Two friends: Sept. 11, 2001 “I am staying with my friend…”
Of all of the soul-touching stories from September 11, 2001, I believe the story of two friends named Abe and Ed is the best. It is gleaned from the excellent book, 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn (Times Books copyright 2005)
When the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, practically everyone below the impact zones between floors 90-100 was able to escape before the tower fell over an hour and half later.
Sadly no one above the impact zone lived. All elevators and stairways were blocked. When the north tower fell 102 minutes after the initial impact, there were no survivors from the upper portions of the North Tower.
2,749 people died in the New York attacks on September 11, 2001. They each had a story and a life. Large numbers do not stay with us:
-250,000 missing or dead from the Asian tsunami.
-1667 dead from Hurricane Katrina
-Over 3000 dead in New York Washington, and Pennsylvania on that infamous morning Americans will never forget.
But when we changed those numbers into names and faces, they come to mean something personal and emotionally touch us.
Here is the story of two of those 2,749- one who could not escape, and one who chose not to escape.
Ed Beyea was on the 27th floor when the first plane hit his building at 8:46 am. Ed was a quadriplegic who had become paralyzed in a diving accident twenty years earlier. He was escorted to work each day at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield by his aide Irma Fuller. She had hung up his jacket and set him up with the mouth stick he used to type. Irma then left and rode up to the 47th floor cafeteria to order breakfast.
As Irma came down after the initial crash we found Ed in his wheelchair at the stairwell for the 27th floor. By now the mass evacuation of the North Tower was in full force. With the elevators evidently being out of service, the stairs were the only way out.
With Ed’s size (he weighed 280 pounds due to kidney problems) and his heavy motorized chair, it would take four or five big men to carry him down.
Irma saw another co-worker standing by Ed Beyea’s chair. His name was Abe Zelmanowitz, another Blue Cross employee. He worked one cubicle over from Ed and they shared a very close friendship. These two men had worked together for twelve years. In spite of great differences: physical, cultural, religious, and age-wise they shared a special friendship that extended beyond work hours.
Ed Beyea was Catholic and Abe Zelmanowitz was an Orthodox Jew. Beyea was thirteen years younger and twice the size of the thin Zelmanowitz. While the wheelchair- bound Beyea talked and laughed loudly, his friend Abe was soft-spoken and unassuming. As is so often the case in life, their friendship extended across these differences and the bond of their relationship was strong. This connection they shared was to be tested and sealed in the coming hour.
Irma Fuller came upon these two men as she walked onto the stairwell landing at 27 C. Everyone was moving in the stairwell- all those above getting out and a now steady stream of rescue workers coming up, headed for the impact zone far above. By now everyone had began to sense how serious the situation was.
This included Ed, Abe and Irma. Abe Zelmanowitz told Irma to go, “l will stay with Ed.” Beyea also insisted that she leave. They both told her to find someone downstairs to come up and help.
As Irma Fuller rejoined the long procession of workers snaking their way down, Zelmanowitz hollered, “Irma, we are on 27C.”
In the coming hour hundreds, if not thousands, passed by the landing at 27C on their way down to safety. Many told of passing the wheelchair bound man and his friend standing beside him.
Firefighters passed by on their way up. Everyone assumed that later rescuers would come up to bring Ed Beyea down to safety.
One firefighter stopping to catch his breath stood by Abe Zelmanowitz. “Why don’t you go?” he asked the office worker.
“No, I’m staying with my friend” was his quiet but sure reply
As you’ve probably figured out, both Ed Beyea and Abe Zelmanowitz died when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am.
No one carried Ed Beyea down to safety. He could have probably begged rescuers to stop their upward climb to bring him down didn’the evidently didn’t.
Even more remarkably, Abe Zelmanowitz could have easily walked down the 27 flights of stairs to safety and safely went home that day. But he didn’t.
He chose to stay with his friend. He made a conscious choice to remain with his friend– win, lose, or draw. It would be easy to say he lost. But I’m not so sure that is how he would define his decision. An earlier Jewish philosopher named Solomon stated it this way,
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Abe was that kind of friend to his Gentile friend. No man who demonstrates that kind of friendship is ever a loser.
The words of another Jewish teacher come to my mind. Jesus, whom I follow as Lord of my life, stated, “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.”
That great love is the type that was exhibited on that horrible day on floor 27 of the North Tower.
We’ll never know about the last minutes of conversation between these two men- one who couldn’t escape and the other who chose not to. To read the details of the last minutes of both towers (the South tower, although hit second, fell twenty-nine minutes before the North Tower) informs one that those inside knew something terrible was occurring as the building shook, groaned, and vibrated in the death throes previous to total collapse.
I can see Ed Beyea telling Abe Zelmanowitz to leave, run, flee… He still might have time to get out. The stairways were now clear and a man flooded with adrenaline could quickly cover lots of flights going down.
But Abe had decided to stay with his friend no matter what. No matter the cost.
I am sure that Ed eventually realized that Abe would not, and could not, leave.
It is not carrying it too far to imagine these two friends calmly talking at the end reliving work stories and meals enjoyed together. I can hear Ed Beyea saying,
“Abe, thanks for staying.”
And his soft-spoken friends reply, “Don’t mention it. You’re welcome.”
Friends in life and work.
Joined together in death,
To be remembered.
Greater love has no man …