Published in The Moderate Voice on June 22, 2016
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<strong>Battalion Chief Lawrence Stack</strong>
<strong>Photo via the New York City Fire Department</strong>
There is no question the term hero is overused, but Lawrence “Larry” Stack is the embodiment of the dictionary definition of the word. In a story nothing short of amazing, the FDNY New York City Safety Battalion Chief who died in the North Tower on 9/11 where he refused to abandon an injured man, was finally laid to rest with official Catholic rites. It was, as one publication called it,“a unique path to closure.”
Stack’s remains, like 127 other first responders on the scene that day, were never located – only his turncoat. But recently, memory intervened. Somebody close to the Stack family recalled that the Chief had donated blood months earlier in an effort to find a match for a leukemia patient. With nothing left to lose, they subsequently decided to see if the blood could be located. It seemed a long-shot but, upon contacting the New York blood bank, a search that extended all the way to Minnesota uncovered two vials that were determined to indeed be Stack’s. Despite a blood shortage, officials at the blood bank didn’t have to think twice about returning it to the family. Their statement read, “There are not words for what this means to us. It is our honor to help and we honor you all.” That was sufficient for the Catholic church and a ceremony with full honors and firefighters in attendance from across the country was finally conducted last week. Members of the Stack family and his large contingent of friends called it miraculous.
Miraculous it is. But it is heartwarming, surreal, and powerful at the same time. It is also, as the nation prepares to observe the 15th anniversary of the tragedy,a collective reminder of the sacrifices of the men and women who are New York’s bravest whose lives were snuffed out while trying to help their fellow Americans. Stack’s life transcended the term “above and beyond” and by extension, transcended the assistance New York’s bravest (or in the case of the police officers, New York’s finest) provided.
Stack, 58, was a robust, garrulous man – a practical jokester and a lovable person. At 6’2, and 340 pounds, he looked the part of a firefighter – an Oscar winning actor couldn’t play the part better.Just one look at his frame could give residents of the areas he serviced comfort that their neighborhoods were in capable hands should emergency arise. For that, there was good reason. Stack was a Navy man who before becoming a firefighter, had fought gallantly in Vietnam. And Stack was vintage New York. His father was a firefighter for 38 years and his brother Dennis for 26. Stack’s first job was serving several ladder companies in Brooklyn. He was later promoted to Ladder Company 35 in Manhattan before being promoted again to Captain for Division 7 in the Bronx. He finally settled at the Bureau of Operations and the Safety Battalion as a chief where he was considered fastidious when it came to safety regulations. So it was appropriate that Stack was wrapping up an investigation of a Father’s Day tragedy which had killed three firefighters when he heard the planes struck.
Stack was not required to be at the Twin Towers that day. But when he saw the billowing smoke from his Brooklyn headquarters, he employed a trait that is so common among firefighters and that is not to sit back. told his men, “I think they’re gonna need us over there” and rushed to the scene. Stack didn’t have to be in the North Tower either but a firefighter’s duty – and his own conscience called. The South Tower had collapsed moments earlier and had enveloped the Captain’s turncoat (he was ultimately able to get himself loose). Two lieutenants had also been pinned down but Stack freed them as well. It was at that moment that, recognizing the gravity of the situation, he ordered the Lieutenants out of the building. But when he noticed a man in distress, he did what came naturally; he stopped to help. The man made it to safety. That is when the North Tower collapsed.
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<strong>Larry Stack’s widow, Theresa, holds his helmet following the funeral that was held 15 years after his death
Photo via The Associated Press</strong>
Stack was everything one would want in a firefighter. One of his colleagues, Daniel Prince recalled he “was always there to help. I remember working with him — if someone was on the side of the road, oh pull over let’s see if we can help. That’s Larry.” Another, Richard Brandt, now a firefighter from California who was on hand at the service, called him a mentor. He wears Stack’s bracelet along with his own.
The gift that was the man goes on. Aside from being everything one would want in a First Responder he was also, everything one would want as a husband and a father – and a grandfather (his first granddaughter, Colleen, was born exactly one week before the attack). And so the only solution was for his two boys to strive to be just like him. His oldest son Michael had been a firefighter for seven years prior to 9/11 (he currently serves as a Lieutenant at Ladder Company 123 in Brooklyn). After 9/11, Brian, his youngest, decided to do the same. Both men rode on the ceremonial firetruck during the funeral procession.
Then there was Stack’s love for his bride of 34 years, Theresa. Countless accounts I read was that they were not simply a happy couple but the perfect couple – a pair that could make all other married people envious. His commitment to his city and wife converged when, on his way to the burning tower, he called Theresa just as he was going over the Brooklyn Bridge. He told her he loved her and to not make dinner that night. Stack obviously had full knowledge that his volunteerism would be needed but was quite possibly, well aware that he might not make it back. Whatever the case, it was an acknowledgement that he was prepared to give as much as required to help his fellow man and that is greatness no words can convey. The burial would have been Larry and Theresa’s 49th anniversary.
Stack was interred at the Calverton National Cemetery, a site that is only reserved for those who served their country in uniform. Stack served it in so many ways. As the service drew to a close, Michael uttered the words, “Larry, it’s time. You’re going home.” And into the hearts of a grateful nation.
In closing, Americans by nature are obsessed with bestowing on people the title of “hero.” This applies to actors, athletes, politicians and sports heroes/trophy winners. That may be not totally out of place but with all due respect, it would be nice to find another term. To wit, a hero is someone who runs into a burning building knowing full well that he might not get out. Ultimately and tragically, that was the case of Larry Stack.
The only thing that need be said is let there be no ambiguity: Larry Stack is what a hero is to me.
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<strong>Firefighters from all across the nation came to the sendoff of Captain Larry Stack
Photo via the Associated Press</strong>