I hadn’t heard of Father Mychal Judge until September 11, 2001. But really, Mychal Judge had been synonymous with the Big Apple for many years prior. Most New Yorkers my age (I’m thirty-six) or older now know this name because of it’s relation to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, Mychal Judge was the first documented fatality in the collapse; the proof on his death certificate.
“I didn’t have a desire for material things,” Mychal said.
“He was so loved by everyone that his pager was always buzzing. At one point, he had to decline performing holy matrimony admitting to couples that he was simply too busy with the fire department.” And it was true. Father Mychal Judge was a prominent chaplain – 1 of 5 – in the most prestigious department in the country. He offered encouragement and prayers at fires, rescues, and hospitals, counseling firefighters and their families, often working 16-hour days. That alone was a tall order, but he filled it and filled it well.
On September 11, 2001, Father Mychal Judge was reportedly standing at the emergency command post in the lobby of One World Trade when a monsoon of debris ransacked the perimeter. Though it was rumored that the friar was outside giving last rites to a firefighter before perishing from a falling body, that account was found to be a myth because Mychal Judge was photographed being carried out from inside of Tower One; the picture depicting his resurrection from the rubble now iconic.
The Walk of Remembrance follows the path Father Mychal Judge took on his last day on earth. Father’s longtime friend, Detective Steven McDonald, NYPD, as well as his buddy John Bates, a New York Harbor Pilot, have organized the event every year.
Firefighter Jack Cook of Engine 325 in Woodside, Queens, has also been involved in The Walk since its inception. “I was a freshman in high school when September 11th happened, but I remember the day vividly – blue skies, great weather. Father Judge would visit my friend’s house [before that day] and pray with the family [Steven McDonald’s family], that’s how I knew him. Anyway, once I found out he was killed in the attacks, and then I was told about the walk, I had to be involved. It was important to me especially now that I’m a part of the brotherhood of the FDNY.”
Firefighters seldom talk openly about 9/11 unless they’re asked. And, almost every one I have spoken to says, “Heaven has one hell of a fire department.” Yes, they do, one that includes one hell of a chaplain.
As a writer who hosts this blog, I’ve highlighted many accomplishments and talents of servicemen and women, often feeling an underlying connection to their secret – and at times very public – struggles. In performing my research into the friar’s life and also thinking of the world today, I believe Mychal Judge would be proud of the evolution of acceptance and marriage equality happening in 2015. Though there are many unjust things still going on around the globe, Mychal would be the person to put emphasis on the beauty of our planet.
Note: The Walk of Remembrance is taking place on Sunday, September 6, 2015. For more information, you can check out The Walk’s Facebook page or email Mr. Bates at TugJB1@aol.com