Sure enough, there was my pal Firefighter Craig Monahan beside the truck he had driven in from Staten Island on 9/11. One of the two off-duty firefighters with him had leaned out the window, imitating a siren. "He's doing, 'Whoo, whoo,'" Monahan recalled. They parked near the south tower in time to survive the first collapse and then the second. I watched Monahan immediately afterward crawl into the ruins to search for the 11 missing firefighters from his firehouse, Engine 24/Ladder 5. When he finally returned to his Silverado, Monahan saw that the falling debris of the south tower had stopped inches short of his front bumper. The surrounding vehicles had been gutted by fire and the truck's front lights had melted into what looked like huge tears.
The steering wheel had also begun to melt and the interior of the cab was singed. Monahan reached in to turn the ignition key and was astonished to hear the engine start right up. Somebody operating a wrecker helped clear a path for Monahan to pull away. He changed a front tire that had been bubbled by the heat and he headed for the firehouse.
"The first victory of World War III," Monahan announced. Somebody salvaged the oversized nameplate from Ladder 5's destroyed rig and affixed it to the side of the pickup that ferried them to and from The Pit over the days that followed.
The sight of them going by in this burned and battered truck with "Ladder 5" bolted to the side always drew a rousing response from folks in the street.
"Every time we got in the truck, they were just cheering," Monahan said. "It was American spirit at its best. ... 'You can't keep us down!'" The recovery effort ended and Ladder 5 got a new rig and the firehouse suffered a new tragedy when it lost two members in the Deutsche Bank fire last year.
The Silverado was back in Monahan's driveway when Chevrolet called to ask about using it in a commercial to be shown during the 2008 Olympics. Monahan was leery of cashing in on a tragedy, but he figured it could only be a good thing for people to see this pickup-turned-symbol. He gave the check to an FDNY family.
"If that truck could keep going, we could all keep going," Monahan continued, ad copy converging with truth. The Olympic coverage continued to men's swimming and the U.S. team swam the greatest relay race ever. The winners stood with their gold medals as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played and I thought of the survivors of Ladder 5 rolling by in that battered pickup.
"You don't give up and you keep moving forward," Monahan said. "It's a beautiful thing." The Silverado is still in his driveway.