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A Shared Story: September 2000

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It was the summer of 2000 heading into the football season. Initially I wanted to find a game my son James and I could go to and see his favorite team the Green Bay Packers and my favorite team the New York Jets who were playing each other opening day at Lambeau field.  Being based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota the trip was only a five hour drive away.  As always I gave my brother Frank in New York a call to tell him about it.  Being only a year and half apart age wise we shared many things growing up on the North Shore of Long Island one of them being an over the top attachment to the New York Jets.  We were young and at the height of our fandom when a very cool and revolutionary team from an equally cool and revolutionary league known as the American Football League rolled into our lives.  The moment I mentioned the game and how I had found them online via a link on the Packers Website I realized I was being selfish and that we should have asked him first.  He began checking into it and soon we were making what amounted to a pilgrimage to historic Lambeau field.

But this was no ordinary family trip to go see a ball game.  My brother was on extended sick leave from the NYPD and his job at One Police Plaza in a special unit called Early Intervention.  A psychological unit setup to aid cops in crisis with various issues from alcohol to chemical dependency to domestic turmoil that often plagues many big city police.  My brother Frank loved his job and all the people around it and he truly cast his bread upon the waters as the saying goes.  Despite this so called "rare" adrenal cancer that came out of nowhere in an other wise completely healthy life he still did shifts at night when he wasn’t scouring the country and even the world in his effort to find some cure or at least an extension of time for this deadly battle he was fighting.

My son was hitting his tweens as we made the trip and while he loved his Uncle Frank I’m not sure he completely understood the full nature of Frank’s illness.  We got to Green Bay the night before the game and the next day we went to a highly competitive football game where my son blended in well enough but my brother Frank and I sat amongst a typically loyal section of Packer fans with a few itinerant Jet fans scattered around in various places like stray weeds in an otherwise uniform lawn.  The Jets would take the lead at the end when Brett Favre appeared to be manufacturing one of his patented comebacks when he tossed one of his patented interceptions deep in Jet territory.  My son was very upset but I told him to be happy for Uncle Frank as he might not be here next year to see another such game.  I thought about that a lot as we drove back to the Twin Cities the following day.  Almost exactly five months later my brother Frank and my best friend would leave this earth.

The following September among many other memorials I would make to my late brother I suggested to my son we make the trip back to Lambeau and remember Frank and last years trip along with it.  We did and this time the Packers won making my son James happy but me a little melancholy and sad.  We drove back on September 10th stopping along the way to play a little golf and pick up a few touristy things.  We got home at night and went to bed tired from the day.  James and my daughter went off to school by bus in the morning and I woke up groggy and sort of out of it.  I don’t watch much morning TV but my wife did back then and had left it on as she went to her teaching job that morning.

As I drank some coffee I noticed a live picture of a section of the World Trade Towers on fire and the announcers seemed to be doing what they always do in a pseudo emergency over announcing and exaggerating what had happened.   But as I began to focus I noticed that Diane Sawyer was sort of rambling and off script so to speak.  I figured some kind of twin engined commercial plan had hit and soon the fire would be under control.  But there was a sense of urgency and they kept playing what I thought was a simulation via computer of the accident when I realized the video while not the usual network high quality was in fact real and that was a commercial aircraft crashing into the Trade Center and while she was speaking and rambling on I saw another clearly commercial Jet coming streaking in to the picture and very clearly and even deliberately dive straight into the other tower!

I along with the news people I was listening to went into a kind of shock where you want to say everything and nothing all at the same time.  I next saw Peter Jennings in a sport coat and jeans with an unshaven look about him and then video from the Pentagon brought home the reality that this was no accident nor was it a suicidal pilot as had been the case a few years earlier with an Arabic Airliner over the Atlantic. Transfixed like the rest of the nation I watched numbly and remembered Frank had worked at One Police a mere half mile walk from the World Trade Center.

The people in Frank’s unit would not only be part of the first responders but my brother Frank’s partner Jimmy Hogan who had retired shortly after Frank’s death would immediately come out of retirement.  To help the unit with the huge task of not only assisting the police families who had lost members in the fall of the Trade Center but the Fire Department whose members total only about 10,000 compared to the NYPD’s 35,000 who had no such psychological intervention unit but whose losses in 911 were massive.

I would talk to Jimmy a couple weeks after 911 and he would report how he spent whole days at Ground Zero comforting families and sleeping on cots playing the role of liaison between the City and the families of the workers taken on that horrible day.  Jimmy Hogan would relate how he felt and thought about Frank and how he knew that Frank would have been out there with him among the first responders giving that extra touch he always gave to help others.  It was comforting in all that madness to know that my brothers old unit and his former partner were doing what they always did help people get through hard times.  So when I tell people that my brother was in the NYPD and passed away in 2001 they always ask was he killed at Ground Zero?  I always say he was taken by another terrorist just as deadly and just as hard to fight cancer.

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