About The Firefighter Who Stood With President Bush After 9/11

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Today President Bush turned 69. In commemoration of that, we’d like to share a story from one of the 9/11 firefighters who had a chance to know him.

Bob Beckwith – in his own words.

Mr. Beckwith, 78, was a retired New York fireman who travelled to Ground Zero to help with the rescue operation. He was pictured with George W Bush on a pile of rubble on September 14. He lives in Baldwin, New York, with his wife.

“I have the picture blown up on my living room wall. Every day I’m taken back there – to me and the president.

“My grandson was hit by a car on his bike early that morning. I drove to the hospital, walked in and everybody was watching television. I looked up and saw the second tower come down. It felt like I was stuck in a bad dream. I told my wife: ‘I’m going down there.’ I was 69. I’d been retired seven years. My kids said, ‘Leave it to the young guys’, but I heard on the radio that Michael Boyle, son of my friend Jimmy, was missing. I said: ‘I gotta go find this kid.’

“I went down the next morning, dressed in my old uniform. There was a ring of cops and a ring of National Guard. I had to persuade both to let me through. For days I was going through rubble, finding pieces of people, putting them into bags. It was a bad, bad scene.

“On the 14th we heard the president was coming and they’d set up a microphone stand. I thought I had a pretty good spot and then this guy comes over and says, ‘Is this safe?’ I thought he was a Secret Service guy. I said it was. He said: ‘Show me – jump up and down on it.’ So I did, because you do what the Secret Service says.

“Then the president comes by, but instead of going for the microphone, he takes a right. He puts his arm up and I pull him up with me. I said, ‘You OK, Mr President?’, and he said he was fine and as I start to get down, he says, ‘Where are you going?’, and put his arm around me.

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“He then gave the speech with the bullhorn. The crowd said, ‘We can’t hear you’, and he [replied]: ‘Well I can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.’ There were cheers, people chanting ‘U.S.A.’ It was a terrific moment.

“I didn’t even realise there were cameras. I drove away thinking: ‘Who’s going to believe I was with the president?’ But as I arrived home people were coming out of their houses with candles, coming over to my driveway.

“The kid across the street said: ‘Beck, you were on television!’ I said: ‘Get out of here!’ But when I came in the house, it was on TV. We went to the diner, and it was on TV. And that was the first moment I knew what it meant.

“The phone started ringing but I didn’t want any part of it. But they kept calling – [media people] Diane Sawyer, Rosie O’Donnell. Eventually a friend said: ‘If you don’t tell your story, somebody else is going to tell your story. And who knows it better than you?’ That rang a bell in my head.

“I recorded show after show, telling my story. [When I appeared on the final show] the TV host kept looking at this pamphlet he’s got and smiling. I thought: ‘I’m telling him a sad story, what the hell’s he smiling about?’ I finished and he asked: ‘Were you ever on the cover of Time magazine?’ I said: ‘No.’ He said, ‘You are now’, and he showed me the cover. Life was never the same again.

“I later got a letter from the White House, saying: ‘Thank you for calling me a Secret Service guy. Come to the White House, and I’ll buy you lunch.’ And he signed it: ‘Karl Rove, senior adviser to the president.’

“I did go to the White House. My wife and I had dinner with the president and Laura, and I’ve seen him eight more times since then. He is really a good guy. I won’t say if I voted for him, all I’ll say is in New York, you’re raised a Democrat.

“It was the most important moment of my life. But I still like to keep a low profile. Life goes on, people get older. They test my lungs and they tell me I’m in pretty good shape. A lot of Americans have forgotten about [9/11] because it didn’t happen in their back yard. But it happened in ours, and we took a shellacking here in New York. When I got to Ground Zero I said: ‘Let’s just find one.’ And we didn’t find one [person]. Each day I say a little prayer because of the kids that didn’t make it: 343 firemen, 227 cops. All gone.”

Originally posted here.

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