Firefighter Icon Bob Beckwith, Who Became a Symbol of American Unity After 9/11, Dies at Age 91

NEW YORK — The city and country mourns the passing of Bob Beckwith, the retired firefighter known for his iconic encounter with then-President George W. Bush at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Beckwith passed away at the age of 91 in hospice care on Sunday night, following a battle with cancer. This news has brought a wave of remembrance for one of the heroes of 9/11.

Wearing his old firefighter helmet, Beckwith was captured standing alongside President Bush as he addressed weary responders just days after the twin towers in New York City collapsed. The image of their encounter became a symbol of American unity in the face of tragedy. His wife, Barbara Beckwith, highlighted that her husband was a normal, well-liked, and quiet man, despite his sudden fame.

Beckwith had retired for seven years after a 30-year career, but he rushed to join search-and-rescue efforts following the attacks. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, he recounted to the AP how he ended up on the crushed Engine Co. 76 truck, standing alongside President Bush, as he was only looking for a good vantage point to see the president.

The enduring image of Bush with his arm around Beckwith, addressing the crowd through a bullhorn and chanting “USA! USA!” became a symbol of resilience in the face of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. This moment captured in videos and photos by various news outlets landed Beckwith on the cover of Time magazine, a keepsake that he proudly displayed at his home for years.

Beckwith’s legacy will continue to live on, with his wake set for Friday and his burial on Saturday, where he will be laid to rest on Long Island. Meanwhile, former President Bush has offered his condolences, highlighting Beckwith’s courage and resilient spirit in the aftermath of the attacks.

In response to Beckwith’s passing, New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh commented on the inspiring and heartbreaking image, emphasizing the dedication of Beckwith and other former first responders. Additionally, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, a union representing NYC firefighters, paid tribute to Beckwith’s efforts in searching for the members lost on that fateful day in 2001.