NEW YORK – The retired firefighter who appeared during an iconic moment in history with President George W. Bush atop a fire engine at Ground Zero just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, has died from Ground Zero-related cancer. He was 91, the New York Post reported.
Former Long Island Rep. Peter King (R-NY) announced the passing of Bob Beckwith on Facebook Monday, referring to the veteran first responder as “an American icon who personified the best of the FDNY, New York and America at our most perilous moment.”
“I was proud to call Bob my friend and extend my prayers and deepest sympathy to his wife Barbara and all his family members,” King, 66, added. “Bob Beckwith R.I.P.”
During the 9/11 scene that has been stamped into history, someone handed Bush a bullhorn to address the first responders and ironworkers who were laboring tirelessly at Ground Zero. As the president spoke, his arm was draped around Beckwith’s shoulder.
“We can’t hear you,” a person in the crowd hollered. Bush then improvised his speech and delivered an impassioned rallying cry that electrified the audience — and the nation, later becoming a formidable part of his legacy.
“I can hear you,” Bush said through the bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”
A family spokesperson told the New York Post on Monday that Beckwith succumbed to Ground Zero-related melanoma that had spread to his lungs and brain after a years-long battle. He is survived by his wife, their six children and grandchildren.
Beckwith hailed from Baldwin, New York. He was 69-years-old and had been retired for seven years on Sept. 14, 2001 when he responded to Ground Zero to assist with search and resuce efforts. Prior to his retirement, he had served FDNY for 30 years.
On that legacy-making day in 2001, when his life became intertwined with the president, he simply wanted to serve. However, he unintentionally became part of history, with his photo splashed across newspapers and television screens worldwide.
Beckwith was standing on top of Engine Co. 76’s destroyed fire engine in the middle of the rubble, when he was approached by Karl Rove, a senior presidential aide, with an unusual request.
“Somebody is coming here. What you do, you help them up, and then you get down,” Rove instructed Beckwith.
Within minutes, Bush arrived and walked toward the retired firefighter and raised his arm.
“I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I pulled him up on the rig, I turned him around. I said, ‘Are you OK, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’” Beckwith recollected when speaking to NBC New York in 2023. “So, I start to get down and he said, ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘Oh no, you stay right here.’ And he put his arm around me.”
Every year since that momentous meeting, Beckwith has received a personalized Christmas card signed by the former president.
“Bob Beckwith was one of many retired FDNY members who responded to the World Trade Center site in the days and months following September 11, to aid in rescue and recovery, as a testament to their devotion to their FDNY family,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said in a statement.
“His iconic picture with President Bush captured a moment that was both inspiring and heartbreaking,” she added. “We are grateful to his service to our city and our nation, and we join his family and friends in mourning his loss.”