In May of 2002 after selling my escrow and taking care of other business I flew back to NY to start cooking for my "cooking ministry".
Some of the early road blocks and challenges that I encountered when I got there were:
1. Difficulties in making connections at first and not knowing anyone.
2. Scheduling firehouses with no knowledge or where they were and who to contact.
3. Starting from scratch with cooking supplies, places to purchase food, no vehicle to arrange transportation for shopping and getting the food to and from firehouses.
4. Finding a church home and Christian support group
In all of this mayhem I moved 7 times in the first 3 months when I could not find a place to settle and a total of 12 times in the 2 years.
If you ever drive by my house you will always see the American Flag and the Marine Corps flag flying. Not just on holidays!
During those two years we had two Marine bases in Tustin and El Toro. After being very involved with the city and being the Chairman of Board of the Tustin Chamber of Commerce, I became the liason between the city and the Marine bases. When my duties representing the city were over, I continued my involvement with the Marine bases building many relationships and friends over the years. On Thanksgiving for eighteen years I fed 750 Marines and their families a free Thanksgiving meal. This picture is a shadow box of patches representing all of the squadrons at the Marine bases.
The Marine Corps became a very important part of my life.
My involvement with the Marine Base grew through the years and for all of my contributions to the two Marine bases throughout the years the commandant awarded me the highest medal you can receive as a civilian the Meritorious Public Service medal on the left. The patch you see in this shadow box represents the blimp hangars at Tustin, CA and the flag was flown over the Marine base for a week and then presented to me at the ceremony when they issued the medal.
This was a tshirt given to me by Captain Brown who lost his brother. Battalion Chief Oreo Palmer of Engine 3 Ladder 12 Battalion 7 was the only squadron to reach the 84th floor with all of his 100 lbs of gear and his whole squadron. He transmitted to the command post “There were many fires and a large amount of carnage and he was headed into do what he could…”. But before those last words were uttered the building collapsed.
This towel was purchased by my good friend Cheri Larson’s daughter Nicole and her friend Monica. She had them monogrammed with my name and I gave one to every firehouse I cooked at. What was really special for me was when I went back to some of the firehouses the towel was hanging there on display in the kitchens.
Here is Battalion Chief Jim Riches known as "Big Daddy" in the hole at Ground Zero. Chief Riches was at the second firehouse that I cooked for. He is wearing his sons shirt from Ladder 114 and carrying his sons battered Helmet. His son Jimmie Riches Jr. was to celebrate his 30th birthday on September 12, 2001. A former police officer turned fireman! 6 months after the attack Jimmy Riches Jr's remains were found ten feet below the very spot where his father stood in this picture just 3 weeks before.
This is a picture of that same Engine 54 ladder 4 firehouse carrying up one of their brothers they had found in the rubble. The policeman in the front was the brother of the deceased fireman. The gentleman on your far right is his father retired firefighter John Tipping. So many broken lives, so many broken dreams, I knew that my life could never, would never be the same...
This is the Geidel family except one of the brothers is missing...Gary, an Eagle Scout, former Marine and a decorated firefighter with Rescue One. It is not uncommon for generations of families to follow in the footsteps of dads and grandpas in the FDNY. Gary was scheduled to be off on September 11, he was due to retire in seven weeks after twenty years in the service. Pictured here is Papa Paul Geidel a Korean War Veteran and retired lieutenant with rescue one and his two sons Michael and Ralph - both FDNY firemen.
Stories about the lives of some of the men who were murdered that day and how so many families lost a loved one so senselessly. I am sure you recognize this poster made by Tommy Gabbay, a fireman at Engine 68 LAD 49 depicting Father Michael in the Yankee Stadium Center. Father was not the first person to die but the first that they recognized and he was death certificate number one. He was killed by falling debris when he was praying over a fireman.
Here is captain John Vigiano many battles he has faced in his life. A former Marine retired FDNY captain. Winning a battle against throat cancer in 1980. But his two greatest accomplishments were his sons - NYPD Detective Joseph and FDNY firefighter John the second. Proud does not begin to describe the way John speaks of his sons. Joe the detective had on three different occasions been hospitalized from bullets nearly taking his life. He became a detective at age 24. His hard work and bravery earned him a medal of honor, combat cross and three medals of valor. This picture shows the proud dad with the pictures of his two sons in his helmet. His son Joe was found. Johns remains were never found. Need I say more!
This is a picture of a fireman at the World Trade Center painted by Mike Donovan SQUAD 18 Manhattan and given to me.
The members of his company always prayed when they took off their boots, but this time so many would not be taking off their boots. This day his prayers were heavy in his heart and god heard them. Up from the dust and smoldering ashes came Old Glory. He knows they did not lose their lives, they gave them. God Bless America!
This is Captain Donovan born in Staten Island, NY. His wife Debbie and two girls Shannon, 19, and Kelsey, 15, live in Masapequa, Long Island – who have become a part of my extended family. Captain Mike was a fireman in NY for 25 years.