Bob Beckwith, the New York City firefighter who stood at President George W. Bush’s side at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks, has died at age 91.
Former President Bush addressed Beckwith’s passing in a statement Monday.
“Laura and I are saddened by the passing of Bob Beckwith. On September 11, 2001, Bob was happily retired after more than 30 years of service with the New York City Fire Department. 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,” the former president said. “His courage represented the defiant, resilient spirit of New Yorkers and Americans after 9/11. 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. Laura and I send our condolences to Barbara and the Beckwith family as they remember this decent, humble man.
Former U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., first announced Beckwith’s death in a post on Sunday.
“Bob Beckwith has passed away. A man of class and dignity. An American icon who personified the best of the FDNY, New York and America at our most perilous moment. Bob Beckwith R.I.P.,” King wrote.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, whose nephew, New York State Court Officer Tommy Jurgens, died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attack while rendering aid at the World Trade Center, told Fox News Digital that he had grown close with Beckwith over the years. Both are native Long Islanders, and Beckwith’s grandson, Matt Beckwith, also works for Blakeman’s office.
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“I’m very sad to hear that Bob Beckwith has passed. We became good friends, and we all remember that historic day when he stood next to President Bush on the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center. And it has special meaning to me because I lost my nephew, who was a court officer administering first aid when the building collapsed on him,” Blakeman said. “It’s a very emotional thing. And with Bob’s passing it, it brings up good memories of him. And it also brings up bad memories of 9/11. But, we’re going to miss him very much. He was a stalwart member of our community here in Nassau County. And, again, you know, it’s a big loss.”
“It’s a reminder that on that occasion, which was so tragic for so many people, hearing the president on that pile of rubble with Bob standing next to him as a retired firefighter,” he said. “The symbolism was very powerful, and it gave comfort to those families that lost loved ones as well, as it gave us hope that we could overcome these murderous terrorists.”
“I’m very proud that Bob’s grandson, Matt, works for us. He does a great job. And he’s the spitting image of Bob, which is something that every day I think about. Because, Matt, you can tell, they’re definitely related,” Blakeman added.
Relatives tell Fox News Digital that 9/11-related illnesses contributed to Beckwith’s death.
Wrapping his arm around Beckwith at Ground Zero on Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush addressed first responders while standing on a pile of rubble and speaking through a bullhorn.
“I want you all to know that America today – America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families and more. This nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut, as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens,” Bush said.
“I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” the president added, garnering applause and chants of USA. “The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud. And may God bless America.”
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Beckwith, who served 30 years with the FDNY, was 69 years old and had retired six years prior at the time he watched the Twin Towers collapse on television from his home on Long Island.
Three days later, he decided to drive to Lower Manhattan to help search for survivors, following police cars across the Williamsburg Bridge.
Dressed in his old gear, including his leather fire helmet from Ladder Company 164, Beckwith managed to convince both members of the NYPD and National Guard that he was late for duty and was granted access to Ground Zero, according to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Once on site, he went to work on the bucket brigade, as the lines of first responders who stood shoulder to shoulder, manually handed off buckets of debris in the search for survivors. The crew he joined managed to unearth FDNY Engine 76.
As they searched for the truck’s driver, Beckwith overheard that Bush would be visiting the site shortly and jumped onto the fire truck to get a good view of the command post where the president was expected to speak. A person Beckwith believed to be a Secret Service agent – later identified as White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove – approached the truck and asked Beckwith to jump up and down to prove that the wreckage was safe to climb.
He complied but was soon surprised to see the president walking toward him.
“I see the president on the corner, and he’s headed for the microphones across the street, but he did a hard right, and he comes right in front of me, and he puts his arm up,” Beckwith recalled in a 2021 interview with NBC. “I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I pulled him up on the rig, I turned him around. I said, ‘Are you OK, Mr. President?’ He said. ‘Yeah.’ So, I start to get down and he said, ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘Oh no, you stay right here.’ And he put his arm around me.”
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Beckwith, surrounded by news cameras, unknowingly became part of the historic moment Bush rallied American resolve in the aftermath of the attacks.
The image of him and the president was plastered on the cover of Time magazine at the time. Though Beckwith was only at Ground Zero that day, as members of his former fire company were concerned about his age during search and rescue efforts, the helmet he wore remains an artifact and symbol of heroism.