The September 11th we were supposed to have in 2001 included Panda's first day of pre-school.
Panda of course is my now 23-year-old daughter Miranda.
One final hug, and my three-year-old would begin her path to a bachelors in journalism from THE Ohio State University.
Where she earned the nickname Buck Wheat.
But that September 11th was not to be.
THE Other Billy
For nearly twenty-years, William McGinn, was the other Billy in my life.
During a time spanning the last decade of my father’s career and the first decade of mine, Billy McGinn in a string of New York City firefighters hired to work part-time behind the counter at Tremont Paint.
Known for their flexible schedule which could easily accommodate “side hustles,” firefighters of the FDNY were common on both sides of the counter at my family’s Bronx paint stores.
Billy earned his paint geek creds carrying metal deuces, two-gallon cans, of Alkyd Sani-Flat. The oil based flat from Benjamin Moore a best seller in the Bronx in the days before VOC regulations. At over 30-pounds the cans outweighed any others we sold.
In the store he preferred a hand truck to the Fireman’s Carry.
With charms which rivaled even my father’s, paired with stories of fantastic adventure from his shifts on the streets of the Bronx, Billy was popular with co-workers and customers alike.
You Can’t Hang with this Squad
The FDNY’s Squad 18 is one of seven squad companies in New York trained in special operations. As Squad 18’s lieutenant, Billy spent his days leading the daring rescue missions which the companies are known for.
From 125th Street south to the southern tip of Manhattan, “rivuh to rivuh,” more than 1,000,000 New Yorkers counted on Billy and his fellow firefighters to be their last line of defense against the forces which try to pull us from the earth.
Stationed on West Tenth Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, Squad 18 was less than two-miles away when at 8:46 the call went out that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had been struck by an aircraft.
Beginning a terrorist attack which remains a scar on the memory of each of the 8,000,000 New Yorkers I shared the city with that day.
Heading to the Bronx after the pre-k opening ceremonies the world was still unaware of the damage that had been done.
I turned to news radio for updates on the unfolding drama. But I didn’t need to.
Through my car's windshield some 20-miles from my spot on the New York State Thruway, were the burning superstructures of New York's Twin Towers. And the thick black smoke of the terrorist’s rage.
In the store, customers and employees huddled around a television with a pixel count which made the device more suitable as a radio. Awaiting details of the size of this tragedy.
“Is Billy on the job today?” I asked as my employees and customers watched the first tower collapse. Using Billy’s own colloquialism to describe the days he worked at his full-time career.
It would be three-hours until word came thats billy was with his squad at the time that call came in.
It would be three weeks before Billy's remains were recovered from the rubble on the spot which by then was called Ground Zero.
Ashes to ashes.
There were an estimated 20,000 people terrorized at the World Trade Center that day. In the plane crashes and building collapses, 2966 of them died.
In the greatest single act of heroism this country has even seen, Billy McGinn and the firefighters of the FDNY saved the rest.
Captain William E. McGinn
June 18, 1958-September 11, 2001