By Tim Murphy:
It has been 19 years since the September 11 attack where 2,996 people were killed. I knew one of them, and I knew of another. They worked at the same company that I had worked for—Kemper Insurance. I knew Mike Ferugio, and I knew of Mark Zangrilli. I had met Mike doing a Marketing Task Force for the department that we both worked for at Kemper. Mike worked out of our New York office.
The first time I met him, I was intimidated. He was a big guy and had a New York accent that could be harsh to some of us in the Midwest. The combination of size, accent, and New York brashness took me back a little, but then when he smiled he had a gap between his two front teeth that made me smile. It seemed out of place, and it softened the harshness. I had a gap like that when I was a little kid, and it made me smile to see this big guy that I found intimidating have it as well.
The more I got to know him, the more I found that my initial reaction to him was completely off base. The gap between his teeth was the real indicator. He was a big kid at heart. And he was a very, very nice man. He had a great sense of humor and a gentleness about him. He treated the clerical staff with a great deal of respect and kindness. His only problem was he was an avid Yankee fan and a Penn State grad—but other than those two flaws, he was great to be around . . . and very funny.
In April of 2001, we had both left Kemper, and there was a reunion in Myrtle Beach to play golf and relive old times. The Myrtle Beach outing had actually been going on for a few years, but with the disintegration of our department at Kemper, it took on a different purpose. The weekend was organized by two guys who had worked in the New York office—Ron and Tom. The usual fare for the last day was Tom and a partner would square off with Ron and a partner. This year was no different except that Tom had brought in a ringer this time.
The rest of our group was paired up more for the social aspect, and I was paired with Mike. We rode in the cart together, smoked cigars, drank a couple of beers, and watched the match play of Ron vs. Tom. The two of them were ruthlessly competitive; Tom bringing in the ringer and Ron taking Tom’s ringer out the night before the match and treating him to all he could drink—and then some. I remember sitting on the top of a hill in the golf cart with Mike, smoking the cigar and laughing our heads off at Tom’s ringer throwing his clubs and even ripping his shirt off in disgust (he had a really hairy back), and Tom less-than-quietly voicing his displeasure with the arrangement. Ron mercilessly aggravated the situation with unprovoked commentary. It is a great memory for me sitting there with Mike laughing. That was a good day.
I didn’t know Mark, but I was told that he was a great guy too—a good family man. Of the 2,996, 343 were firefighters and 71 were police officers. They went in to help—called to duty. I don’t know how many of them were good people. The law of numbers would suggest there were some who were not, but I like to believe most of them were. On that day, September 11, 2001, all of them were killed trying to help.
Following that day, our country united in a way that I had never seen before. I was not around to see how we responded in World War II, but I have read the history and listened to the stories. I did see how we responded to the Vietnam War. We turned our backs on the people that fought in the latter. My brother-in-law, Marty, told me that he was told not to wear his uniform home when he finished fighting for his country in Vietnam. They were told it was not safe to wear the uniform of our country at home. Not our best day. September 11 and World War II, on the other hand, brought out the best in America.
One of the terms that was popularized after September 11 was “The New Normal.” I don’t really like that term, but I hear it a lot again today. The pandemic has hit us like Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attack, and we are faced with a chance to show who we really are—show our true colors.
I did not know any of the other 2,994 who lost their lives that day. The one I knew well should be remembered. They got one of our good ones. I don’t know what number he is on the memorial, but he was a number One for me. The other 2,994 had a story too. I hope somebody tells theirs.
The rallying cry after September 11 was “We will never forget.” Looking back nineteen years later, how are we doing?