Eight years, gone in a heartbeat…remembering 9/11/01 and Dennis O’Berg

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On a late summer morning in 2001, my mom called me at work to tell me that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. I figured it was a horrible accident, until I found out a second plane had hit the second tower not long after. I was working in my first “real” job out of college, at a local not-for-profit organization, and I interrupted a board meeting in my boss’s office to tell her what had happened. She had the only computer with internet access in her office (through a dial-up modem, no less), and I hopped on to the web to see what was going on.

A coworker and I set up a TV in one of the program rooms at the center where we worked and fiddled with a set of rabbit ears to try to get a picture. The best we could get was a rolling picture that showed Bryant Gumbel broadcasting live information from what was apparently an attack on America. We had the TV up and running in time to hear about the place crashing in to the Pentagon and the crashing of United 93 in a field in our very own state. We saw one tower fall and then the other. It was quite clear that something was very, very wrong.

At noon, my boss decided to send us home for the day. She advised me to head to my parents’ house, to be with my family. Instead, I went home to my couch, to sit in front of Fox News, staring at the ticker across the bottom of the screen, watching the unbelievable scenes being played out on the TV before me. I watched TV all that day, well into the night, and for the entire next day.

I was fortunate not to have lost anyone close to me in any of the four incidents of September 11, 2001. Living in eastern Pennsylvania, there was a good chance that someone I knew would have been there. My cousin was working at the World Financial Center that day, across the street from the World Trade Center, but he was safe. His father’s best friend, a man I had met only once, was in one of the towers that day, and his body was never recovered. A martial arts studio in the city where I lived had a large sign made out of a sheet hanging in their window, honoring one of their lost students. Every day, the papers were filled with the life stories of those who didn’t make it out.

Five years after 9/11/01, I became involved in a project called the 2,996. It was an effort to get out on the internet, in blogs and on other public forums, tributes to every person who lost his or her life that day, at the hands of the terrorists who waged an attack on America. I first published the following on September 11, 2006, and I have published it every year since on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, in an effort to pay tribute to one of the many who lost their lives that day. I don’t know if anyone who knew Dennis O’Berg has ever read my tribute, but I know that they think of him on this day, and everyday. And I do too.

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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 the 2,996.

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