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David G. Nadeau

My name is David G. Nadeau and I am from Monroe, Michigan, hometown of General Armstrong Custer. I am a paid-on-call firefighter for Monroe Township Fire Department and I was at Ground Zero for one week starting September 12, 2001. Some of my hundred or so pictures from Ground Zero have been published in EMS magazines. Newspaper reporters from Cooperstown, New York and Lexington, Kentucky have called me wanting to publish this story. That is because someone from the family of the business card I found at Ground Zero told the reporters this story – a story about a business card which is just one of a thousand stories to tell.

Ground Zero
I arrived at Ground Zero on September 12, 2001 with another firefighter. On Friday, September 14, after several hours of working at the front of a bucket brigade—just one of many bucket brigades—there came an opening in the debris pile just big enough for one person to fit in. With the help of a New York firefighter holding my fire boots, I went down into the opening with a flashlight. While down in the hole, everyone up above yelled for silence. At this time we were still hoping to find survivors. I prayed to God to let me find a survivor. There were none.

While backing out of the hole with the help of the New York firefighter (this hole was very small and tight), thick dust and debris was all around me. The void was 6 to 10 feet deep, and opened to a 20 foot circle. Just as I was coming out of the hole, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and for some reason (I still do not know why), I caught this piece of paper just as it was falling through the air back into the void.

Finding A Business Card
When I stood up, the New York firefighter who helped me out of the hole was standing behind me and saw what it was I had in my hands. He said, “Do you know what you found?” I said no and he asked, “Haven’t you seen the news?” I said no again because I'd been working long hours, and there was no time to watch the news. He said the piece of paper was the business card of the Vice President of Canter Fitzgerald from the south tower. This company had lost several hundred employees.

The New York firefighter said he could not believe the business card survived in all of the fire and destruction, as we stood on a 25-30 foot pile of debris. The card came from the 104th floor of the south tower. It was dirty, but legible. I asked the firefighter if he wanted the business card. He said, “No, you came this far to help us, you keep it brother.” That is what he called me, brother. The whole time I was there, we called each other brother. Firefighters from all over the country were there, and we called each other brother, not firefighter. Firefighters have had traditions for years, and this is one I will never forget.

Out of the millions of tons of debris, I found the business card of a man that had been working, providing for his family, that horrible September day. And no matter what kind of jobs those people had, from janitor to vice president of a large company, or how much money they made, they were all there that day providing for their family. Little did I know how much this business card would affect me for the rest of my life.

After a week at Ground Zero, I went home alone. I had driven my own vehicle there. The other 18 firefighters from Monroe County had left a day and a half earlier. I wanted to stay as long as I could, but it had started to take a toll on my five and seven year old boys.

That was the longest drive of my entire life. One thing I will never forget while driving home was the newspaper reporter from the Toledo Blade who called my cell phone. He had heard I was there at Ground Zero and someone gave him my cell phone number. As he was asking questions about what I did at Ground Zero, a song started playing on the radio. It was, “I'm Already There,” by Lonestar (with inserts from the World Trade Center disaster playing in the background). I was so tired from the last week and driving home alone, and since that was my son’s favorite song, I started to cry. Yes, firefighters do cry. With the reporter on the cell phone, I told him I could not talk, hung up, and had to pull over to the side of the road.

Something to Hold on To
I made it home and after a couple of weeks had gone by, I still could not stop thinking of what I had seen, and the business card I had found. I was watching TV and saw a program about how families that had lost their loved ones at the WTC were hoping to find something from their loved one to hold on to. I got goose bumps when I saw this show, and even today as I write this, I still get goose bumps. I knew then I needed to find someone in the man’s family, even though this was only a business card. There was a name of a man on this card and I knew he had a family that was missing him.

You see, when I found the business card and stood there holding it at Ground Zero, listening to what that New York firefighter was saying to me, I had the strangest feeling come over me. While standing on that huge pile of debris, holding that business card in my hand, something told me this man did not suffer. I believe in God, and believe me, I talked to him a lot when I was there, and I know he had everything to do with this. I know he had put me there at that time and at that place for a reason. I know there are better people in this world, but for whatever reason, God wanted me to be the one to find that business card.

After a few phone calls and with the help of a wonderful woman from Canter Fitzgerald, I found the man’s family. This woman from Canter Fitzgerald got a hold of his wife. With the courage of a million people, she called me at my home one night a couple of days later. You see, I did not know for sure if I would get a call back. The woman I had spoken to told me she did not know how she was going to approach the family about the business card. I felt she thought I was nuts after I told her my story about finding it, so I did not expect a call back, much less a call from the wife of the man.

She began by telling me who she was and asked me if I was the firefighter who found her husband’s business card at Ground Zero. When I told her it was me, she began to cry. That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I mean, I've had to tell many people in my career as a firefighter that their loved one has passed away, but this was the hardest time for me ever. While I talked to her the best I could under the circumstances, I kept as calm as I could.

She wanted to know where I had found the card, how I had found it, and if I had any pictures of where I found the card. This was one of the saddest moments, next to when my own seven year old son asked me on the phone while at Ground Zero if I had found any more bodies. She asked if I would send her the card and the pictures of where I found it. “No problem,” I told her.

Hard to Imagine Their Pain
At that moment, I knew God had wanted me to find that business card so I could hold onto it until I found her. Can you imagine ... one day you are kissing your loved one in the morning before they leave for work, and then you turn on the TV and see the worst disaster in American history, knowing your loved one was in there? I cannot imagine the horrible feeling those people felt seeing that unfold before their own eyes. You see, the family of this man heard he had gotten out when the towers came down and was in the hospital with smoke inhalation problems. But several hours later, they found out differently.

I don’t think those of us outside the families that lost loved ones that day, realized how difficult it would be for these people to see and hear about this disaster every day for many years to come. I would have taken away the pain for every one of them if I could have, so they would not have to see or hear about that terrible day ever again. Just like many others, I felt great helplessness knowing I could not help. However, I did get to help one family in this terrible disaster.

Helping the Healing
You've heard about all the heroism of people helping each other after that terrible day -- all the firefighters, police and EMS. What I did does not even come close to the courage and fortitude of those great people. However, it helps me sleep at night to know that after the saddest day in American history, I got to help one family that suffered so much. In whatever way, no matter how small, it felt good to know that they could start to heal some of the pain.

I sent the business card and pictures with a letter that I had written to the man's wife. After she received them, the sisters and brothers of the man called me. Newspaper reporters from different parts of the country have called to say how much my letter touched the family. They wanted to put my letter in their hometown paper. When I started this, I was afraid that by contacting this family, it would only hurt them even more. That was the last thing I wanted to do. But like I said, God only knows why he put me there that fateful day.

True American Heroes
The saddest thing about this whole story is that the brother of the man, and other family members that worked in the financial district, had to run away that day, and then witness the towers come crashing down. The man from the business card had escaped the 1993 WTC attacks as a hero himself, by helping a woman get out of the building safely. Nobody will ever know how that business card survived from the 104th floor of the south tower for me to find it among all the debris, but I am glad that I was the one that did.

In April 2002, I met the man’s wife and family members at a restaurant called Park Avenue Country Club in New York. They showed me what true American’s do when something so tragic happens. They hugged me, and cried with me, and told me so many people were touched by my letter. Then they showed me pictures of a loving father, husband, brother and family member. These were pictures just like ones I have of my sons and my family.

The restaurant refused to let us pay for anything that night. The restaurant owner treated us like we were famous. When we parted that night, the wife of the man came up to me, hugged me, and told me thank you. With tears in both of our eyes, we walked away. At that very moment, I never felt more proud about being a firefighter. I knew that I had completed the journey that God had started for me back on September 14, 2001.
The next day, the man's brother gave us a tour of the New York stock exchange. While there, people came up to shake our hands and say thank you. One very nice man handed me a check for $500, which I gave to my own fire department.

While in New York, we were there to give a check for $31,600 to the New York Port Authority Police Department. We had already given money to the New York Fire Department. But after seeing a story on the Port Authority Police and how little they were getting after losing 37 of their own, we decided to give them the money we had raised from the people of Monroe County, Michigan during a two-day fire boot and bottle drive.

Just before we left the hotel to head to Ground Zero to present the check to the Port Authority Police, one of the brothers from the man’s family called me on my cell phone. He asked me if he could go with us to present the check. So, on April 5, 2002, we went back to Ground Zero, with a new friend and a man that had lost a brother on September 11, 2001. During the presentation of the check, the brother watched and was touched by what we were doing for the Port Authority Police. But I knew he was there for a very different reason. He got to say goodbye to his brother that day. He realized that we can’t let the terrorists win. We have to carry on. My reason was for my own closure. Whatever the reasons, it helped two people come together from different parts of this country, and all because of a terrible, senseless act. It helped us both in so many ways and different levels.

Changed Lives
No matter how small of a part I played, there are people in this world able to face the day once more because God put me there to help. Though I was only there for a week, this one event has affected me more than anything in my life.

So many people have gone there since 9/11, working effortlessly day and night. They will never be the same. These are true American heroes. This disaster was about the people of New York—firefighters, police and EMS that gave the highest price of all—their lives. I just want to say, there were people from all over the world -- from small towns like mine -- to help the people of New York. If we are ever needed again (God forbid), we will be there -- Semper Fi.

Who would have thought that a small business card could touch so many lives in so many different ways?
The brother that went with us to Ground Zero was the first of his family members to return there after 9/11. He dug deep down inside himself for strength that day, and came with us to represent an enduring, courageous family. He said goodbye for all of them. And for someone who I never got to meet, the man from the business card had a family that I know loved him very much. They touched my life in so many different ways. At the time of this writing, they have not found the man's remains. The business card may be the only memorial they will ever have.

God bless America and all the families and the people of New York that were affected by this event. I salute you and hope some day the pain is not so strong.


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