The word “iconic” is greatly overused nowadays by people with limited vocabularies, but this image IS iconic. It is simultaneously inspiring, tragic, resolute.
Pictured with President George W. Bush atop a crushed New York Fire Department pumper truck amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center towers was retired firefighter Bob Beckwith, who died a few days ago at 91.
God rest his soul.
Look at him — his ladder company helmet firmly on his head, his feet planted apart, eye and breathing equipment dangling from his neck, a hand halfway in the pocket of his blue jeans, his lean chin lifted, his face taut and grim with his eyes focused on the future.
Has there ever been a better portrait of the American Man?
Why was he there?
With the President, by accident.
At the Pile, as Ground Zero was called, on purpose.
Seven years retired after 30 years on the job, the 69-year-old grabbed his helmet from his old ladder company and raced toward a Lower Manhattan that was shrouded in a shroud of black smoke. He worked long hours on rescue and recovery.
At the Pile, he climbed atop a wrecked fire engine to get a better view of the President, who took a sharp turn to climb the fire engine. Beckwith gave Bush a hand up, and moved to retreat.
“Where are you going? You’re going to be right here with me,” Bush said.
That’s not all he said, with Beckwith at his side.
You remember Bush’s stirring remarks, don’t you? If not, this will refresh your memory.
This was off the top of his head. There was no TelePrompTer. It was from the heart.
And the thing that struck me was the totally comfortable way that he roped his arm around Beckwith’s shoulders. This was a man embracing this blue collar guy as if they were old friends.
In fact, they became new friends.
Bush stayed in touch with him over the years, and sent condolences upon Beckwith’s death.
Beckwith’s courage, he wrote, “represented the defiant, resilient spirit of New Yorkers and Americans.”
Bush never had a moment to equal 9/13, with a bullhorn in his hand, and his arm around Bob Beckwith.