NY Post - December 18, 2006by Steve Dunleavy
WHEN you have seen more yesterdays than tomorrows, you look back at the thousands of times you put your signature on a piece of paper and realize your name does not have the tiniest consequence or importance.
There's the signature for the mortgage that can give you agita, there's a signature on a wedding certificate that might turn you gray - or worse.
But yesterday, along with a countless crowd of people, I signed a message on a steel column measuring 34 feet and 61/2 inches long, weighing 53 tons. I finally believe, in my seventh decade, that this signature might count.
This steel column will help anchor the Freedom Tower in the rebuilt World Trade Center. It says that for all of politicians' idiocy, Albany just might have got it right for once.
Gov. Pataki had offered all those who wished - families of first responders who perished, families of citizens who perished, and even people like me, who never came near to being killed in the atrocity - the opportunity to write a note on this huge steel column, a tribute to heroism, eternal loss and absolute pride.
Michael Burke, a hotel worker, was pointing to the names on this magnificent tribute that will defy forever the culture of cowards.
The names read: "Leon Smith, Joey Agnello, Pete Vega, Scot Davidson, Captain Martin Egan, Bobby Regan, Vernon Cherry."
Mike was saying, "They were from Engine 205 Ladder 118, and look at their names: Hispanic, African-American, Italian, Irish."
They have gone, but it tells you a lot about how all these ethnic groups, New Yorkers all, came together on that day, and what fighting together was all about.
"Cherry's widow said shortly after she saw a picture of her husband's truck racing across the Brooklyn Bridge with the World Trade Center blazing in the background, 'Thinking back now, I don't wish that truck had turned around. My husband would obviously had wanted to go in,' " Burke said.
Mike Burke, of course, had a story of his own, about his brother, Capt. William F. Burke Jr., of Engine 21.
"He died on the 27th floor of Tower 1," Mike said, adding the tribute also had a lot to do with civilians with guts.
"Ed Beyea was wheelchair-bound and was a great friend of another civilian, Zel Manowitz. When the whole thing looked bad, Zel refused to leave Ed's side. That was pure friendship and bravery," Mike said.
"My brother came across them and sent his men downstairs to rescue more civilians, but Bill decided to stay with them and help them down from the 27th floor. Quite obviously, none of them made it. I'm so proud of those two civilians and my brother."
Firefighter Thomas Russo, of Engine 306 in Queens, said he signed because, "I felt compelled to leave my mark of remembrance.
There were so many others, so many who went through all the human emotions of shock, horror, anger and never-ending grief.
But this was a great moment yesterday - laid out before us was this giant column on the corner of Murray Street and North End Avenue with messages about what we felt for those 2,741 humans from 44 different countries.
Yes, Albany did the right thing when it decided that people like you and I should play a part in the day.
And yet this magnificent building, scheduled to soar 1776 feet into the skyline, still could be strangled by red tape.
As ironworkers begin this week to assemble the beams into a base, there's a danger that the Freedom Tower that eventually rises will be a downsized version.
It seems it all depends on whether the Port Authority gets $973 million of the insurance proceeds and is able to sign leases with government agencies in Albany and Washington for 1 million square feet of space.
The PA says it needs all of this to help pay the $2.3 billion it will cost to build the tower.
Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer insists he backs the tower, but only if all the money is lined up.
Maybe he should pay attention to Pataki - who said yesterday, "This isn't another office building, it's a symbol of New York's greatness."
Pataki also explained his reasons for spearheading the signing ceremony.
"We want to give people a part of what will become the new horizon of the World Trade Center," he said.
Then he wrote his note: "God bless our heroes of 9/11. God bless America. We will never forget."
And, yes, like so many others, I wanted to put my message there, too. Not out of ego, not for posterity, but because of a singular belief that those who died did not die in vain.
They died in a grim and horrendous way and became a clarion call that reminded us that cowards cannot prevail. I wrote: "To the fallen, lest we forget . . . as if we ever would."