Diocesan News

Firefighters at Co-Cathedral Never Forget Losses of 9/11

 Firefighters from Battalion 57 march across the Brooklyn Bridge following 9/11 ceremonies at ground zero. (Photos by Maria-Pia Negro Chin)
Firefighters from Battalion 57 march across the Brooklyn Bridge following 9/11 ceremonies at ground zero. (Photos by Maria-Pia Negro Chin)

On a Friday morning, people walking on the Brooklyn Bridge solemnly made way for a group of 50 firefighters marching from Ground Zero to the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, where they celebrated a Mass for those lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The firefighters were carrying 23 flags, one for each of the members of Battalion 57 who perished trying to save lives after the attack on the World Trade Center.

“They were not recovered, so this is a way to bring our brothers back to Brooklyn,” said Firefighter Keith McElwain, who began organizing the annual procession in 2002. “It is a way to honor them every year. …We are marching them (the flags) right into the church, where they will read each person’s name.”

The firefighters commemorating the lives and sacrifice of their brothers included men from Engine 219, Ladder 105, relatives and firemen from Long Island, New Jersey and California.

“There were so many guys that were lost on that day – units that were completely decimated. It is difficult when you lose so many people and our hearts go to these guys,” said Terry James Wilson, one of the 14 firefighters who came from Anaheim, Calif. “We march with them every year.”

He added that about 90 members of the Anaheim Fire Department have come to the procession since this tradition started to show solidarity with their “brothers on Dean Street.”

“I’ve been doing it for 14 years and I’ll do it for as long as I can,” said Firefighter Charles Kawas, who carried the flag of his friend, Captain Vincent Brunton, into Brooklyn.

The procession stopped by Engine 226 to honor another member of Battalion 57. Then they continued their procession, passing by their own firehouse, where families joined them on their way to the Co-Cathedral to participate in a Mass celebrated by Msgr. Kieran Harrington, rector.

They processed through the streets of Brooklyn to St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, where a memorial Mass was celebrated by the rector, Msgr. Kieran Harrington. (Photo by Ed Wilkinson)
They processed through the streets of Brooklyn to St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, where a memorial Mass was celebrated by the rector, Msgr. Kieran Harrington. (Photo by Ed Wilkinson)

During the Mass on the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, firefighters, relatives and friends also celebrated the lives of all 2,977 people who were murdered in the attack, including 343 New York City Fire Department members.

“I came to the Mass because I lost my uncle in the South tower. I’ve been coming here since I was six years old,” said Bryan Gerard McAleese. “It is important to be here because it shows how much we care and it is honoring those who we lost.”

Bob Kelly, who was carrying the flag representing his late brother Tom Kelly from Ladder 105, said he wanted to honor all those who were lost, and to remind people “to never forget this day and try to remember all the good that came out of it.”

During his homily, Msgr. Harrington acknowledged the solidarity and kindness that emerged after Sept. 11, where neighbors were present to one another amid their suffering. He also talked about how even when, after 14 years, some people think about forgetting about this day, New Yorkers remember because it is a commemoration of those loved ones who passed to eternal life.

“We remember their faith, we remember their love and we seek to make present that same sacrifice, that same love, that same courage each day in our lives,” he said.

Firefighter Thomas Callahan spoke of the “courage, selflessness and bravery” of the firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics who responded to the attack.

“They had one thing on their mind and one thing only and that was to save lives and they did. They helped save thousands. They are truly heroes,” Callahan said. “We are going to carry their teachings and they will never be forgotten.”

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