He was the first recorded victim of the horror that engulfed us nine years ago today.
Mychal Judge was, in fact, the official chaplain of the NYFD. Every year at this time they have The Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance, which starts with a Mass at St. Francis Church on West 31st Street, then heads to Ground Zero, retracing Judge's final journey and praying along the way.
Every September 11 there's also a Mass in memory of this courageous man in Boston, attended by the grieving family members who lost their loved ones on this terrible day.
Five years after Judge and thousands of others were massacred by maniacs thinking they were on a mission from God, a poignant documentary celebrating Father Judge's life was released. It was called "Saint of 9/11." It's easy to see how they got the title when you hear his story. According to the New York Daily News:
"Upon hearing the news that the World Trade Center had been hit, he rushed to the site.....Judge administered last rites to some lying on the streets, then entered the lobby of the World Trade Center north tower where an emergency command post was organized. There he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured and dead.
When the south tower collapsed at 9:59 AM, debris went flying through the north tower lobby, killing many inside, including Judge. At the moment he was struck in the head and killed, Judge was repeatedly praying aloud, 'Jesus, please end this right now! God please end this!'
Shortly after his death, firefighters found Judge's body and carried it out of the north lobby.....Shannon Stapleton, photographer from Reuters, photographed Judge's body being carried out of the rubble by five men. It became one of the most famous images related to 9/11. The Philadelphia Weekly reports the photograph being called an American Pietà."
Today of course is one of those "where were you" memory days. To tell the truth, I recall actually better my unexpected bouts of sobbing throughout the days and weeks following the unspeakable tragedy in New York, and Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
But on this day nine years ago, I was a fifth grade teacher in a Fairfax County school that had some other teachers married to military personnel. For the rest of my life I'll never, ever forget looking into the tearful, stricken eyes of one of them.
She was a tough lady, to be sure. But at that moment she was utterly devastated by the thought that her husband who had gone to work at the Pentagon that morning was one of the casualties.
There was still no word from our ground zero only 20 miles away. She continued weeping as I hugged her and tried to find the words.
As it turned out, he had survived and was working desperately to help the wounded. Pulling out bodies. Finally she got the call that ended her personal nightmare. He would be coming home.
But the terror continued. There was rumor that the State Department building had been hit. No one knew what would happen next. Sons and daughters throughout our school were by now being picked up, one by one, by frantic parents who would do whatever they could to protect their children from the menace.
Many however stayed in a lockdown with their teachers. I put on a calm face and asked my remaining children to continue working on their assignments. Somehow was able to fend off repeated questions why one student after another was being called out of the classroom.
Then I remembered what was sitttng in my instructional mood music bin. I put it on. The "Bridge Over Troubled Water" played three times.
None of my students were among those that lost a parent that day. One of the children somewhere in the country who was one of the 3,251 that did wrote this message:
"It's time for me to go bed now
I sleep with the light on
Just in case you come home
And kiss me good night
I love you so much
I miss you Daddy...."
Beyond "Troubled Water" is an even more powerful song written by Alan Jackson in the wake of the tragedy. According to one source:
"Jackson was devastated by the events of September 11, 2001. He wanted to write a song expressing his thoughts and emotions, but he found it hard to do so for many weeks. 'I didn't want to write a patriotic song,' Jackson said. 'And I didn't want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn't want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.'
Finally, on the Sunday morning of October 28, 2001, he woke up at 4 a.m. with the melody, opening lines and chorus going through his mind. He hastily got out of bed, still in his underwear, and sang them into a hand-held recorder so he wouldn't forget them. Later that morning, when his wife and children had gone to Sunday school, he sat down in his study and completed the lyrics."
To all the ones who left us nine years ago, we won't forget.