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Absent Friendsby S. J. Rozan
Boys' Own Book
Secrets No One Knew
July 4, 1976
Four boys, three girls, high and soaring, skin sizzling, tingling under the dizzying stars. Everything open and opening: the ragtop to the sky, the sky endlessly to the huge summer night. This night to their limitless lives.
Everything opening: In the black sky tight bright bursts eclipse the luminous moon, explode as fiery streaks, fountains of scarlet, rockets of silver, purple blooms and sprays of green. On the radio rising swells of tinny music; from the car shouts and applause.
Everything opening: the girls to the boys, not for the first time, but with a new, laughing heat. The boys to each other, grunts and shrugs and grins their fiercely sworn oaths, beer cans their glittering tokens of fealty.
Everything, everything opening: surprisingly, newly, the boys to the girls.
The boys? One is quiet, and one sure; one eager; and one flying, as always, too near the sun. The girls are royalty to these boys, have been since their memories began; and now, as the boys turn into men, the girls are knowing, wise, and real to them in ways they are not yet to themselves.
All would tell you.
And on this patriotic night, this celebration of association, when people all around them are reveling in the sheer staggering luck of being born into the community they would most want to be part of--what are they feeling, these boys and girls? Not fear, not on a night like this, when together they could conquer invading intergalactic armies, with grace and ease they could defeat rock-blind, howling swamp men burning with destruction. Not fear, but the hope of an anchor. The need for each other's weight in the whirlwind. "You Are Here" marked on a mental map. One of the boys leaving in the morning, everyone else to stay. All have been told by men and women, older and more tired, that the marked spot shrinks to nothing, that no ballast can hold, that the buoy above the anchor disappears in the bobbling waves.
Not one of the seven believes it.
It can be said that here the story begins, though it has been going on for some time. No story has a true beginning, and none has an ending, either.
From the New York Tribune, October 16, 2001
A HERO REMEMBERED:
CAPT. JAMES MCCAFFERY
by Harry Randall
Third in a Series of Profiles of the Lost Heroes of September 11
Note to readers: September 11 produced countless heroes. Many are still with us; others perished. Some final acts of bravery and sacrifice will never be known. The New York Tribune joins a grateful city in saluting all our unsung heroes.
There are others among the lost whose final deeds stand out in memory. In this series the Tribune profiles some of these heroes, as a testimony to their courage and to the character and pride of all New Yorkers.
"First in, last out."
With these words, spoken by a surviving member of Ladder Co. 62, Capt. James McCaffery was eulogized before a crowd of 2,500 at a memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Monday, October 15. McCaffery, 46, one of the most decorated firefighters in the history of the New York City Fire Department and the focus of a memorial fund, was remembered by speakers including the Mayor, the Fire Commissioner, the Governor's Chief of Staff, and firefighters who had served with McCaffery or under his command. Firefighters from nearly every state in the union stood shoulder to shoulder in the cathedral aisles, ceding the pews to members of the FDNY and to McCaffery's family and friends.
Because of his long and distinguished career--and, paradoxically, his lifelong distaste for publicity--James McCaffery's story has captured the imagination, and the hearts, of New Yorkers. He has been cited as a example of the courage and character of the FDNY on the day of the worst terrorist attacks in American history.
Ladder 62, housed in a landmark firehouse on West 11th Street, was one of the first companies to respond to reports that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, arriving at the scene minutes before the second plane struck. Multiple accounts from survivors credit McCaffery's organization of their evacuation with saving hundreds of lives. Repeatedly noted was McCaffery's "calm, in-control" demeanor and a sense he conveyed that "the situation was in hand." More than one survivor spoke of McCaffery's smile. "He didn't say anything," said Baz Woods, a law firm clerk. "But he made me feel like things weren't so bad. Like someone was in charge."
"That was definitely Jimmy," Thomas Molloy, a prominent Staten Island businessman, childhood friend of McCaffery's, and founder of the McCaffery Memorial Fund, told the Tribune. "You always knew Jimmy could take care of things."
James McCaffery grew up in the Pleasant Hills neighborhood on Staten Island. He left over two decades ago but is still regarded as a local hero.
"Oh, no question," said Father Dennis Connor, pastor of St. Ann's Church in Pleasant Hills. "Through all these years, we'd read in the papers about him, some brave thing he'd done, and we'd all be thinking, that's our Jimmy."
James McCaffery always wanted to be a firefighter. "He had a red plastic helmet someone gave him when he was three," said Mr. Molloy's ex-wife, Victoria. "He wore it all the time. When it got too small, he still kept squashing it on. His father had to buy him another one."
McCaffery is remembered as a quiet boy who captained the varsity baseball team at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School. "Jimmy never talked much," said Mike Pidhirny, retired head coach. "I never remember him riding anyone. It all went into his game. Jimmy expected a lot from himself, and he made the other guys want to give as much as he did. We made the play-offs every season he played. We won two division titles."
McCaffery entered the FDNY Academy in 1976 at the age of 21. His first assignment was to Engine 168, in Pleasant Hills.
"We watched him grow up," recalled Owen McCardle, a firefighter retired from Engine 168, who has been digging at Ground Zero since September 11. "Used to come around all the time when he was a kid, try to help out, wash down the truck, stuff like that. Did well at the Academy. Could have got assigned anywhere, put in for here. Once he was in, we couldn't shake him. Go out on a run, come back and this probie, not even on duty but he's frying up bacon, ready to scramble eggs."
In a move that surprised people in Pleasant Hills, McCaffery applied for a transfer in 1980 and was assigned to Ladder 10 in Manhattan. He moved to a Greenwich Village apartment near his new firehouse and never returned to live or work on Staten Island.
"He lost two friends within a year," said Marian Gallagher, the director of the More Art, New York! Foundation. Ms. Gallagher grew up with McCaffery and now heads the McCaffery Memorial Fund, whose mission is to aid the FDNY's outreach and recruitment efforts. "I think he just felt a need to start over. But he never forgot where he came from. One of the friends who died left a son. Jimmy helped raise him."
"Definitely, I joined the Department because of Uncle Jimmy," said Kevin Keegan, 24, the son of Mark Keegan, a close childhood friend of McCaffery's who died at the age of 23. Kevin Keegan is a probationary firefighter at Engine 168 who had been on the job just three months on September 11. His right leg and arm were badly burned by falling debris as he and other firefighters prepared to enter the north tower. Keegan is currently in rehabilitation at the Burke Center in Westchester. "Uncle Jimmy was there the whole time I was growing up," Keegan continued. "If I was in trouble, or had a problem or something, he'd be on the phone, he'd show up at our door. I could count on him."
Keegan, the Tribune has learned, is the beneficiary of Captain McCaffery's FDNY life insurance policy. "That's Jimmy. Still taking care of us," said Keegan's mother, Sally. "No matter where he was, Kevin and I could always go to Jimmy."
After Ladder 10, McCaffery served with Engine 235 in Brooklyn and then in three other Manhattan companies, including three years with Rescue Co. 1, before being given the command of Ladder Co. 62. From his probationary days at Engine 168, McCaffery's fearlessness stood out. "He wasn't reckless," said his mentor, Owen McCardle. "Jimmy never made a move until he took the situation in. But sometimes we had to pull him back all the same. One thing you learn on this job: sometimes you have to let something burn. Let something go to save something else. Jimmy never wanted to believe that. Superman, we called him. Save everyone, that's what Jimmy wanted."
In a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from 1984, McCaffery is in midair, leaping the gap from one rooftop to another, silhouetted against smoke and flame. Another picture, taken in 1988, shows him being lowered on a rope to rescue a baby held out the window of a burning third-floor apartment. McCaffery brought the baby up and was lowered a second time to save the mother. He tied the rope around her, signaled firefighters to pull her up, then disappeared into the building in search of another child. He found her crouching in a closet with the family cat. As the fire went to three alarms, McCaffery staggered from the building, ankle badly twisted and with bloody parallel lines of scratches on his face and hands. EMS workers rushed forward and took from him a blanket-wrapped, unhurt child clutching her terrified cat.
There are other stories: a dive into the Hudson in a rainstorm to pull a man from a sinking boat. Using his turnout coat to smother the flames on a man whose clothes were burning. Many stories. And after each act of heroism, James McCaffery--most often smiling widely--thanked well-wishers, returned to his firehouse, and refused all requests for interviews.
Three times McCaffery was admitted to NYU Medical Center, twice to the Burn Unit, with injuries that would have made him eligible for retirement. Each time he was back on the job within months. FDNY Assistant Chief Aleck Wagman acknowledges McCaffery to have been a source of "institutional knowledge." "Men were anxious to serve under him. Not just the new guys, everyone. Anyone could learn something from Jimmy. He'll be badly missed."
"At the other houses he worked, he wouldn't let them call him Superman," Owen McCardle recalls. "Like it embarrassed him. But tell you the truth, it was always who he wanted to be."
McCaffery lived alone in a small, spare apartment on West 12th Street and never married. "The Job was his family," said Ted Fitzgerald, retired captain of Engine 235. "There's always guys like that, every generation. They're the backbone of this Department, and on 9/11 we lost way too many of them."
McCaffery's heroism on September 11 is by now legendary. Elizabeth Murray, an attorney, made the trip down 28 flights of stairs with others from her firm. Murray, her firm's fire warden, was among the last to evacuate her floor. She spoke of McCaffery's "swift and total" understanding of the tragedy. "There was fire on our floor from the elevator shaft. People were burned, and some had been hit by debris that exploded out when the doors blew open. There was a lot of smoke, and we were cut off from our stairs." The men of Ladder 62 directed the crowds away from the fire to an open stairwell, assisting the injured and, in the words of another survivor, "defusing the hysteria, everyone screaming and running around."
"He seemed to know exactly how much time we had to get out," Murray said of Captain McCaffery. "He said if we didn't panic, we'd be all right. He could have come out with us. We just barely made it. I really think he knew that the tower was going to come down. None of us remotely thought it would, at that time."
McCaffery was last seen by Murray heading another way. "He went up," she said. "He told his men, 'Get control of this, take these people out of here.' He meant the panic, the confusion. Then he looked around, like he was taking it all in. He said something like 'The job's up there.' One of the others, another firefighter, said, 'If you're going, Captain, I'm going with you.' Some of them went." Murray's eyes filled with tears. "He was smiling when he pulled open that staircase door. I'll never forget it. All the way down, I wondered what made him smile like that. I remember thinking, Well, when this is over, I'll look him up and ask him."
Deputy Chief Gino Aiello was at the north tower command station when the evacuation order was issued. "Some of the companies didn't respond," Aiello said in an interview. "A lot of the radios were out, so we don't know if they got the order. But Ladder 62 heard us. Captain McCaffery responded. He was on 44. He said he had injured up there, and he was bringing them out. He had three men with him. 'We'll be down as soon as we can, Chief. There's a lot of injured.' That's what he said. I don't know how he was planning to bring a lot of injured down 44 flights with three men, but if anyone could talk the injured into getting up and walking--the injured, maybe even the dead--it was Jimmy McCaffery."
Ladder 62 lost four men that day. Funerals and memorial services for the other three firefighters have already been held. "This is how Jimmy would have wanted it," Owen McCardle said. "He would have expected the other men to be taken care of first. He was their captain. First in, last out."
Boys' Own Book
Abraham Lincoln and the Pig
October 30, 1968
Eleven years old: Four boys, three girls, and they weave through each other's lives the same as through the open doors of the houses up and down the street. These kids know one another the way they know these blocks, the trees and sidewalks and everyone's backyard. Jimmy can't remember--no one remembers--a time when the other ones weren't there.
When they were little, their moms brought them to the park or to each other's houses; on Saturday their dads took the whole bunch to the beach, to the zoo. It's different now that they're bigger, now that they go to school: Jimmy--with Markie, Marian, Sally, Vicky--is at PS 12; and the Molloys, Tom and Jack, go to St. Ann's, study with the nuns. It doesn't change who they are to each other; it's just, this way, some things about each other are stories, legends almost: only some of the kids see, but everyone knows.
Copyright© 2004 by S.J. Rozan
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