Everyday should be a day we pay tribute to our firefighters. This week in New York and across the country we honor the 343 who died on 9/11. Today, at St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Ave., firefighters from around the world gathered to stand in the warm sun and high humidity to show their support. I was happy to join them.
I met and photographed firefighters from Los Angeles, London, Houston, Wales, Arizona, Australia and more. I also connected with old friends from Las Vegas, San Diego, Dallas, etc. I made new friends with firefighters in Chattanooga, Portland, Memphis, Houston and more.
But first, in the morning I attended a Mass at St. Ignacious Church on Park Avenue for Battalion 10. I lived in this battalion and got to know all the guys. There could not have been a warmer homecoming. I promised myself that I would return from the road for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and thanks to my friends I did. It wasn't a coincidence that when asked by NY1 to do an interview I chose a firehouse in my old neighborhood. They invited me to their annual event.
The ceremony began with the choir and the congregation singing "Amazing Grace." So naturaly, I lost it and began crying. I tried to fight back the tears but not an easy thing to do under the circumstances. The woman sitting next to me in church was from Florida. She lost two close friends from the Battalion and has a brother and nephew in the fire service in Idaho. She began sobbing during the service. I reached over and placed my arm around her with hope of comforting her. We held hands throughout the ceremony. We became friends.
During the collation, I reunited with so many old friends. They are the men from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stations I photographed right after 9/11.
But Andre Cox stands out for me. He saw me and said, "You're Laura the photographer!" Seems he's retired from the job and did so without any photographs except the ones I took of him. But he didn't know how to get in touch with me. I can't describe the sheer joy and happiness in his face when I approached him with my camera. Especially since it was right after another firefighter saw his photo on my iphone and showed it to his wife. She'd never seen it and immediately asked if there were more photos available. She added that he was forced to retire and is having trouble coping. The photos mean just that much more to them now.
I'm so glad to be "home" for this. It's been a great homecoming, filled with love and affection from FDNY. Every minute is uncomplicated and pure. Even a trip to ostco yesterday was an encounter with a Harlem crew I photographed years ago who invited me to their 9/11 reception.
Standing on 5th Avenue and applauding FDNY came naturally for me and all the other people with whom I stood shoulder to shoulder.
We are united. We will never forget.