Book Excerpt

CHAPTER 4
UNITED THROUGH TRAGEDY

“Hello, my name is Jon. I work for the Deutsche Bank in New York. I lost some friends on 9/11. I have been working with the Red Cross on a volunteer basis to help with recovery efforts.”

My morning routine was becoming more and more emotional for me. The emails, voicemails, phone calls, and letters were taking me deeper into the suffering of those personally affected by this tragedy.

Jon and I talked for a while the first time he called. We exchanged email addresses and I sent him some of the memorial items. Once he received the items, we emailed each other back and forth a bit. Jon had lost a friend and neighbor, a fire fighter he referred to as Scotty. He mailed me some PowerPoint presentations. All contained pictures of that tragic day. Some were set to music and lasted several minutes. I viewed all of them.

Jon wasn’t the only person who sent pictures and videos. Others in New York knew that Pelco in California cared about what had happened to them. So they mailed things to our office. Often when something relating to the tragedy came into the office, people would think, Sue would appreciate this. Give it to Sue. So I found such items in my interoffice mailbox regularly.

One morning, a particularly touching CD was in my box. I took the CD to my desk and viewed it. It lasted about 15 minutes and was like the PowerPoint presentations that Jon had sent me. Emotions welled up inside me. I could only imagine what it must have been like for those who were there that day, experiencing everything firsthand!

Later in the same day, I took one of the ever-present phone calls from New York. It began like most of the others: “Hi, my name is Marcella Leahy. I’m calling for the memorial books you have. I want to thank your company for all they have done and I was wondering if I could get some of the books.”

Then the caller ventured a bit of personal information: “My husband’s picture is being held up on one of the pages.”
I asked her on which page her husband’s picture was. I always tried to make the conversation as personal as I could. I turned to page 15, as she indicated, and saw the image of two police officers. One was holding up a picture of another police officer. Suddenly I realized … the man in the picture was of one of the fallen heroes and his widow was talking to me on the phone! I immediately expressed my condolences. “Oh! I am so sorry!” I said.

We talked a little. She told me about the friend of her husband’s who was holding up the picture in our book. She had found out about Pelco through him. She told me of her three sons, whom she was now raising alone.

I told her about the different memorial items we had. We had the cards that had been placed on the chairs during the memorial ceremony, each inscribed with the name of a fallen hero. When someone called in who had lost one of those heroes, I usually asked if the caller had received the place card bearing the name of his or her loved one. If not, I would send not only the card, but also a hero’s medal that Pelco had created for the heroes who had come to the event. I made sure I got these items for Marcella. After a short conversation, the phone call ended with my promise, made to so many: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you. If you need anything more, let me know.”

That same emotional day, I received another call. It was from a Mrs. Letitia Driscoll, a woman with an accent that seemed to mix New York and Ireland. She explained that a gentleman named Dan D’Allara had told her all about Pelco and the memorial ceremony we had held. She told me what a friend he had become. Dan had attended the event. She told me about her son Stephen, who was one of the fallen NYPD officers. She told me that Dan’s twin brother John was another of the fallen NYPD officers. Dan was now caring for John’s widow and her three small children. Mrs. Driscoll mentioned Marcella Leahy, with whom I had just spoken. She told me of other grieving NYPD families. None of them had known one another before that fateful day. This tragedy brought them together.

Later on that same day, I heard from Carol D’Allara, John’s widow! “I just talked with Letitia Driscoll!” I told her. “She told me about you!”

Carol told me some about Letitia and the friendships that had been built – the support between the families. It was overwhelming to hear from so many all at once who had suffered such tragedy and to know that their concern for one another was helping to soften the pain. It seemed to bring comfort to them to know that they were not alone. Someone else knows their pain.

After Carol’s call, which came after tearful conversations with Marcella and Letitia, which followed my viewing of the PowerPoint presentations from the World Trade Center, I found myself needing a little time alone. This hap-pened frequently as the days, weeks, and months passed. I heard from so many who had suffered such great loss; I listened to so many sobs; I shed so many tears. I also found myself waking up in the middle of the night from time to time trying to sort it all out. I was amazed at the position I was in. How many more would I hear from? How can I listen over and over to such pain? What can I say in those fleeting moments on the phone that will help?

Whatever I said must have helped in some small way, for those brief encounters grew into relationships that have continued to this day. Years later, I still correspond with the D’Allaras, the Driscolls, and Marcella Leahy. Dan D’Allara and others like him have become good friends.

Some of the callers would become a part of my life for just a short time. Jon was one of those. Another one was Ira Rosenberg. He had lost his son, who was one of the fire fighters. We did not talk only about the horrors of that day. We shared about family, about daily life. Ira told me he was Jewish and his wife was Catholic and they had raised their son to know both faiths so when he grew up he could make his own choice. Ira’s son liked having the two faiths because he could enjoy both Christmas and Hanukkah. And if either faith got him out of school for a holiday, that’s the one he would choose for that day. The Rosen¬bergs missed their son dearly. They were part of a support group. Even with that therapy, talking with a stranger in California – a stranger who truly cared – seemed to help, too.

People knew that we cared because of the memorial ceremony. Nine months after that ceremony, Pete Paolillo, a Florida fire fighter who was a native New Yorker, wrote to us about the importance of our honoring of the fallen heroes:
I would like to say thank you for all you have done for the true heroes of this country (The Military, Police and Firemen). The people of Pelco are a shining example of what it means to be an American. Thank you! I would like to request a copy of the Trade Center edition of the Pelco Press as well as the Memorial Tribute CD if there are any left. My good friend was at the tribute that Pelco put on and he can’t say enough about what that meant to him.

After I sent Pete the items he requested, he wrote a second time:
Thanks so much. Again, I want to commend Pelco for all that you people have done. You have all been a bright spot, that has shined through a tough time in our country’s history. As a fire fighter, I appreciate what you have done for us. It means a lot.

This tragedy affected people everywhere. And I heard from many of them. The military action in Afghanistan that followed 9/11 was a big concern to many. I heard from concerned military moms who worried about their sons. I heard from people in various military bases across the country. Many veterans called in expressing empathy with fire fighters and police. They shed tears.
 
I loved seeing flags go up everywhere! Stores had difficulty keeping them stocked. This tragedy served to do one thing the terrorists didn’t count on. For a time, it united the American people. It brought out their patriotism. It bound us together, one people united in pain, in compassion, and in national pride.