Longtime Baldwin resident Bob Beckwith, retired firefighter in famous image with Bush after 9/11, dies

Beckwith's wake will be Friday, and he will be buried Saturday on Long Island, where he raised a family that includes six children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Associated Press

Feb 5, 2024, 8:37 PM

Updated 139 days ago


Baldwin resident 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 hanging 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 to weary responders 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 said through a bullhorn, his arm draped around Beckwith on Sept. 14 as firefighters, police officers and others chanted “USA! USA!”
The moment, which was captured in video and 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 cover of Time magazine, a keepsake he proudly displayed at his home for years.
“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. “But he was a regular guy, you know? Well-liked and quiet. Just a regular Joe.”
Beckwith's wake will be Friday, and he will 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.”
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, he spent many hours searching for the members we lost on that fateful day in 2001,” the Uniformed Firefighters Association, a union representing NYC firefighters, 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.”
Beckwith's family released a statement saying, "It is with great sadness that the Beckwith family announces the passing of Bob Beckwith who died of a 9/11 related illness. Bob passed away peacefully among close family at 91 years of age on February 4th, 2024. Bob lived a life of service to others, whether heeding the call to serve in the Navy during the Korean War or as an FDNY Firefighter for more than 30 years. His iconic moment with President Bush at Ground Zero on 9/11 helped rally the nation in its darkest time and served as a symbol for first responders everywhere. Above all, Bob was the quintessential husband, father, brother, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He will be greatly missed."

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