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. OMG

    @ s kel, so sorry to hear of your pain and the horrific scenes you had to endure
    I'm here brother, I'm here

    September 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. s kel

    Thank you, OMG.

    September 11, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. OMG

    your welcome. I really couldn't watch, too much for me to bare. You ok now? you gonna be able to sleep?

    September 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. s kel

    Im going to get in my,car go to the u s capitol building walk around tonight,its beautiful there think, thank God its still there, because it could have been worse, even thou the planewas brought down in pa, I knew three that died ther in the pentagon,asia cottom,bryan , hell i forgot his last name but both were on flight 77 both were kids in fifth grade.

    September 11, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @s kel-saw your post after I said goodnight to gung. Thought of you today, I thought you must of been dashing in your uniform today. I bet it has been a long day for you, meeting people like at arlington must bring familiarity and comfort to know you are not alone. May you and your mind have a restful sleep.

      September 11, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. OMG

    You said you knew these two from 5th grade ?

    September 11, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. OMG

    Hey S kel. catch ya later bear hug man!

    September 11, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. s kel

    Thank u Scottish Mama, and no OMG , I knew the kids.

    September 11, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. michaelfury

    Listen to their brothers on the day:

    September 12, 2011 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  9. justathought

    If these kids didn't know what 9/11 was all about, what about American kids 10- 15 years down the line. Did you know that there are kids that don't know the 4th of July is all about? There are some adults that don't know what Memorial Day is about, not to mention Christmas, in spite of the fact that the meaning is in the name.

    September 12, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mark L.

    I am SO ELATED, he's DEAD, GONE and BURNING IN HELL NOW !!!!!!!! Osama bin Laden, that is...

    September 13, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. mjmn

    My heart is with firefighters n first responders. They are the unsung heroes every day of their lives, bless then. My father was a firefighter,first responder n fire chiel/fire marshall. I was with him as the tragedy of 9/11 unfolded and I could see through my tears...his tears...and saw him wanting to be there with every fiber of his being! That moment of time is frozen in my mind. Little did I know that three years later he would also die, and he died as he lived..serving humankind. Peace, love and comfort to you all.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
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