A post I did in September of 2006, originally entitled “September 11th, 2001 – “We Lost David”. It is the ongoing fulfillment of a promise made in the last sentence of the post. This is what 9/11 should be about.
Each week I do a tribute on Boston’s WRKO 680am called “Someone You Should Know” about a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who’s been awarded a medal for valor in combat. Those medals represent their actions above and beyond the call of duty. But, as we all know, valor and courage aren’t exclusive to the military or combat. And no better example of that is what the courageous men and women of fire, rescue and police did that awful day in September of 2001 when terrorists attacked our country by flying commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
A few weeks ago I signed on to an effort called the “2996 Project” organized by a blog to do a tribute to each and every one of those who died on that day. Three thousand bloggers are participating. The names were assigned randomly. When you signed up, you got whoever was next.
I was honored to draw the name of David Halderman Jr.
Of course, I never knew David Halderman. I’d never previously seen his name or if I had, it never registered beyond that of a person who’d died that day in those barbaric attacks. But when I began to research David, I found a man for whom my admiration and respect knew no bounds.
You see, David Halderman was a firefighter with Squad 18 of FDNY.
On that grim day in September, FDNY lost 343 of its finest who, disregarding their own safety, rushed toward the scene of the disaster while others were running away. It is estimated they saved over 20,000 souls that day. In the finest tradition of firefighters everywhere, they never hesitated. David Halderman, Jr. was among them.
Squad 18 is located in Greenwich Village. When the towers were hit, Squad 18 responded immediately. All seven firefighters on duty that morning were lost.
A visitor to New York just prior to 9/11 happened to remember Squad 18 for a particular reason:
This past Labor Day weekend, one of the youngest attendees, my nephew Beau, was walking with his mom and aunt past Firehouse #18 in Greenwich Village. Beau asked if they could stop. Three firefighters took the time to show Beau and his sister the fire truck and posed for some pictures.
Among the three firefighters who so made those visitors feel so welcome was David.
After returning home to Alaska, and following the terrible events of 9/11, Beau asked his mom if the guys in the picture were OK. After checking back with Squad #18, and showing them the picture, my sister in New York learned that “Chris and Harry made it. We lost David.” The photograph was the last picture taken of him.
As I looked further and further into the life of David Halderman, I found a man who was worthy of love, admiration and respect. He was a 2nd generation firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father and namesake who had very recently died. His brother also was with FDNY.
The fact that he’d taken time out of his day to spend with a young visitor from Alaska seemed something completely in character for him. The fact he’d responded immediately to the disaster of the World Trade Center came as no surprise either. His mother remembers the night before:
On Monday night, David Halderman called his mother in Brentwood to comfort her, as he has done regularly since his father died on Aug. 8.
“I asked him to have a good night, to be careful, to be safe, and I told him I loved him,” his mother, Geraldine Halderman, said. “That was the last time I spoke to him.”
“I love you, take care of yourself.” That was how David Halderman always ended his telephone conversations with his mother.
The next day fate and tragedy took David Halderman while performing the duty to which he’d dedicated his life:
On Tuesday morning, Halderman, a firefighter with Engine-Squad 18 in the West Village, entered the World Trade Center to help victims escape. He is now among the missing city firefighters.
“He was in the building when it collapsed,” Geraldine Halderman said. “They found his helmet. That’s all they found.”
The helmet was identified by its badge – No. 10652, the same badge number used by Halderman’s late father.
Where do we get such men? In the face of every human instinct which tells us to flee, they resist that and walk into danger, risking their lives to help others escape and live. Courage and valor are rare commodities. That’s why we revere and reward them. Those attributes were displayed by hundreds of the fire and rescue people who responded with David Halderman Jr. on that grim and horrid day in September of 2001. As a nation watched in stunned horror, men like David were saving lives.
A few days ago, David’s mother left this message on his memorial site:
Dear David, Five Years! My son you are in my thoughts and prayers every day. I have moved from the house where you grew up,it was too much for me alone. I carry all my memories in my heart. I know you are with me always, you are the voice within me that says “don’t be afraid” when I am sad or anxious. The ache in my heart remains, dulled with time but always present even through the laughter and happy times. There have been weddings and a birth since you left us,and you have been missed so much and remembered at those times. I love you forever.
Life goes on but the hurt never goes away, and mothers suffer a special agony which comes with losing their children. But we are all poorer for the loss of David and those like him. It is they who define what is good and right about us. It is they who show us what man can be. It is they who give us hope for the future.
September 11th is the day to remember those, who like David Halderman Jr., gave their lives in the service of others. I didn’t know David Halderman before this year. But I do now. He was a man to both admire and respect. And every subsequent September 11th I will remember and honor his name. It is the least we can do for the heros among us.