Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today We Remember FF Leon Smith Jr., Ladder Co. 118, FDNY

Today We Remember FF Leon Smith Jr., 48-years-old, Ladder Co. 118 who was killed on September 11th.

Thirty years ago, when Leon Smith drove his wife to look at the little firehouse at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, she asked him if he was sure this was what he wanted, and he answered yes, he would die for this job.

When Leon Smith Jr. was a youngster, he often disappeared without giving notice to his mother or father. His mother, Irene, said she always knew where to find him: hanging out in the firehouse across the street from the family's home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Punishment didn't dissuade him. "I was fighting a losing battle," she said. So much so, her husband pleaded the case for letting him be. "At least you know he's safe there," the late Leon William Smith Sr. would tell his wife.

Years later, Leon’s boyhood dream came true when he joined the FDNY. He was the chauffeur at Ladder 118, the guy who drove the rig to the fires. They called him “Express” because of how fast he would drive through traffic to get to the fires.

Leon referred to his fire truck as "his girlfriend." He washed it every chance he got. And when he was off tour, his crew knew they'd better spruce up Smith's "girlfriend" before he returned or they'd hear it from him.

On September 11th a photographer snapped a picture from Brooklyn of the twin towers. In the foreground is the tiny image of a ladder truck crossing the bridge, dwarfed by two smoking World Trade Center towers looming a mile overhead. It is the Ladder Co. 118 truck and Leon Smith is at the wheel. You can view this picture here: http://www.green-wood.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/911.bridge.jpg

That's the last glimpse anyone in Brooklyn gets of the six men on that truck.

The last known person to see them alive is Bobby Graff, an elevator mechanic at the Marriott, who later tells rescuers that he remembers them because they're tall and wear the red 118 badge on their helmets.

He says the men of Ladder 118 formed a human chain to keep panicked hotel guests and staff from running out of the collapsing building the wrong way. The fleeing crowd would have been buried alive if not diverted by the firefighters.

Since Sept. 11, Irene Smith, Leon’s mom, shares home cooked meals with the Ladder Co. 118 crew. They give her the strength she needs to go on and she gives them the strength they need to keep going.

All of Ladder 118 are my sons now, my extended family," she said, sobbing. "They are the greatest bunch of guys you'd ever want to meet."

She can still hear her son's boisterous laugh and conjures up images of his kind and caring heart.

Once he came home from school without his coat, and when she asked what had happened to it, he told her he gave it to a kid who didn't have one because he had three.

She used to take him on regular excursions to different places in the city. Occasionally, "I'd hear a knock at the door and I'd open it to see several neighborhood kids standing there, grinning. He would say, 'I invited them, Mamma.' I didn't have any money, but I couldn't refuse them."

"Leon was my hero," his mother said. "When my husband passed, I told Leon I lost my right arm. He said, 'No, you haven't, Mamma, I'll always be here for you.'”

We Will Never Forget!

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