20th Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Tribute
National Emergency Training Center
Emmitsburg, Maryland
October 7, 2001
9:48 A.M. EDT

Thank you very much. Joe, thank you for those kind words, and thank you for your outstanding service in a difficult time for our great land.

I want to thank Hal Bruno and the directors of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation for the outstanding leadership they have shown in recognizing America's heroes.

I want to say thanks to the members of the Maryland delegation who are here -- Senator Sarbanes, Senator Mikulski, Congressman Hoyer and Congressman Bartlett. I want to thank you all for being here. I want to thank the local officials who are here. I want to thank the firefighters from all around America who have come to comfort the families of the fallen.

I want to say hello to moms and dads and husbands and wives and sons and daughters of the fallen. Laura and I are honored to be here with you today, as we remember the lives and sacrifices of your brave relatives.

Two years ago this weekend, I attended a memorial ceremony in New York City honoring fallen firefighters. And standing nearby were Chief Peter Ganci and many others who are now gone. None of us on that day could have imagined what was to come, the scale of the emergency, the enormity of the danger, the magnitude of the evil. Yet, each one of those firefighters felt a strong calling and knew its risks.

On September 11th, that calling led them into burning towers on a mission of rescue. Within a single hour, more than 300 firefighters were lost. And our nation still mourns. They did not live to know who had caused the destruction, or why. They only knew their duty. And that was to go in, to follow the faintest cry, to search for the trapped and helpless, and to save those who could be saved.

A few days ago, one New Yorker described firefighters as "the kinds of guys you look up to." Every one of you here knew exactly what he meant. The courage and loss we saw in New York is found in every community that has laid a firefighter to rest. Hardly a week passes in America when a career or a volunteer firefighter does not fall in the line of duty.

Fire-fighting is a hard and demanding job. And it may at any moment send a person to the high heat or thick smoke. It's been said that a firefighter's first act of bravery is taking the oath to serve. And all of them serve, knowing that one day they may not come home.

Today we honor 101 who did not come home. They were all people who accepted the dangers of fire-fighting, and were last seen on duty. We add their names to this national monument. We do so with pride, and with deep gratitude.

The nation pays respect to them for their service and their sacrifice. And we respect you, their families, for your sacrifice -- for the heavy burden you carry to this day. The McCormicks of Arkansas; the Hendricks of Kentucky; the Pascatores of Pennsylvania -- each lost a son who was not yet 20 years old. The families of Bo Rathbun of Wyoming; Jim Reavis of Missouri; Fred Brain and Pete Scannell of New York; Kenneth Jesse of Pennslyvania. Lost loved ones who were willing to serve, even in the latter years of life.

Many were taken during the fullest days of life, that time when we are needed most by the people we love. Kimberly Smith of Texas was engaged to be married. Robert Crump of Colorado was home after honorable service in the Marine Corps. Marvin Bartholemew of Florida had paid his way through college and was working his way up the ranks of the department.

Roger Bookout was 34 years old when he died, and he was a loving dad. He had a great outlook, and it was summed up on a sign he kept on his locker -- "Love your wife; love your life." All these firefighters loved life. And Scripture teaches, there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for another.

Sometimes a person cannot know for sure what mark he or she has left on the world. That will never be said of the people we remember today, or of their kind. They were strong and caring people, brave and upright. You could always count on them. You could always look up to them.

This firefighters monument belongs to the nation, and represents a national loss. The firefighters belong to you. And I know that loss can never be recovered.

A fireman's widow recently said that her husband was her hero, "and there's nothing I wouldn't do to have my hero here." That same feeling is shared by many here today, and time won't ever take it away. But the years can bring comfort -- and they can bring hope. You'll always know that your hero died in the service of others. You can give one another the strength to go on. You can find the comfort of God, who is with us, especially in sorrow. And you can know today that your loved ones are not forgotten. They hold an honored, cherished place in the memories of their comrades, and an honored place in the memory of our country.

God bless you all. (Applause.)

END 9:55 A.M. EDT