Remembering 9/11

Catholic firefighter, who was assigned to the department's counseling unit the day before the attacks, looks back on the evil and the good that came out of the attacks. In the end, he lives by the question: 'What does God want me to get out of this?'

As the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has approached, the Register has been recalling that terrible day with recollections of individual Catholics who were there or whose lives were impacted by the tragic events.

Ralph Esposito was a 10-year veteran firefighter with the New York Fire Department and just assigned on Sept. 10, 2001, to the Counseling Unit for his day tours.

“I was involved right from the start,” Esposito said. “I spent 10 months, three to four days a week, talking to the guys while they were digging up body parts. I dug up my own share of body parts too.”

In the weeks and months since the attack, he saw “a lot of human suffering, a lot of families broken up. Kids looking for fathers, mothers looking for sons.”

Aside from civilians who worked in the World Trade Center who could not escape the collapsing towers, 343 members of the Fire Department perished in the disaster.

But Esposito also saw a “lot of good…. I’ve seen a lot of people do great things.”

Esposito, who in 2008 was named Man of the Year for the Fire Department of New York Holy Name Society, retired this year. He teaches youngsters in five CCD classes a week.

“I remember thinking in the early days: How am I going to get through all of this? Days went from 6am to sometimes midnight. I couldn’t even get home. But you took it a day at a time. If you put your strength in God, there’s no limit.”

Before 9/11 people knew Esposito was always a strong believer. “I remember them questioning me: What do you think of God now?” he said.

He answered: “I never asked the ‘Why’ question. What I found over the years is you ask the ‘What’ question: What does God want me to get out of this; what am I supposed to learn? Things happen. From an earthly point of view, Job’s friends thought he was a sinner. That had nothing to do with Job. So just worry about your salvation. Are your bags packed? Ready to go? That’s what I got out of 9/11.”

Tomorrow:Inside the Pentagon

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.