DAVID GREENE, host:
Yesterday on this program, our series StoryCorps brought us the voices of people who lost loved ones on 9/11. This morning we hear one more story, from people who remember the man whose death certificate was the first of all those issued in connection with the attacks. Father Mychal Judge was a Franciscan friar and a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. He was also a true New York character. He was a native of Brooklyn, and he seemed to know everyone in the city, from the homeless to the mayor.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
On the morning of September 11th, Father Mychal arrived at the World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit. Bill Cosgrove, a police lieutenant, was also there. And when the first tower collapsed, Cosgrove and a group of firefighters emerged from the dust carrying Father Mychal's body. At that moment a photographer snapped a picture which would become an iconic image of the day, five men carrying a fallen priest slouched in a chair, the tragedy's first official victim.
GREENE: Here's Bill Cosgrove talking about the events leading up to that famous photograph, followed by Father Michael Duffy remembering Mychal Judge's funeral service.
Lieutenant BILL COSGROVE: I went a couple of steps, and I hit something. And I told the fire chief that somebody was on the floor. And he put the light on him and I remember him saying, oh my god, it's Father Myke.
He checked his vital signs and he said, he's dead. So, we all picked him up. We went up the steps. And I remember looking up, because one of the firemen was yelling at a photographer. He was telling him, in no uncertain terms, get out of the way.
I didn't even think about that picture being taken. I was just doing my job. It's just so many other heroic acts were being done all around me. It's just that no one took a picture of it.
The next day, when I came back into the precinct, somebody showed me the picture. And I got a lot of calls from people that knew Mychal Judge firemen. They assumed I knew him, you know, but I didn't, until that day.
He's always been on my mind ever since then, because it's my firm belief that the only reason I'm here today is because of him. I know that sounds weird, but everybody you see in that picture was saved. And I'm sure, had he not been there, I would have been trying to look for other people. And when that North Tower fell, I would have been right in the middle of it, just like the rest of the firemen were, and some of my cops. But nothing was going to happen that day. At least, not to me.
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Father MICHAEL DUFFY: My name is Father Michael Duffy and I'm a Franciscan brother to Father Mychal Judge. We Franciscans are a little odd, and one of our oddities is, there's a form we fill out it's called On My Death. It says where you want your funeral mass to be, who you want to do the homily, and et cetera, like that.
So 9/11 happened on a Tuesday. Well the next day the phone rang and it was our provincial in New York, and he said Mychal wanted you to do the homily. And I said, well, yes, but this is different. It should be someone with a little more import. So, I think you should do it. And there was a long pause. And he said, but Mychal wanted you.
So I mean, what are you going to say to that?
Family and friends of Mychal Judge, good morning everyone.
I said to myself, when I see Mychal, I'm going to kill him.
I stand in front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother Theresa's funeral had it easier than I do.
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Father DUFFY: There was 3,000 people at his funeral. The church wasn't big enough to hold them. They were outside. Bill Clinton was there, Hillary Clinton, all New York.
And the moment arrived. I stood up, and I reached in to get my glasses and I couldn't get to the pocket, because my vestment was covering them. Thank goodness I'd practiced it, because I couldn't read it.
He loved to bless people and I mean physically even if they didn't ask. A little old lady would come up to him, and he would put his big thick Irish hands and press the head 'til I think the poor woman would be crushed.
Everyone thought that Mychal Judge was their best friend. He'd remember significant things in their life and he'd write a little note, just one or two lines. Of course they'd write him back. So he had a big black satchel filled with letters to answer.
He would say to me once and a while, Michael Duffy he always called me by my full name Michael Duffy, you know what I need?
And I would get excited, because it was hard to buy him a present or anything. I said, no, what?
You know what I really need?
No. What, Myke?
Absolutely nothing. I don't need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth. Why am I so blessed? I don't deserve it.
Mychal Judge's body was the first one released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the number one on the top. Of the thousands of people who perished in that terrible holocaust, why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason. Mychal's goal and purpose in life was to bring the firemen to the point of death so they would be ready to meet their maker. Mychal Judge could not have ministered to them all. It was physically impossible in this life.
In the next few weeks, we're going to have name after name of people who are being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal Judge is going to be on the other side of death to greet them, instead of send them there.
And so, this morning we come to bury Myke Judge's body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love. Never his love.
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INSKEEP: Homily from Father Mychal Judge's funeral, September 15, 2001 by Father Michael Duffy. Before that you heard from Bill Cosgrove, one of the men in the iconic photo of Mychal Judge taken on 9/11. You can see it at npr.org.
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