What is there even to say? In 2001, I was 25 years old and working my first “real” job. Today, I am 45 years old and 15 years into my chosen career as a NICU nurse. I have been married and divorced. I have lived in several different homes but have lived in my forever home for almost five years. Yet today, the emotions I felt on 9/11/2001 come rushing back to me, and I remember the confusion and the fear of that day and the numbness I felt as a watched the news all night long on my couch, reading the endless news ticker as it trotted across my television screen. Was there even a such thing as a news ticker before that day? I feel like that is the first day I ever noticed it, and now it’s a feature on every station. I was fortunate not to lose anyone close to me in the attacks on our nation that day. My aunt and uncle lost a dear friend. My cousin was working at the World Financial Center, and I believe I recall that he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to safety. A local martial arts studio hung a large banner in their window, I think painted on a bedsheet, looking for information on one of their students who was missing. A dear friend of mine lost her cousin on American Airline flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I have learned in the years since that others I have met have their own 9/11 stories and suffered their own losses that day.
Every year, when 9/11 comes around, I consume as much of the special programming as I can about the events of that day. I have learned a lot about the events preceding the attacks and all that has come after, up to and including our withdrawal from Afghanistan just this year. I focus, of course, on what happened after those planes were hijacked and used as weapons against our country. I feel a duty to recognize that day for what it was – an attack on America – and remember those who were lost and those who sacrificed their lives that day. Every September 11th for the last 15 years, I have posted a profile of one such brave individual who gave his life in the service to others, responding to Ground Zero as a member of the FDNY. Below is a reprint of my profile of one of New York’s Bravest, Dennis O’Berg.
The world is a completely different place than it was on September 11, 2001. On that day, I was a Program Director at a small social service agency running afterschool programs for the mostly minority population in the immediate neighborhood. I was living on my own for the first time since graduating from college. I learned about the 9/11 attacks when my mom called me on the landline phone in the office in which I worked and told me that something strange was going on in New York. My coworker and I tried to get reception on an old TV with some broken rabbit ears and managed to get enough of a picture to hear Bryant Gumbel tell us first about the Pentagon and then about Flight 93 going down in Western Pennsylvania. By lunchtime, our Executive Director had sent us all home.
Five years later, I joined a project called the 2,996, which was created to memorialize all of the innocent lives lost on 9/11 through what was a relatively young platform, the web log (blog). My blog is not super active, and I have not monetized it and turned it into a profit-maker, but it has been in existence, in one form or another, for most of my adulthood. And every year, since 2006, I have posted a tribute to Dennis O’Berg, who was snatched from his family on that day by the actions of terrorists who tried to break this country but did not realize that we cannot be broken. Many will try, but they will not succeed. We are made of stronger stuff than that.
At 494 Dean Street in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn stands the building housing Engine Company 219 and Ladder Company 105. The two companies have shared that building since 1977. Prior to 1977, they were located in separate houses, about ½ mile away from each other. Ladder 105 has its roots in a volunteer company, Ladder 5, from the Greenport section of Brooklyn that was organized in the latter half of the 19th century. After spending time as Ladder 5 of the Brooklyn Fire Department, Ladder 5 of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), and Ladder 55 of the FDNY, Ladder 105 was organized on January 1, 1913, as a part of the FDNY.
One member of Ladder 105 who was lost on September 11th after responding to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site was Dennis O’Berg. Dennis was 28 years old at the time of his death. He was a resident of Babylon, on Long Island, where he lived with his wife of less than one year, Christine. Their first wedding anniversary would have been September 28, 2001.
Dennis didn’t always plan to be a firefighter. He graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a degree in accounting and worked for the Big 4 accountancy firm Ernst & Young after graduation. However, he followed his father’s footsteps as a firefighter, entering the academy because he felt shackled to his accountant position. He graduated from the academy not long before the September 11th attacks and was assigned to Ladder 105. Being a firefighter changed him into a happy and smiling and easygoing person. On September 11th, he had been a firefighter for only seven and a half months.
Dennis’s remains were not found in the wreckage at Ground Zero, and his family held out hope that something would be found so that they could plan his funeral. After only his helmet, his jacket, and one of his boots was found, Dennis’s family held a memorial service for him on June 28, 2002, burying an empty casket. Dennis’s father, Lt. Dennis O’Berg, retired from the FDNY on September 11th to dedicate himself to finding his son. However, when all the wreckage had been cleared, it was not to be so.
Family and friends remember Dennis as someone who was young at heart. He was a fan of Harry Potter, Norman Rockwell, Star Wars, and the New York Rangers. He collected baseball cards and enjoyed all kinds of music. He was a romantic and often gave his wife roses for no particular reason, took her on long drives and picnics on the North Shore, and left her notes telling her that he loved her. She found one of those notes in her bed the evening before September 11th as she was preparing to retire for the night. His dream was to be there as a husband and father for his wife and kids and to raise a family on Long Island. He never got to fulfill that dream. Instead, his life was cut short by the terrorists who attacked America on September 11th.
Dennis P. O’Berg. Forever in the thoughts of his friends and family. And now, forever in my thoughts as well.
To learn more and pay tribute to other heroes lost to us on September 11, 2001, please visit Project 2996.