Engine 49-Ladder 35 - Where a 9/11 "Family" Gathers Near Lincoln Center

They had their own ceremony among what survivors called "family" at Engine 40 and Ladder 35 on 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, near Lincoln Center.

Twelve out of 13 firefighters died 10 years ago trying to rescue those hopelessly trapped at the World Trade Center. And then their colleagues tried in vain to retrieve all the bodies.

Joviana Mercado, widow of Steven Mercado, once described as a station's mimic, was there as was Debbie Temple, who was married to Vincent Morello, a skilled mechanic. They listened to firefighter Mike Kotula, a 29-year veteran of the department, reading the names of the 12 men who died. He has done that each year since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Some 340 New York firemen were killed and the Lincoln Center station was among the hardest hit.

"This is where I am (on September 11). This is where my guys are. This is my family," said Angela Callahan, widow of Captain Frank Callahan of Ladder 35, the ranking officer killed at the World Trade Center from the Lincoln Center firehouse, which at the time had 47 firefighters.

A math teacher in Middletown, NY, Mrs. Callahan learned of the attack when her husband called her before leaving the firehouse after the first tower was hit and the lower Manhattan fire companies responded. "When the second tower was hit, they knew it was terrorists and they sent guys from up here," she said.

She said it was particularly painful that bodies from the truck unit (ladder 35) were not recovered although some were found from the engine unit.

"We just never got them back. And that was hard for the men. The one thing that they kept saying to me over and over again was 'Ang, we are looking for them, we are looking for them.'" They had never before not been able to recover their men. They had buildings collapsing. They always go and bring them out. They wanted to do that and they couldn't and that was one of the hardest things for the guys."

Visiting were a dozen firefighters from Coppell, a suburb of Dallas, who knew some of the current firemen from the Lincoln Center station. They had climbed walls at home, matching their names to the dead in Engine 40 and Ladder 35 and were wearing t-shirts with the names engraved. They had visited on St. Patrick's Day and came back along with about 100 from the Dallas area.

I live three blocks away and 10 years ago I visited the firehouse after our building had put up a notice of the tragedy and some of us donated money to the survivors. I filed a few lines to Reuters where I was employed. My neighbor, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David Halberstam, recorded the bravery on a human scale in his best-selling 2002 book, Firehouse. David died in an auto crash in 2007.

Kevin Shea, the only survivor, now retired, attended the ceremony, Angela Callaghan said. He had suffered a broken neck, multiple trauma, loss of part of his right thumb and other injuries. A college graduate, his sense of whimsy set him apart even before the disaster. Halberstam wrote:

"The aftershocks of the tragedy have persisted not just in the grief for the men who were lost, but also in the guilt among the survivors, who have continued to wonder not just why they lived, but whether it was wrong to have done so. There have been acceptable days, and there have been bad days, when the pain was almost unbearable. "

Ten years ago one firefighter, when learning I reported from the United Nations, smiled and said, "You know Kofi Annan? What's he like?" a reference to the former U.N. secretary-general. Another firefighter, when asked how he was coping, drew the shape of a bottle in mid-air.

Capt. Frank Callahan
• Lt. John Ginley
• Firefighter 1 Gr. Bruce Gary
• Firefighter 1 Gr. James Giberson
• Firefighter 1 Gr. Michael Otten
• Firefighter 1 Gr. Kevin Bracken
• Firefighter 1 Gr. Steve Mercado
• Firefighter 1 Gr. Michael Roberts
• Firefighter 1 Gr. John Marshall
• Firefighter 3 Gr. Vincent Morello
• Firefighter 3 Gr. Michael Lynch
• Firefighter 6 Gr. Michael D'Auria