The former president famously draped his arm around Bob Beckwith as he addressed responders in the days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
NEW YORK — Bob Beckwith, a retired firefighter who by chance became part of an iconic image of American unity after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has died. He was 91.
Beckwith died Sunday night in hospice care after dealing with cancer in recent years, his wife, Barbara Beckwith, said Monday.
Wearing a firefighter helmet and a respirator draped around his neck, the Long Island resident stood atop of a smashed fire truck at the World Trade Center as President George W. Bush famously delivered a rousing speech using a bullhorn. Bush draped his arm around Beckwith as he addressed weary responders searching for anyone still alive after hijackers crashed airplanes into the twin towers of the old World Trade Center, killing 2,753 people.
“I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon,” Bush told the gathered firefighters, police officers and other rescue personnel on Sept. 14 as they chanted “USA! USA!”
The moment, which was captured in photos by The Associated Press and other news outlets, became an enduring image of resilience following the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. It even landed Beckwith on the front cover of Time magazine, a keepsake he proudly displayed at his home for years later.
“He was just lucky. He was at the right place, at the right time, and that’s why he’s famous,” Barbara Beckwith said Monday by phone from the couple’s home in Baldwin, a suburb about 30 miles from Manhattan. “But he was a regular guy, you know? Just a regular Joe.”
Beckwith’s wake will be Friday, and he’ll be buried Saturday on Long Island, where he raised a family that includes six children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Bush, who remained in contact with the family over the years and even checked in as Beckwith’s health worsened, was among those who called Monday morning to send condolences, his wife said.
In a statement, the former president said Beckwith’s “courage represented the defiant, resilient spirit of New Yorkers and Americans” following the attacks.
“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,” Bush wrote Monday. “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.”
The NYC firefighters union remembered Beckwith as a “man of true dignity.”
“Bob is one of the heroes of 9/11 who stood tall for America, New York City and all New Yorkers, he spent many hours searching for the members we lost on that fateful day in 2001,” the Uniformed Firefighters Association wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday.
Beckwith was 69 years old and retired for seven years following a 30-year career based at fire stations in his hometown of Queens when the attacks happened.
Like scores of other current and former first responders, he rushed to ground zero to help with search-and-rescue efforts in the days and weeks after.
On the day that made him famous, Beckwith said he was simply looking for a good vantage point to see the president. But Bush made an unexpected detour and hopped aboard the crushed Engine Co. 76 truck where he was standing, Beckwith recalled to the AP on the 10th anniversary of the attacks in 2011.
Barbara Beckwith said her husband helped the president get up on the truck and was about to let himself down when Bush intervened, assuring his spot in history.
“The president said to him, ‘Where are you going?’,” she recounted. “You’re going to be right here with me.”
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