Retired firefighter Bob Beckwith stood with President George W. Bush at Ground Zero three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A photo of the two men became iconic, landing on the cover of Time magazine. It radiated hope and proved to the terrorists that their attack did not bring down America.
Bob Beckwith has passed away. A man of class and dignity. An American icon who personified the best of the FDNY, New York and America at our most perilous moment. Bob Beckwith R.I.P. pic.twitter.com/cGOZRKgnWZ
— Pete King (@RepPeteKing) February 5, 2024
Beckwith retired from the FDNY six years before 9/11 after spending 30 years with the department.
But after the attacks, Beckwith, at 69, picked up his equipment and got to work.
As Beckwith stood on the rubble of a fire engine from Engine Co. 76, he had a surprise visitor:
“I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I pulled him up on the rig, I turned him around. I said, ‘Are you OK, Mr. President. He said. ‘Yeah,’” Beckwith recounted to NBC New York in 2023. “So, I start to get down and he said, ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘Oh no, you stay right here.’ And he put his arm around me.”
Someone handed Bush a bullhorn to address the first responders and ironworkers laboring at the site, and he began talking, with his arm draped around Beckwith’s shoulder. That image of the two men — the president and the firefighter — framed by mounds of debris and construction equipment has become an indelible part of the 9/11 legacy.
“We can’t hear you,” a person in the crowd shouted. That is when Beckwith said the president changed his speech on the fly, delivering an impassioned rallying cry that electrified his audience — and the nation.
“I can hear you,” Bush said through the bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”
Beckwith, describing the moment more than two decades later, remembered how the people at Ground Zero “went berserk” and broke out in chants of “USA!”
“And there I am standing there. I did look up to heaven and I did say, ‘Look at me, Ma. I’m with the president,’” he told the local NBC station.
The encounter forged a forever friendship.
Bush gave Beckwith a flag after the meeting.
The Bushes invited Beckwith and his wife to the White House in 2012. Beckwith gave the president the bullhorn he used to make his speech.
The Bushes also invited the Beckwiths to every Christmas party. They have sent them a Christmas card every year.
“Laura and I are saddened by the passing of Bob Beckwith. On September 11, 2001, Bob was happily retired after more than 30 years of service with the New York City Fire Department. When the terrorists attacked, Bob suited back up and, like so many brave first responders, raced toward the danger to save and search for others,” President Bush said in a statement. “His courage represented the defiant, resilient spirit of New Yorkers and Americans after 9/11. I was proud to have Bob by my side at Ground Zero days later and privileged to stay in touch with this patriot over the years. Laura and I send our condolences to Barbara and the Beckwith family as they remember this decent, humble man.”
Beckwith…a true American hero. God bless you.
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