17 Firefighter–Marines honored for sacrifice

By Vanessa Remmers The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg

Raymond Downey’s 8-year-old granddaughter ran her fingers across the engraved name and face of the grandfather she’s never met. Two steel beams that were once part of the World Trade Center towered over her.

The beams, erect yet slightly crumbled at the top, were the last pieces of the World Trade Center possessed by the Fire Department of New York.

On Sunday, they became part of a monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps honoring 17 New York firefighters who died on September 11, 2001, and who were also Marines. A total of 343 New York firefighters died that day.

Downey was one of the 17.

“It is very heartwarming to know that 13 years later, he is not forgotten,” said Joseph Downey, Raymond’s son and a New York City firefighter. “I know the Marine Corps molded him into what he was. He loved every second that he was a Marine and a firefighter.”

Nicknamed “God” by fellow firefighters for his command of how to combat disasters, Deputy Chief Downey was a decorated 39-year veteran of the New York Fire Department. He was last seen in the wreckage of the Marriott Hotel just after the first tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

Downey’s name wasn’t far from Sean Tallon’s, another firefighter who was just a few weeks away from completing his probationary period when he died. Tallon, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Ireland, would have turned 40 last week.

“I don’t think we truly understood what it meant to be a Marine. I understand today,” Rose Tallon, Sean’s sister, said. “Sean didn’t get a chance to have a wife and children, but my mother and I take great comfort knowing that his name is in this park of heroes.”

For firefighter Gerard Chipura, who lost his brother on 9/11, grief is an ever-present force. He knows such a burden wasn’t his or the other families’ by choice. But, he said, he had the pride and honor of loving a person who gave so much.

The monument was six years in the making by the Marine Corps Association of the New York Fire Department, and hundreds turned out to see it finally unveiled. The museum’s lawns became a sea of uniforms on Sunday, some from the New York City Fire Department and others worn by Marines. The parking lot overflowed with motorcycles with license plates from as far away as Ohio.

Over 500 motorcycles escorted the steel beams from the Quantico Corporate Center in Stafford to the museum Sunday.

Tim Rogers accompanied the steel beams from New York on Saturday, along with roughly 1,000 motorcycles. Through each state, the retired New York firefighter and former Marine saw first responders standing on the overpasses at full salute, some even soaked by rain.

Thirteen years ago, Rogers arrived in Manhattan just as the first tower fell. Downey was one of the first to tell command that the city was going to lose the two towers, Rogers said.

“Come hell or high water there was no way they weren’t going to get to those towers,” Rogers said. “We spent an awful long time searching for our friends.”

As the names of each of the 17 were read aloud followed by a ringing of a bell, some in uniform stood in stony silence while others bowed their heads to quietly wipe away tears.

And after the monument was unveiled, leaders of the U.S. Marine Corps and the New York Fire Department reminded the families that their loved ones are heroes.

They instinctively ran toward the sounds of chaos and fulfilled their solemn oaths, Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley said. They were the first casualties of a war that still rages, the vice president of the Marine Corps Association of the New York Fire Department said.

And they showed why we are called New York’s bravest, New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

“There will be a time when those who witnessed the events unfold won’t be here. With this dedication today, we make certain that no one will forget your sacrifice,” Nigro said.

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