New York has not been beaten
Padraic H. McDermott
I write because I just hung up the phone with my father on Long Island and I'd like the student body and Notre Dame community to know what's going on in New York City.
My father traveled into the heart of the disaster area today for personal reasons. There he witnessed what he described as the most inspiring sight of his life, besides the most gruesome. The gruesome part is obvious but the inspiration to be derived from this situation might seem more elusive.
My father is not an overly sentimental man and family tragedy is depressing both of us right now, as well as a lot of other people, but his voice contained something different tonight than I've heard in some time. He told of lines of firemen and rescue workers, walking in a gauntlet through mountains of rubble, using sound devices to search for buried survivors.
On the ground, iron workers and construction workers labored to remove debris, while trucks and cranes rolled through the streets. Suddenly the workers would begin to silence each other and orange flags would be raised, for the sound detectors had heard something; within a minute, every truck and crane stopped moving and thousands of men stared in absolute silence at the mountain of rubble, watching for some sign of a life saved. When the signal was given for false alarm, everything would start up again, and everybody would continue with their work, not conversing or becoming overwhelmed as they handed body parts down to medical examiners.
Each man there quietly did his part. Firemen stood by while their deceased brothers were brought to the mortuary truck, where these men in fire bucket pants and boots, dripping in sweat, with masks and tanks hanging off them, would form an honor guard, salute the fallen and lift him into the truck. Then there was no crying, no choking up but an immediate return to duty. Other firemen lay stretched out around the corner resting, while volunteers brought up food and water and anything else they could possibly need. When their turn would come, they would just stand up and march — the cops and the firemen were marching through New York City in columns of two into the heart of the disaster. There were no questions and no signs of anxiety or weariness.
What my father spoke of was men and women dedicating all of their resources to taking care of these rescue workers. He spoke of men on the front lines in burning and collapsing buildings. Many of these men had helped build the World Trade Center and now tore it apart, piece by piece, searching for survivors. Firemen, whole fire companies, arrived from Michigan, Ohio, Chicago, Florida and further.
The word that my father used to describe these men was indomitable. There was something absolutely indomitable in the eyes and body language of these men, as they walked through Manhattan, waiting their turn to head into the nightmare that still rages.
We wanted the Notre Dame community to know that their fellow Americans in New York City have not despaired, have not lost hope; they are not vanquished. They walk with their heads held high, dedicating everything they have to saving lives and putting out the fires of New York. New York has not been beaten.
New Yorkers, though, have been beaten — 10,000, according to the latest Port Authority estimate back home. Please pray for the families of these men and women, and especially for my cousin, Peter O'Neill, the best man I know.
Padraic H. McDermott
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, September 17, 2001