A collection of remembrances of New York City firefighters and police officers who died on 9/11 as told by their parents.
Besides the physical devastation wrought by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers in 2001, there was a reverberating emotional toll, especially on the families that lost loved ones. Debut author O’Donnell gathers 10 of those stories here—nine detailing the lives of firefighters and one a police detective. Each chapter provides a concise biography of the fallen, including the details leading up to the fall of the towers, and then explores the grieving aftermath of their families chiefly from the perspective of their parents. Two of the civil servants profiled were brothers—John Vigiano was a firefighter and his younger brother, Joseph, a police detective. Joseph led a life of valor. He was wounded by gunfire three times in a career dotted with commendations. The biographical vignettes cover much more than the professional outlines of their subjects; they reach back into their childhoods and furnish a full account of the kinds of men they were. Firefighter Christopher Pickford took theater classes and wrote plays and spent countless hours writing and playing music. Firefighter Capt. Tommy Haskell was a successful high school athlete and a star on the New York City Fire Department’s football team. Parents of the deceased mourn in strikingly diverse ways. Barbara Hetzel, the mother of firefighter Thomas J. Hetzel, joined a group specifically for grieving parents run by the fire department. Maureen Santora, mother of firefighter Christopher Santora, wrote two children’s books, one about a mother’s unconditional love and another about the horror of the 9/11 attacks. O’Donnell’s research is both journalistically rigorous and brimming with empathy. He’s a New York City firefighter who also responded to the attacks on the twin towers. His prose is always accessible and often affecting, especially when it depicts the profound vocational calling to which all firefighters respond: “One dominant and shared attribute among all the families is the ability to confront loss with grace and dignity—even though, at times, they were encroached upon by the media and others.”
A stirring tribute to the supreme sacrifice of American heroes.