A Book To Keep For The Grandkids
A Wave Review of 'Braving The Waves' by Kevin Boyle
By Howard Schwach
I have a library full of books written about September 11, 2001. Up until this week, I believed the best one on the topic to be Denis Smith's "Report From Ground Zero."
That was before I read Rockaway resident Kevin Boyle's new book, "Braving The Waves: Rockaway rises ... And Rises Again."
If there is one book that I will keep for my two grandsons to help them understand the impact of the attack on the World Trade Center on Rockaway, Boyle's book is the one to do the job.
It also has something that none of the other books do, a quick and witty report on the impact of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on Rockaway just two months and one day later.
What makes Boyle's book so compelling is that it is, pure and simple, Rockaway, Rockaway and more Rockaway - from the firefighters who were surfing when the planes hit the WTC to the funerals at St. Francis de Sales to the response of civilians and off-duty emergency responders when the A300 hit Beach 131 Street.
The book really has two centers that hold the narrative together. The first is Harbor Light, an Irish Pub-Restaurant owned by ex-firefighter Bernie Herran. Harbor Light is directly across the street from where the Airbus descended. I shot most of the pictures that graced the pages of The Wave from the front steps of that establishment. I didn't see Bernie, because he was busy fighting the fire caused by the engine that dropped into Bulloch's gas station, right across the street from Herran's home on Beach 129 Street. Herran, now attempting to save lives in this latest tragedy, faced the most harrowing experience of his life just two months earlier. In an eerie twist of fate, on the morning of September 11, Bernie's son, Charlie, called him. In the midst of the attack, Charlie asked his father what he should do. Bernie told him to go to the roof, and that NYPD choppers were sure to land and pick up survivors. We all know that the doors to the roof were locked and that the choppers could not land in any case.
The second center of the book is St. Francis de Sales, the Catholic Church a few blocks from the crash site, and more specifically the playground, where the summer basketball classic and the Graybeard's reign supreme.
Those are two Rockaway institutions that define and describe life in Rockaway, and Boyle uses their settings to create a picture of what "community" really means to Belle Harbor.
All of the main characters in the drama are quintessential Rockaway people.
Monsignor Martin Geraghty, the pastor of St. Francis, who shunned the spotlight after the WTC attack, but could not duck the world after flight 587.
Bernie Herran, ex-cop, ex-firefighter, saloon owner. Charlie, his son, a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. Rugby player, an Rockaway Irish Boy (RIB).
Pete Hayden, FDNY division commander for Manhattan. Hayden was in charge of the North Tower operations post. He survived the collapse of the tower and had his first day off on Veteran's Day - November 12. On that day he watched the plane crash and took command of all the on and off-duty firefighters who responded to Belle Harbor.
George Johnson, surfer, former lifeguard. One of the three flag-raising firefighters memorialized by the famous news photo or the event.
Mike Moran, the Rockaway firefighter who got up in Madison Square Garden during the gala to raise money for the victims to tell Osama bin Laden that he could "Kiss my Royal Irish Ass."
Chris Lawler, an RBI who was Charlie Herran's best friend, and who died when the Airbus A300 crashed into his bedroom.
The list is nearly endless: Danny Suhr, who was probably the first firefighter to die when a falling body hit him from above; Tommy Carroll, who was detailed to another company for the day and lived while all of the firefighters in his house were lost; Palmer Doyle, firefighter and ex-candidate for the City Council; Tom McVeigh, who was due to retire right after September 11, but who stayed on. He was to retire on November 12, when an aircraft dropped a few hundred yards from his home. His last day as a firefighter was spent saving his home and those of his neighbors; Kenny Whalen, who works at Ladder 137 on Beach 116 Street and who responded to his own neighborhood in one of the deadliest fires of his life.
Boyle weaves their narratives, from the barstools at Harbor Light, to the playground at St. Francis, to the bowels of the World Trade Center and to the streets of Belle Harbor on November 12 with a sure hand and an excellent eye for detail and an ear for speech.
Many of those who are chronicled in the book heap praise on Boyle's narrative.
"It's hard to relive the events of September 11 and the plane crash in the neighborhood, but Boyle reminds us how a lot of people from Rockaway stepped up when needed," said Pete Hayden.
That is precisely why I want to save this book, over all the others, for my two grandsons. I want them to understand the community that they live in and I want them to understand what it was like for their neighbors on the days that those two seminal events took place.
Boyle does that and he does it with style.
The book is available at bookstores and at amazon.com.