“This is my job. This is who I am.”

In 2006 bloggers around the country blogged in tribute to those who had been killed or who had given their lives on 9/11. I had the incredible honor of blogging in honor of Captain Billy Burke. I want to share those words again. They still have meaning for me today:

“This is my job. This is who I am.”

We Remember 9/11 — Capt. William F. Burke, Jr.

On this day across the web, you will see tributes to 9/11 victims. I have the honor of remembering Capt. William F. Burke, Jr. As a New York Ciy fireman, he was one of the men who ran into the doomed building, seeking to save the lives of others. His last minutes were spent saving others:

After he witnessed the collapse of the south tower from the 27th floor of the North Tower, he ordered his men to evacuate the building. They proceeded to evacuate the building while saving numerous civilians on the way down and out of the building. Billy stayed (or returned) to assist with the evacuation of a wheelchair bound individual on the 27th floor. Before they could make it down all the floors the 110 stories of the North Tower collapsed. Billy and many others died heroically that horrible day bravely facing the worst attack on American soil ever.

Many people were killed that day, Captain Burke gave his life in the service of others and died at the age of 46.

Other tributes to Captain Burke, or Billy to those who knew him can be found at the 9/11 Memorial, September11victims.com, 9-11heroes.us, Wall of Americans and the Bravest Memorial site.

Concerns relating to how the official memorial would read came from Billy’s sister:
As between listing her brother as simply William F. Burke Jr. -or as FDNY Capt. William F. Burke Jr., Engine 21 -Roy asks: “Which gives the accurate picture of what Billy was that day?”

“Visitors to the site and future generations with no memory of the event will learn nothing of who Billy Burke was, and how and why he died. A memorial that does not recognize or honor how and why Billy died does not honor him. Rather it demeans the sacrifice he chose and the honor he served.”

Billy’s brother told his story at a Take Back the Memorial Rally:

On the morning of Sept. 11, like most other New Yorkers and Americans across this land, I was at home riveted to my television, watching as black smoke poured out of the North Tower of the WTC. I was listening to newscasters search for an explanation when my wife, who was work in Midtown, called.

“Billy just called!” she shouted in near panic, “He said, ‘We are under terrorist attack! Get out of the building! Go home!’

She was talking about my older brother.

“He yelled, Mike,” she said, ‘Do you know who this is? This is Billy Burke!’

“I could hear it, Mike, in his voice. I could hear the fear and urgency,” she told me.
Like the newscasters, I couldn’t believe it: “We are under terrorist attack.” Then, as I watched, a second plane swooped from the right side of the TV screen and flew into the 78th floor of Tower 2.

Forty-five minutes later, Capt. William F. Burke, Jr of Eng. 21, from the 27th floor of Tower 1, and aware that Tower 2 had just collapsed, ordered the successful evacuation of his men and also that of Eng. 24, along with the civilians they helped save.

Billy was with Ed Beyea and Abe Zelmanowtiz, coworkers at Empire Blue Cross. Ed was a quadriplegic, trapped at the top of 27 flights of stairs and Abe his friend who did not leave him.

At about 10:15 AM Capt. Burke called a friend to tell her he was still alive. She begged him to be safe. He replied, “This is my job. This is who I am.” Fourteen minutes later Tower 1 collapsed and Ed Beyea, Abe Zelmanowitz and Capt. Billy Burke perished with 2,746 other innocents at the WTC, Sept. 11, 2001.

On a recent visit to ground zero, Dee Gouter of South Dakota said, explaining why she had bought a photo booklet history of 9/11 from a street vendor: “I just want to understand what happened here,” she said. “I know this is sacred ground. I’m here to appreciate history.”

We are all, New Yorkers and Americans everywhere, families of 9/11.

America was attacked Sept. 11. This site belongs to America and every American has a stake in what we do here and how we remember and honor the evil that attacked, the loss of life and the compassion and sacrifice in response.

The Newsday story on Captain Burke includes these lines

Capt. William F. Burke Jr. had just led people to safety out of Tower Two of the World Trade Center. He told the firefighter with him to leave and then went back into the building to look for more civilians. Seconds later, the tower collapsed, Burke’s brother James said Friday.

“That’s Billy,” close friend Sonja Fagan said of Burke’s returning to the building. Those he had rescued “turned around, and he wasn’t there,” she said.

I have tried to capture the essence of the kind of person that Capt. Billy Burke, FDNY was in the small snippets above. In the links below, some of those articles are duplicated, but they are the attempts of others to capture the value of the life of Billy Burke. It has become a cliche since 9/11/01 perhaps, but it is still true when applied to the life of Billy Burke. “While others were running out of the building, he was running into the building.” I don’t know of any better way to describe the bravery and heroism of our firefighters and policemen. Among all those heroes, Captain Billy Burke stands out as a man among men, and a hero among heroes. He would probably not have wanted that honor, he would probably have said, “This is my job, this is who I am.”

The links referenced in the last paragraph can be found by using the Way Back Machine and scrolling down to my 9/11 posting. Read and remember.


2 thoughts on ““This is my job. This is who I am.”

  1. Thanks Mr. Burke. This is a repeat of what I posted on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 and the fact that you appreciated it meant much to me. I can’t forget and I think of your brother every year especially. I will keep posting this on 9/11 in various places so people won’t forget. As dastardly as the attack was, the heroism of Billy and other members of the FDNY was so much greater.

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