Craig Monahan was a New York City firefighter who ran to Ground Zero on September 11th, 2001. His burned Chevy Silverado pickup survived to become a symbol of resolve, even making its way into a national television ad campaign. I wanted to know where the truck and Monahan are today. This is their story.
On that morning, Monahan was at a friend's house in Staten Island, off-duty from Engine 24/Ladder 5, when he saw the smoke on TV. He ran to his truck, picked up another firefighter and drove in — taking the shoulder when he had to, with his buddy leaning out the window making siren noises to clear traffic.
They drove down and ran into the twin towers as people ran away. Monahan parked his truck near a walking bridge, leaving the keys in the ignition in case someone needed to move it, then scuttered around the all-enveloping hell. One tower fell. Monahan stayed, kept working, putting out car fires, running metal saws. Fire chiefs would pass him in the dust, tell him to go north. There were still other guys from Engine 24/Ladder 5 that never made it out — 11, when there was time to count (plus two more if you count the station's brothers who fell during the Deutsche Bank fire in 2007 next to Ground Zero).
The other tower fell, and Monahan stayed.
When he came back to his truck, he found it covered in flaming debris, the front grille, headlamps and turn signals melting from the heat. Monahan needed to move, to get to the firehouse.
He turned the key. The Silverado started. Monahan would later call it "the first victory of World War III."
Almost every day for weeks, Monahan kept driving the Silverado to the site. Soon after, when they found the wreckage of Ladder 5, they put the ladder truck's sign on the truck bed. People would cheer when it drove by, heading south. "It helped us," Monahan told me. "It kind of empowered us a bit. We weren't afraid of nothing down there.
Today the truck stays at where we found it today — Hawthorne Chevrolet in New Jersey, who keeps it out of the rain. Other than for our photos today, Monahan only takes it out for special events and back to Engine 24 / Ladder 5. The truck had a cameo in a 2008 Chevy ad; Monahan tells us he gave the money he received to a firefighter's family.
Monahan is now retired from firefighting, but still helps out whenever he can. I first talked with Monahan a year ago about his truck. At the time, he was upset, about plans for a mosque near what was called by many who worked on-site in the days and months after 9/11, "The Pit," and the way people were talking. "It's as if we're forgetting what happened," he said then.
Today, he's more cheerful. Lots of people stop by the firehouse. He and his friends have talked about leaving the truck down there, but the firefighters need the parking spots. They've even talked about putting pieces of the melted Silverado on the firehouse walls, but that's city property.
Besides, the firehouse has another memorial, a gift from a French artist, showing the Statue of Liberty catching a fallen firefighter. Let the other memorials take the weather and gawkers. If Monahan needs to remind anyone of how you can be burned but not broken, the Silverado is ready, off the streets but not forgotten.
"When the next one hits," he says, "we'll bring it back."
Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove