KNOW A MAN NOT BY HIS DEEDS,
BUT BY THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE:
A TRIBUTE TO LIFE BY JOHN COLLINS
Cliff McKenzie, Editor
ZERO PLUS 1368 DAY--New York, NY, Saturday, June
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.
John Collins joined the other Sentinels of Vigilance on
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
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.
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
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.
To June 9 Story: "Social Justice In Iraq And New York City
- Are We Complacency Terrorists?"
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