"All the news that's fit to print about fighting Terrorism with Vigilance!"



Cliff McKenzie, Editor

GROUND ZERO PLUS 1368 DAY--New York, NY, Saturday, June 11, 2005--A man's or woman's legacy is often written with the sweat of his or her deeds. What did this person contribute?

But the ultimate legacy, the one that really doesn't get reported in the litany of human achievements, is the ultimate sacrifice a person offers the world as part of his or her being "here."

NYPD fireman John Michael Collins offered the world the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001, along with 342 of his fellow firemen battling the World Trade Center holocaust.

As the winds of time shift the sands of rememberance, the world might have blinked and missed the 42 years that led to Collins' offering of his life to help save the 25,000 who escaped the burning inferno on that bright September day when Terror reigned supreme.

It was six months after his death that he was laid to rest. Like so many others, his physical being had been returned to dust as millions of pounds of concrete and steel caved down, imploding thousands of lives in a milisecond.

I was there that day. I stood a few blocks away viewing the horror of life's underbelly being eviscerated. When the roar filled the air and the cloud of pumice charged out from the building like the angry fist of some demonic beast intent on smashing all its path, I was sure I was dead.

But I lived.

John Michael Collins of Ladder Co. 25 did not.

Like so many, I might have forgotten that his ultimate deed of human love in this life was offering and giving his life to save others.

I forget sometimes that the firemen who rushed into those buildings were not unlike my fellow Marines who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for leaping on a handgrenade to save their buddies.

There isn't any logic to rushing into the bowels of death.

Every human defense in the pursuit of life recoils against giving up one's safety. It's natural. It's like sticking your hand out over a hot flame. Your body snaps back, seeking to avoid the danger. It seeks to protect life, not endanger it.

In nature, creatures will run from danger, often leaving their young ones behind. A raging forest fire doesn't cause mother deer to lift Bambi on her back to escape the flames. She flees.

Fireman John Collins joined the other Sentinels of Vigilance on NineEleven

Firemen, police, emergency service personnel--combat troops--are trained to deny the "protect yourself" messages that clang in five-alarm fashion.

The goal of serve and protect rules, despite eons of human evolution that drives us to "save ourselves."

Fireman John Collins walked into Hell that day and didn't come out.

He went in, as did so many others, to extract the innocent. His life became secondary to the lives of others.

But time isn't kind to reverence. Human nature urges itself to move on. It doesn't want to lurk in the shadows of death, or to urge its members to remain sad over any tragedy for too long, for sorrow can become acidic and burn the leaves of life as acid rain when its tears don't stop flowing.

So there is a reason we move forward in life after a tragedy. One of the reasons is that those like John Collins gave his life so we could live. He offered up his being so that life could go on for countless others. He would be saddened were all those he sought to save sitting around his grave mourning and missing out on the joys of life.

We miss that point of "ultimate sacrifice" sometimes. We forget to remember that those who died in the line of service to their fellow human beings offered death for life.

John Collins name won't slip through the cracks of recognition of what he did, or the reasons he did it.

Today, a street in the Bronx is being named after him.

A street in the Bronx is being named today after Fireman Collins

The ceremony is taking place at Review Place and W. 238th St at noon today. It is 6:30 a.m. as I write this.

My son-in-law asked if I could attend.

He's a former NYPD detective and a close friend of John Collins.

John was a police officer before becoming a fireman. He battled to get into the FDNY and in the interim he walked the streets as a policeman, offering his life in that profession while waiting for the privilege to be a fireman--a goal he sought since he was four years.

At four, his father took him to a Bronx firehouse. The sight of the bright, red shiny engines, the smell, the ambiance soaked deep into his marrow. He wanted to be a fireman from that day on, but when he applied, he ran into legal problems and fought to get in. While he waged his battle to give his life as a fireman, he served as a NYPD officer, a prelude to his ultimate sacrifice.

In 1990, he shifted from NYPD to FDNY. He was finally at home.

The oldest of five children, Collins organized family events and benefit events on the Intrepid in Manhattan. He bought groceries for neighbors who were down on their luck. He was a Sentinel of Vigilance. He was keeping his eye on the world and offering his hand whereever possible.

His sister, Eileen Byrne, recalls teasing him and joking he was the only fireman who never went to a fire."

Those fun jabs ceased on September 11, 2001.

John Collins was supposed to go another firehouse that day and fill in. By the time he got there, the company had left, so Collins jumped onto the engine of Ladder Company 25 on 77th Street and rushed into the jaws of Hell. He was the 7th man aboard. That day, the crew was scheduled for only six.

Today, a street will be dedicated to him.

My son-in-law called a couple of days ago to ask if I was available to come up and be part of the event. He knows I give my deepest respect to those who serve up their lives for others.

I told him I couldn't because I had a day planned with my three-year-old grandson.

I promised to take him to South Sea Port where a host of cartoon characters would fill him with joy and smiles.

But I wouldn't be in neglect of John Collins.

My grandson was conceived on NineEleven and is a living spirit of Fireman John Collins

You see, my grandson is John Collins. He's, in fact, a bit of all the hundreds who died that day.

Brendan was conceived on Nine Eleven.

I've considered him always a special child.

He is a living spirit of those who gave their lives so others could live.

His soul was forged from the ashes of that day, for his mother inhaled the spirits of all who died, as did all of us who live near the World Trade Center.

So as I spend the day with Brendan, I will be spending it with John Michael Collins and all the other heroes of that day.

I will know that the ultimate sacrifice of death gave life to countless others.

I will see John Collins in the eyes of my grandson. I will feel his hand in mine as we walk around and laugh and play together.

The street sign for John Collins, for me, says "Live Life--I gave mine so you could live life to the fullest."

I will, John. I will live it through Brendan and you.


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