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Remembering September 11th, 2001: A Hero, Firefighter Tommy Foley

Memories of Tommy Foley.

It has been nine years since 9/11 and the pain of that dreadful day still endures. My son, Thomas, is in the seventh grade and was given a homework assignment to interview somebody about his memories of September 11th. It was an interesting assignment as Thomas was just shy of four years old on that tragic day. While he has knowledge of September 11th, 2001, it is more from the History Channel than from personal experience. So in being interviewed I had an opportunity to pass on my reflections which are vivid and touched with sadness, having known somebody who died that day.

September 11th, 2001 started out like any normal Tuesday; I attended the Clarkstown Sunrise Rotary meeting at The New City Diner; it adjourned around 8:30am. When I got into my car I learned of the first plane crash into the World Trade Center.  I said a prayer for those who had died and I recall thinking that the FDNY would do the impossible and save a lot of lives. I also thought of Tommy Foley, my younger brother Dave's best friend, who was already a hero firefighter having been part of several dramatic rescues in his career, one of which landed him on the front page of the New York papers.

Everyone who knew him knew Tommy Foley was a fun loving "take no prisoners" type of guy—I had known him since he was about ten years old. Tommy and my brother played football together, laughed a lot and sometimes even got in trouble together—just silly kid stuff. Tommy was a part of all our family events for years, from weddings, to wakes, to parties and just hanging around. He had a great sense of humor, and was a fearless competitor in sports.

I recall one summer day; I was in college and we had a pick up baseball game at Dexter Field and Tommy was playing center field. A fly ball was hit high and far into the outfield—Tommy was fast and like Bernie Williams had a perfect track on the ball—he also was heading straight for the flagpole just about fifteen feet in front of the fence. It seemed for a moment that Tommy would veer and miss the pole—unfortunately, he didn't—he hit it at full speed. I thought Tommy was seriously hurt, and recall the clanging of the rope and the ringing from the collision as he tumbled to the ground. Yet miraculously he was just shaken up despite hitting a forty foot tall eight inch round metal flag pole cemented into the ground! I will never forget the sight of Tommy jumping up—half limping and half running to the fence where he picked up the ball and threw it home—a perfect strike—getting the runner out—yelling, "I got him, I got him!" That was Tommy—fearless—indestructible—and this was just a pick up baseball game!

Throughout the years, I watched Tommy grow and was happy for him with his many accomplishments in sports and life. He and my brother played football together in college; they tried bull riding,  sky diving and were avid hunters and fisherman sharing life's journey as best friends. Tommy was always present for our funerals, weddings and wakes—and of course getting into and out of the type of trouble a couple of mischievous teenagers and twenty-something's sometimes do with a full life ahead of them.

Fast forward to that terrible day nine years ago; I remember thinking that Tommy would do his job but he would shake off whatever danger he faced—just like that summer day so many years earlier. I recall looking out of the window at my office in Irvington and watching the acrid smoke from the towers and believing Tommy would save people and then get out. When the towers fell I had a sick feeling in my stomach but I was convinced Tommy had made it out—but as we all know that was not to be the case. He and the other heroes of that day made the ultimate sacrifice that allowed many thousands to survive. 343 hero firefighters were among the first casualties in the war that America now found itself in and Tommy Foley, the tough kid from West Nyack turned hero firefighter was one.

The other memories of 9/11 included the strange sight of an armed fighter jet briefly circling above Nanuet later in the day that brought a real picture of war home to Rockland. I also recall the sadness and fear of so many, wondering and questioning what was coming next for all of us. Finally, weeks later there was the wake and Mayor Giuliani whose helicopter landed at West Nyack Elementary so he could go to Sorce Funeral Home to pay his respects. It was a fine tribute, the Mayor of the greatest city in the world—a city under siege, coming to pay his respects to the Foley family which gave a sense of comfort and pride for all who knew Tommy.  I recall the bagpipes and the heavy, deliberate beat of drums and the hundreds of firefighters standing at attention as the old fire truck bore his casket to the funeral at St. Anthony's Church in Nanuet.

Every September 11th since then the Foleys have an open house at their home in West Nyack; friends, neighbors and relatives come, share jokes and stories about Tommy; they laugh and cry together. After the food is done late in the evening a smaller delegation usually ends up at his grave in St. Anthony's Cemetery to toast Tommy; I suspect this ritual will continue for many years to recall the legacy of this one hero whose story was revealed that terrible day.

Recently, I recalled that tragic day for my son—but I also recall the pride that we all have for the heroes like Tommy Foley. September 11th, was born in cowardice but ended with heroism as many thousands were saved. Tommy was a member of an elite squad in the FDNY—Rescue Unit Three—he did his job and gave his life. He got pretty high up in the south tower and he undoubtedly saved many. He did his job and willingly gave his life—a wonderful life that had so much more to offer. We miss him deeply these nine years later and we thank God for the heroes of 9/11 like Tommy Foley who gave their lives that others could live.

May we never forget 9/11, may we always hold the memory close to honor their ultimate sacrifice.

God Bless the September 11th heroes—God Bless Tommy Foley—thank you for doing your job and saving many.

May God Bless America with Peace and keep us safe always from those who would seek to do us harm

faith hauss September 18, 2010 at 03:56 AM
George, Heart warming article we all miss Tommy
Danny September 18, 2010 at 09:17 PM
Well done George. I still tear up when I think of Tommy and all the other lives lost on that day.
thomas foley September 22, 2010 at 01:41 AM
George, Great article about Tommy. Thanks for keeping his memory alive. Tom
George Hoehmann September 22, 2010 at 09:32 PM
Mr. Foley--this article was the least that any of us can do--it is the least that Tommy and the other 342 firefighters who died on September 11th deserve. We must always remember the bravery and heroism of Tommy and the other 342 firefighters who willingly answered the call that others would live. Thank you and your family for allowing me to write about Tommy we miss him and will never ever forget him.

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