At my grandmother’s funeral this summer, we took time to acknowledge the family members who had predeceased her. We prayed for her husband, two of her sons and two of her grandsons. Her late grandsons are my cousins, Terry and Kenny Hatton.
Kenny died of a brain tumor when he was only 16. Terry was almost 18 at the time. I remember that it was Terry who called the extended family members, including my parents, to tell them that his brother had passed away. Kenny was a star athlete for his school’s baseball team. We thought that his physical fitness may have hidden the early effects of his illness. It wasn’t until he inexplicably fell during a ballgame and complained of a headache that his tumor was discovered. By then, it was quite large. He underwent surgery to remove it but never regained consciousness.
When someone dies young, it reminds us of the fragility and the value of our own lives. The death of a close family member may inspire us to do something we had been putting off. At my father’s wake, one of his friends told my mother that they hoped to visit Ireland someday. She told them to stop procrastinating and make the trip because you never know when it will be too late. My father had hoped to get there too but didn’t.
Obviously, Kenny’s death had an effect on Terry. I wish I could ask him about it. Terry joined the volunteer fire department in Rockville Centre the same year his brother died, a fact I was reminded of by a comment in an online guestbook honoring his memory. Their dad, Ken Hatton Sr., was a deputy chief for the New York City Fire Department. Terry went on to join FDNY himself, rising through the ranks to become captain of Rescue 1. Ten years ago today, he was one of New York’s Bravest who marched into the burning twin towers as the civilian survivors tried to get out. 343 firefighters lost their lives at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Firefighters call each other “brother.” Tim Brown, one of the last people to see Terry alive heard him say, “I love you, brother. I may never see you again.” Brown will be featured in a Showtime special called “Rebirth” that premieres at 9:00 p.m. tonight and repeats throughout the week.
I heard my cousin’s name on the radio last night. I was flipping between stations when I landed on a talk show host talking about a column by Peggy Noonan. As he started reading aloud from it, I just knew that Terry’s name would somehow come up. Here’s the part I heard:
And there were the firemen. They were the heart of it all, the guys who went up the stairs with 50 to 75 pounds of gear and tools on their back. The other people who were there in the towers, they were innocent victims, they went to work that morning and wound up in the middle of a disaster. But the firemen saw the disaster before they went into it, they knew what they were getting into, they made a decision. And a lot of them were scared, you can see it on their faces on the pictures people took in the stairwells. The firemen would be going up one side of the stairs, and the fleeing workers would be going down on the other, right next to them, and they’d call out, “Good luck, son,” and, “Thank you, boys.”
They were tough men from Queens and Brooklyn and Staten Island, and they had families, wives and kids, and they went up those stairs. Captain Terry Hatton of Rescue 1 got as high as the 83rd floor. That’s the last time he was seen.