He would enter this world on July 25, 1953. He was given the name Richard Bruce Van Hine but he was called Bruce. He was the second child in the family, the only son. His mom celebrates her 94 birthday the end of this week. His dad died 21 years ago this November. His older sister lives in the mid west with her husband. Her grown children are married and have children and live in Colorado, Chicago and Minnesota. He had many aunts and uncles and lots of cousins. When he was young, he didn’t like school and his parents were told by his teachers that he was lazy. Upon graduation from high school, he would work as a lineman for the telephone company. And when he received a high draft number, he would enlist in the Navy. In the spring of 1975, he would be honorably discharged from the Navy and use all the money he had saved to buy a Porsche 914. And he would appear on my doorstep in September of 1975.
He was the friend of a friend. After our first date, I would tell that friend of a friend that Bruce was a “creep”. Through the years the joke would become that he was a still “a creep” but he was “my creep”. We would be married on June 14, 1980. He would start his own tree business and eventually pursue his dream of being a real firefighter, a New York City firefighter. He would register to take the FDNY test one month before he would have been too old to qualify. He would take the written test, the physical test, go through the psychological testing and be given a place on the list. And then that list would be in the courts for 8 years and his dream would be on hold. One funny anecdote from the psychological testing. The psychologist would ask Bruce if he had any siblings. Bruce would respond “yes”. “where is your sister?” “in Leavenworth” The doctor would pause and then say “is she incarcerated there?” “No she lives there with her family”. That was Bruce always the wise guy. When Bruce told me the story I couldn’t believe he had said that. He thought it was amusing. He would eventually be hired as a New York City firefighter. He would also work at his tree jobs. And play a major role in raising our daughters.
Bruce loved to be outdoors. He enjoyed scuba diving, hunting and hiking. He tried his hand at skiing but that wasn’t really his thing. He wasn’t a big reader but he did enjoy Bill Bryson book “A Walk in the Woods” about two non hikers through hiking the Appalachian Trail. That was another dream of his to through hike the Appalachian Trail. He enjoyed family vacations and we took some great, inexpensive vacations. Mostly camping trips – tent camping, then we graduated to a pop up and eventually we got a trailer.
He had no problem with being Mr Clark at my dance studio. I added Van Hine to my maiden name when we married. But I was Ann Clark at my studio. I actually was never Mrs Van Hine until after Bruce died. Kind of weird when you think about it. At one point in our marriage, I was the Sunday School Superintendent at our local church as well as the District Children’s Ministries Director for Metro New York . One day for some bizarre reason I said to Bruce “you know you really should get a ministry” And without missing a beat he said to me “I have a ministry”. “You do. What?” “You are my ministry” and with that he walked calming out of the room. And I realized that I was able to do all the things I was doing because Bruce was giving me his unbridled support, encouragement and love.
On February 26, 1993, Bruce was working on something in the basement. I would turn the television on to watch noontime news and hear that there had been an explosion at the World Trade Center. I would yell that information down the stairs to Bruce. He would come bounding up the stairs, listen to the report on the television and in true firefighter fashion say “I can’t believe I missed the big one.”
In August of 2001, Bruce would escort his mother to her granddaughter, his niece’s wedding in Chicago. At that wedding he would see his sister, his one niece and her groom, his two nephews and their future spouses. At the end of August, he would spend the night on the AP trail. And during that weekend he would finish the Connecticut piece of the trail leaving a Bible in a plastic bag in the trail shelter. By doing day hikes through the years, he completed the NJ, NY, PA and CT sections of the trail.
And on September 11, 2001, Squad 41 would be sent to Manhattan to relocate at Squad 18 but on the way there the second plane would hit the WTC and they would go directly to the WTC site. They would enter #2 WTC and get pretty high up into the tower when they would come across injured civilians. They would start to bring those civilians down as the building collapsed. That scenario wouldn’t be known until many months after the attacks. The FDNY knew Squad 41 had been dispatched but they didn’t know which tower they had gone in, etc.. At some point during that first week after September 11, I had a dream. In my dream Bruce was in the towers and he realized the building was collapsing and he tried even harder to get people to “move” and then he whispered that he loved his girls (that is what he called me and our two daughters) and he was face to face with God. He would enter eternity on September 11, 2001.
People have said that R. Bruce Van Hine was a hero. He wouldn’t like that word. He would say he was just doing his job, a job that he loved. He got to be the real firefighter that he always wanted to be. He is missed but his legacy of faith, family, friends and living your calling will be told to the next generation.
So here goes 11 random things I have learned since September 11, 2001. Some serious and some not.
Photo is of the flag that covered Bruce’s body when his remains were found in March 2002. The medal is the Congressional Medal of Valor which was awarded to all first responders who died in the line of duty on September 11, 2001. We were invited to the White House in September of 2005. Not inside just on the lawn. Still trying to get an invitation inside.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” -Robert Frost
When I tell my personal story while doing tours at the National September 11 Memorial for the Tribute Center, I say “there are 2 reasons I have made it through the last 11 years – my faith and the fact that Bruce was a NYC firefighter. I have never asked why because on September 11 he was doing his job. It was his job to go into those buildings and it was a job he loved.” But I really should say “there are 3 reasons I have made it through the last 11 years – my faith, the fact Bruce was a NYC firefighter and that I am blest to have the most amazing family and friends.”
My faith is what has sustained me through the years. God has proved that He can be trusted. He has allowed me to hide behind him. He has carried me. He has put me down to walk beside him and He has picked me up again. Bruce and I always talked about that if we truly believed what we said we believed then when one of us died it better be different, because we either believe there is eternal life or we don’t. I believe that it is only time that separates Bruce and I. And when eternity comes I will see my husband again. That doesn’t mean that I am happy that he died. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t looked towards the heaven and yelled “are you kidding me”. But God is big enough for my doubts and questions. He has given me a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” I was asked by a television reporter in December 2001 “how was I coping”. I answered “I am not coping. I am hoping.” I realized after I said it that could have become a “sound bite” that said “I wasn’t coping”. Thankful they used the entire statement.
Because Bruce was a firefighter, I believe he died in the line of duty. He gave his life, no one took it. Whenever a firefighter goes to work, he may not come home. That is a whole different thing than your 23-year-old son was sitting at a desk and terrorist flew a commercial airliner into the building. Firefighters did their jobs that day. (As did the police officers and WTC security people) The brotherhood of the FDNY is unmatched. I am very grateful to be part of that family. But we should not forget that there were civilians who did amazing things for each other. I believe there are wonderful stories of people helping people that we will never know because all those involved lost their lives. It has been said that “September 11 was the worst of humanity and the best of humanity.”
I have been blest with the most amazing family and friends. People who were with me and my daughters from the beginning of this journey. People who did “all those things I couldn’t do”. People who have become part of our life since September 11 and have enriched my life in more ways than I can count.
I am going to take the liberty of sharing a few things that I hope people realize as September 11, 2011 approaches.
Thanks for “listening” and don’t forget to hug your family and friends and tell them that love them 🙂