Candy Moulton: Reading the West 8-29-11
This book has nothing to do with the West. But it has everything to do with America and the American Spirit.
This review is not unbiased. I readily admit that the author of “September 11” is a dear friend of mine. We were friends before that fateful day in American history; we are closer since.
William Groneman III worked the “six by nine” on September 9 and 10, 2001. That means, he went to work at 6 p.m. on Sunday the 9th, and got off work at 9 a.m. on Monday the 10th. He was a captain in the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) serving as commander of Engine Company 308, Battalion 51, Division 13, in the borough of Queens. He’d already spent 24 years with FDNY and was looking forward to retirement within the next year.
Morning in New York City on Tuesday, September 11, 2011, was beautiful. The city looked fresh and clean because a storm over the ocean on Monday had washed the atmosphere. That morning Bill’s daughter Katie, went to fourth grade at Maurice W. Downing School; wife Kelly was presiding over a PTA meeting at the school. Bill headed for Jones Beach State Park where he spent more than an hour alternately walking, running, doing pushups, enjoying the quiet late summer day.
You might say it was a routine day for a normal family in New York City. As he traversed the beach, Bill noticed a “mushroom cloud on the horizon.”
He wrote, “I thought to myself, facetiously, that Japan had gotten revenge for World War II by A-bombing New Jersey. I did not stop to look at it but kept on walking and running.” It took some time for this experienced firefighter to conclude his trip to the beach, and only as he returned to his car and overheard an announcement from a radio, “Disaster … Mayor Giuliani … Thousands dead!” did he realize something was terribly amiss in the world.
Instinct. Adrenalin. Duty. Those forces kicked in as he sprinted to his Jeep and raced toward home. “I remember saying to myself, ‘This is Pearl Harbor! This is just like Pearl Harbor!'” … “There was a sensation of having passed through a portal to another world. Everything was changed right at that split second.”
Like hundreds of other men and women who served in FDNY, Bill Groneman’s greatest need/desire on September 11, 2011, was to respond to what became Ground Zero of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. With his men he did just that and found himself standing brim-to-brim with other fire officers waiting for orders to move forward and help the thousands of victims, more than 300 of which were their fellow firemen.
Over the next days and weeks, Bill and other members of FDNY and other agencies worked at Ground Zero, handing down buckets filled with debris, some of which was body parts. It was hard, gruesome, mind-numbing work in conditions that ranged from clouds of dust from the pulverized buildings to muck and mud from rain that fell. Almost as if the heavens themselves were crying.
The round of funerals for the victims began almost immediately. The FDNY buried its own, or memorialized those who were not recovered. Those burials included Terry McShane, a member of Engine 308 Company. Groneman, as Captain and commander of Engine 308, went with the other men from the company to offer their condolences to Terry McShane’s widow, Cathy. But when the opportunity came for Bill to say something to her, “It was as if a hand gripped my throat. I could not utter a sound.”
Bill Groneman is a fine singer, particularly adept with Irish folk ballads, and I’ve heard him sing many times at Western Writers of America conferences. Of all the songs he does, the one that is certainly the most poignant, is a song of tribute to Terry McShane and the other FDNY souls who lost their lives on 9/11. I’ve heard Bill sing this song two, maybe three times. It never fails to set the tears flowing. And I honestly wonder how he can do it, having known the men about whom he sings.
“September 11” is a very personal account. It is not easy to read, particularly so when you know the demons the author has struggled with for these last 10 years – the very real effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. But it is important to read, to recognize that people with all types of hopes, dreams, desires and intentions lost a bit of themselves that day 10 years ago.
“Some have said that we need to move on from 9/11. It is in the past and should stay there. Many have moved on already,” Bill writes, “It is difficult for people, civilian, military, emergency service workers, who were there at the Pentagon or World Trade Center, or for families and loved ones of victims, including those in Flight 93, to move on.”
Bill concludes, “Speaking personally, there has not been a day since September 11, 2011, that I have not thought back to some aspect of it.”
Read this memoir. It is haunting, and it is time to remember.
“September 11, A Memoir,” by William Groneman III is published by Goldminds Publishing. I read the e-book Kindle edition (on an iPad); a print edition is expected by Sept. 1.
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