Relatives and friends of Bob Beckwith — as well as those who never met him but were inspired by his stoicism while standing with the president amid the rubble of ground zero three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — will gather on Long Island this week to mourn his death.
Robert Beckwith died Sunday night in hospice care after dealing with cancer in recent years, his wife, Barbara Beckwith, said on Monday. He was 91.
Standing should-to-shoulder with President George W. Bush, the retired 30-year FDNY firefighter from Baldwin emerged as part of an iconic image of American fortitude during one of the country’s most difficult times.
Beckwith, then 69 and already retired seven years, was wearing his old firefighter helmet from Ladder Company 164 in Queens as Bush delivered a rousing speech to weary responders at the site where hijackers flew airplanes into the twin towers of the old World Trade Center, killing 2,753 people.
“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 about the chance encounter, speaking by phone from the couple’s home in Baldwin. “But he was a regular guy. Well-liked and quiet. Just a regular Joe.”
Towers Funeral Home Inc., 2681 Long Beach Road in Oceanside, will host visitation services for Bob Beckwith on Friday, Feb. 9, from 4-8 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held at St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic Church, 11 Gale Ave. in Baldwin, on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 11:30 a.m.
Regarding meeting and standing with the president, Beckwith said he was simply looking for a good vantage point to see Bush as the president surveyed the destruction. But Bush made an unexpected detour and hopped aboard the crushed Engine Co. 76 truck where Beckwith 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 fire 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.’”
Bush addressed firefighters, police officers and others through a bullhorn, his arm draped around Beckwith at one point.
“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,” the president said as the crowd chanted, “USA! USA!”
The moment, captured by numerous news outlets and broadcast across the world, became an enduring image of resilience following the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.
It even landed Beckwith, a humble man who with his wife raised a family of six children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, on the cover of Time magazine, a keepsake he proudly displayed at his home for years.
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.”
New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh called the famous image “both inspiring and heartbreaking” and said efforts by Beckwith and other former first responders was a “testament to their devotion” to the department.
“Bob is one of the heroes of 9/11 who stood tall for America, New York City and all New Yorkers,” the Uniformed Firefighters Association, a union representing NYC firefighters, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday. “He spent many hours searching for the members we lost on that fateful day in 2001.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Top photo: As rescue efforts continue in the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York, President George W. Bush, left, stands with New York City firefighter Bob Beckwith on a burnt fire truck in front of the World Trade Center during a tour of the devastation, Sept. 13, 2001. Beckwith, who became part of an iconic image of American unity after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has died at age 91. The retired firefighter died Sunday night, Feb. 4, 2024, in hospice care after dealing with cancer in recent years, his wife, Barbara Beckwith, said Monday. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)