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A Message from President Caldwell about the Life and Legacy of Bob Beckwith

A Message from President Caldwell about the Life and Legacy of Bob Beckwith

Bob Beckwith, who lost his battle with cancer earlier this week, will always serve as a symbol of American resilience and authentic servant leadership. Beckwith’s face is recognizable all over the world as the New York City firefighter who stood on the burned-out fire truck at Ground Zero while President George W. Bush, using only a bullhorn, addressed the workers among the rubble, along with stunned and frightened Americans and the rest of the world. The image of those two men standing together as our President announces that “the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon,” is already one of the most iconic images in American history—an image that managed to go “viral” before social media even existed, and which continues to inspire people today.

But what makes Beckwith a great American and a man worthy of emulation isn’t the fact that he stood next to the President of the United States during a crucial moment in American history. That honor could have fallen on anyone working the rubble at Ground Zero that day. It’s the story of how Beckwith ended up next to the President on that day that’s truly remarkable.

Unlike many of those brave men and women on the scene that day, Beckwith had no official duty to be there. He wasn’t responding to a dispatch or an order. He was a 69-year-old retired firefighter who hadn’t suited up for duty in seven years. But when he saw the towers fall, he knew where he needed to be, to help others.

Bob Beckwith was one of those brave souls whose call to action that day came only from within.

So, he put on his old leather hat and headed for Ground Zero. He drove around the orange road cones blocking bridge access and told the National Guard he was supposed to be there. And that’s how he ended up being a part of the crew that was busy uncovering a burned-out fire engine that – unbeknownst to anyone at the time – would become an impromptu stage for the President of the United States.

Bob Beckwith was photographed with President Bush that day because he was a man who saw that his country, his city, and his department needed him and knew immediately that he had to help. He was a man who had no official duty to show up, but felt his duty to be there— the sort of duty that comes from inside.

At Georgia Military College, we are a leadership institute. We aim to develop men and women who feel the type of duty that Bob Beckwith felt that September morning 23 years ago. We instill in our students the values of duty, honor, and love of country, and character above all. Bob Beckwith lived all of those values that day he showed up to help. May his service be forever remembered and be an inspiration to all of us.