. They want to remain anonymous, saying the event isn't about anyone other than the heroes who died that day. They drafted their plan over a kitchen table in the Bronx 10 years ago. Today they accomplished what they set out to do: keep a focus on those who drove toward or walked or ran into the burning towers, well aware of the danger they were facing. There have been no speeches, no politicians shaking hands with constituents. It is firefighters remembering firefighters.

They'll be back next year to do it again.

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Filed under: New York • September 11 • Terrorism • U.S.
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. RUFFNUTT ( 15TH LVL WARRIOR & ELF SLAYER )

    if i was there i would set of a pack of fire crac kers..

    September 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. RUFFNUTT (15TH LVL WARRIOR & ELF SLAYER)

    343 civilian firefighters lost their lives just because of terrorists from the other side of the world. Just shows how far evil can travel...hey fakey.give it a rest. Just for today 9/11.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RUFFNUTT ( TROLL SLAYER & KUNG-FU PANDA TRAINER )

    LAME FAKEY..

    September 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RUFFNUTT ( TROLL SLAYER & KUNG-FU PANDA TRAINER )

    i would like TO LACE some trollchow with some anitfreeze

    September 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy©

    I cried just reading this.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I did several times today. First when I heard the bagpipes and throughout the day.

      September 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Troll burger

    all you can eat special, trolls___> ()*() FREE WHILE IT LASTS,00:::::::> *** DESERT ONE PER TROOL PLEASE!

    September 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RUFFNUTT ( TROLL SLAYER & KUNG-FU PANDA TRAINER )

    @banasy... those firefighters were real heros.. i'll always remember " they were running in while everyone was running out..."
    .

    September 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    @Ruffie:
    Yes, they were. But in my humble opinion, *all* firefighters are heros.
    Most of them just don't like the limelight...bobcat2u.

    Whether they gave their life, or are continuing the good fight, they have my undying respect.

    I know many firefighter; good men and women, all.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. White Rabbit

    Soledad is hot as sh:t I would totally try 2 bang her if she wanted 2 interview me. It would be an exclusive report on the size of my Kurt Russell and destruction has caused.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Wife2Geek

    Great Article!

    September 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Wife2Geek

    My heart goes out to all the firefighters and people of 911. Soledad "you're doing a great job with your work!"

    September 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Scottish Mama

    Checked the site nothing before I left for the disapointing Rams game. There was alot of singing, rememberances, flag ceremony with our firefighters and police officers, and pictures of the men and women firefighters and police officers at other games. I would like to say Thank you to s kel and bobcat2u. s kel I hope you recognize this angel, so you know who I am, so you know I was with you in spirit today. I know what your thinkin' just smile and take it like men, cause i am gonna say it anyway. Banasy I know also you and the guys lost some people close to you, or in your family of firefighters my condolences.
    Soledad wonderful tasteful tribute to some special, selfless men and women.

    September 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. OMG

    this whole month is 911, Y'all realize that right!

    September 11, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. michaelfury

    http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/truth-crushed-to-earth-shall-rise/

    September 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. s kel

    just got in from the memoral at the pentagon, also went to a smaller less know memoral at arlington cemetary on those killed on that day at the pentagon. met this guy crying there ,told me hes lost 42 of his staff there. I told him i was there as a firefighter and remember every one dead. We talked some more gave a hug, and went on our seperate ways. Im still haunted by that day.

    September 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
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