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Louie Called Yesterday….

May 3

In Thoughts at 7:30am

First thing he said was, “It’s a good day, pal.”

Louie is an extraordinary guy, and an average one at the same time. Average in that he immigrated here from Italy as a youngster, and made a life, as many have done. Extraordinary in his decency, humanity and good will. On 911 all those years ago, he took extraordinary to another level.

Trapped in a smoky stairwell, he slipped and slid down railings, past hundreds of terrified people, to reach a door leading to the lobby of the still standing tower. It was jammed. The lobby was filled with debris from the already collapsed tower. He called for some big guys to help him wedge the door open, and told people to follow his light. There’s no way to tell how many people he saved that day.

Racing against what everyone knew was about to happen, they headed towards West. St. The tower came down. Louie was engulfed in suffocating ash. He had no oxygen tank. As many firefighters did that day, he’d ditched his to get lighter. In the blinding soot and smoke, he stumbled and his hands found, as he put it, “a miracle thing.” Another oxygen tank, abandoned by a firefighter. He clapped it to his face. He estimates he had a couple minutes left.

The news wires are buzzing, of course. Reactions range from flag waiving happiness, to cautionary reminders about the future and the complex world we live in. A murdering, soulless bastard is gone, but time and history have proved there may be more in the wings. Certainly, for the armed forces, who routinely stare down the most harrowing situations, there’s a sense of a job done, and done well.

I guess I’m thinking about all this, a lot, partly because of the news, and partly because I’ve reconnected lately with many folks I photographed right after 911. There’s a wonderful sense of the positive with all concerned. There’s the healing of time, and the staying power of life ongoing, of watching kids grow, of having another dinner at the firehouse, another run, another day. I was with Danny Foley this past weekend, who continues to fight fires from the Rescue 3 company in the Bronx. His brother Tommy was also with Rescue 3 and was lost on 911. Every day on the job, he straps Tommy’s mass card to his helmet, and walks into another burning building.

Just doing some thinking this morning. Happy’s not the right word. Nor is elated, to be sure. Satisfaction? Hmmm…don’t think so. The new buildings down there are going up, but all those people are still gone. No undoing it.

Guess I’ll go with Louie. He said it, simple and direct. It was a good day. More tk….

50 Responses to “Louie Called Yesterday….”

Simon says:

on May 3, 2011 at 7:41 am

Of all the acres of copy, good and bad about Bin Laden’s assassination, this says it all. Joe, your posts move my family and I to tears on occasion. This was one of them…

joe r says:

on May 3, 2011 at 7:41 am

Great post, Joe. I think you hit it on the head, in both the post and the photo. I love the warm, sunrise-type of light. It says “next chapter” in a perfectly unsubtle way.

Christina says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:15 am

Thanks Joe~ as perplexing as it all is~ your post made a special effort to attempt to claim the truth for us all~ simply stated, “It was a good day”

thanks and blessins’

Darren says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:16 am


Deb Scally says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:17 am

Nobody says it better, Joe. Thanks for this one, and for reminding us again, about all the Louie’s out there. Yesterday was for them.

dgw says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:26 am

Great post Joe. I wish all of the stories from the last couple of days showed the humanity that yours did.

Alan MacRae says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:26 am


I have your “Faces of Ground Zero” poster hanging my office. It was the first thing that come to mind when I heard the news. I have to agree with Simon’s post; he said it all, you said it all.

reg says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

Sums up exactly how most rational individuals feel.
An evil has been done to an evil individual.
It will hopefully improve the worlds direction
Still it doesnt feel right to rejoice in anothers death

mike says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:36 am

Neither elation nor happiness. “Relief” is as close as I can think, and even that isn’t quite right.

It’s the final exhalation after holding your breath for a decade without even realizing it. Whatever happens next will be dealt with then. For now, it’s just nice to be able to breathe again.

Thank you for a wonderful post.

Jerry Sheehan says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:48 am

Take your challenge coin from the Seattle stop and buy Louie a drink for me.

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:52 am

Thanks, Joe. I thought of you a lot yesterday too, and all the blood, sweat, tears and film you shed down at Ground Zero. I still look through your Faces of Ground Zero book (with Louie on the cover) a lot.

Folks, listen to Joe’s interview here with the 9/11 Memorial:

~ Mark

Andor says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:57 am

Great post again – and damn true about ‘no undoing’
But at least it looks like sooner or later every crime must be paid for.

Tim Skipper says:

on May 3, 2011 at 9:15 am

As Darren said, Amen.

David says:

on May 3, 2011 at 9:32 am

Joe, As usual, you have a gift of expressing and sharing profound thoughts into words. Thx.

Bob says:

on May 3, 2011 at 9:51 am

If anyone else whines about their damn Frio I’m going to puke.

Jeff Weiler says:

on May 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

Wow, thanks for sharing, Joe. For someone like me with no direct connection to the terrible tragedy that was 911, this really puts it in perspective.

Doug Sahlin says:

on May 3, 2011 at 10:19 am

Joe. I really admire the way you cut to the chase with your photography and your writing. This is an excellent post that says it all.

Dale Ward says:

on May 3, 2011 at 10:41 am

A good day, indeed.

Debra says:

on May 3, 2011 at 10:45 am

Thank you for the image of Louie, a beautiful haunting portrait. Thank you for speaking from the heart. No spin, no agenda, just keeping it real, as always.

Christina says:

on May 3, 2011 at 10:56 am

where’s the shadows and highlights that we always see in your photos?

Christina says:

on May 3, 2011 at 11:02 am

Great Post, I just read it. Yesterday was a great day. It’s the start of the end of fanatics. Wow.

Dawn says:

on May 3, 2011 at 11:36 am

Agreed. I struggled with how I felt about this too. Relieved, a little, scared, yep that too like that ‘what’s next’ feeling that there might be a oneupmanship brewing… But, yep, a good day. Glad you survived the tour Joe :) Thanks again to you and David for being so fabulous.

Tom Peterson says:

on May 3, 2011 at 11:50 am

I wish every American would read your post. You’re right. It wasn’t a day for joy, but more of a day for reflection. Is the fact that Bin Laden’s gone a good thing? Only time will tell. If it puts an end to terrorism, it’s a great thing. If it increases it, not so much.

Another great, thoughtful post.

Mark says:

on May 3, 2011 at 11:51 am


I was in NYC when 9/11 happened. My grand father helped build the foundations for the Twin Towers and he died that morning. To say that was it was a bad day, would be putting it lightly. I watched the Twin Towers burn as I looked down 5th Avenue. Thinking of that day still brings chills and tears…so yes, yesterday was a good day, a damn good day.

Oliver says:

on May 3, 2011 at 11:54 am

Somehow you know it had to be done and at the same time, it probably does little. The book, “Vengeance,” about a Mossad agent involved with retribution strikes against those responsible for the assassinations at the’72 Munich Olympic, is a sad testament to the futility and the frustration of killing one head of the hydra-headed beast that is terrorism.

Greg C. says:

on May 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Thanks Joe and Thank you Louie! Louie is a true hero and could not have said it any better, it is a good day!

Eric Politzer says:

on May 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm

God bless you, Joe. God bless Louie and everyone who was there that day. And God bless all who perished that horrible day, and their loved ones.

At most I feel a sense of relief, and I pray that this is a moment that might allow us to redirect ourselves to creating a more just and compassionate world for all.

Craig says:

on May 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Joe: I enjoy your writings, and this one did not disappoint. I too felt no reason to rejoice, or dance in the street, and actually, I could not understand the actions of those who did. We lost so much that day. I just felt empty, as I did on that day, and perhaps today, emptier still. Keep writing and shooting Joe. Amen, indeed.

Peter / Denmark says:

on May 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Dignity, even at times of your enemy’s defeat, is the sign of a great man. Thank you for showing that Joe!

Earl says:

on May 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Great post. I generally don’t take pleasure in anyone’s death…but I can make an exception.

Amandalynn says:

on May 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Brilliantly written Joe, thanks for sharing this with us all.

Rich Cave says:

on May 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I lost friends because of that man, but he cant take my honesty and integrity and to jubilate in that mans death would disrespect the memories of my friends, the sons daughters mothers fathers and kin of those lost.

Yep its a good day, though would have loved my friends to share it with me…


Mike says:

on May 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Joe, after a good cry yesterday I too have been struggling with the celebration. Not sure how to feel until now. Well said. Thank you.

John Fowler says:

on May 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm

It was. A good day Joe. You said it best.

Christopher T. Murphy says:

on May 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

I knew the news would bring introspection for you and those close to you due to senseless tragedy.

I’m the guy with the heart problem you gifted your DVD to in St. Louis on the Flashbus tour. Thanks again for that, it is a great treat to see you teach.

Vengeance is the Lord’s, revenge is a temptation for man. I find no comfort in the death of the wicked, for his fate is sealed forever. For those who remain, there is still time to choose Him. I pray for us all.

I got a peak into your humanity at the side of the stage just before lunch in St. Louis that day. Your heart is bigger than mine, (and works better!) but I think we connected on a level deeper than photography. Yet photography has allowed you to connect to many other souls across this planet. I am thankful you have gotten to experience all you have, and have chosen to share…

Ever higher,
Christopher T. Murphy

Paul Van says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Excellent post – it really sums up the situation.

Pedro Lucas Rocha Cabral de Vasconcellos says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I wonder if the families of all the people that died in the Iraq war will ever be able to say that.

I mean, it’s not very likely that Bush will be killed by the Iraq Army anytime soon.

Different people, different standards, and yet we’re all people.

Tony Saya says:

on May 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Joe It was a great day, Beautiful picture of Louie, and honestly I can’t tell you how great I feel that the POS is in the sea.

Doug says:

on May 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Closure. My best to Louie, and all his colleagues. Thanks for your photos of all of those people. We must never forget, as sadly, it still isn’t over.

On that day, I had no idea I would end up in Afghanistan a few years later, as a contractor doing medical work. This event has a special meaning to me as well. My Afghani friend who shall remain nameless for his safety, was also relieved and happy. He says the mood in Kabul was good, which was encouraging to me.

It was a good day.

Alessandro Rosa says:

on May 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm

When I heard the news, I immediately thought of Louie, because of your story of him and was anticipating hearing what you, he, had to say.

I got very lucky on 9/11. The glass wall of the lobby on the concourse level saved me from terrible burns or death. Twenty feet and a half an inch of plate glass….

In the almost ten years since, it never really sunk in that I was the target of a crime. This person, from half a world, attempted to murder me. I didn’t have that realization before yesterday; it always was more of a feeling that I had narrowly escaped a terrible accident or natural disaster, not that of surviving a murder attempt.

And yet, it saddened me to see the jubilant celebrations at the news of his death. That is what he did when he succeeded in killing us. We are supposed to be better than that. Aren’t we?

He had a perspective on the world. We have ours. As photographers we are taught that changing our perspective, even slightly can give us a very different picture. He tried to enforce his perspective through fear and violence, and that is unforgivable, but there is a part of me that wishes that he had lived to see the error in his methods; maybe changed his perspective just enough to see a different picture. He pointed to our hypocrisy when President Clinton received Gerry Adams at the White House, but what he missed was that it was only when Sinn Fein and the IRA changed their perspective, laid down there arms that progress was made. Unfortunately he may have been the only person who could have deradicalized the generation he radicalized; give them a new perspective to see a different picture.

He tried to kill me. Personally. He may not have known my name, but he knew me; wanted to kill me. And yet, I am not celebrating, not dancing on his grave. I am thinking of those who weren’t so lucky on that September morning so long ago, still awed at the personal peril that Louie and his brothers put themselves in and the sacrifice that they made to save their neighbors. That is the quality that makes us truly human.

Joe Sankey says:

on May 4, 2011 at 9:07 am

Joe, there really aren’t words for this; even though we were all affected in some way by 9/11, I cannot imagine what is was like for those who were there. Even with my friends who WERE, there’s just no way.

As I told you in Nashville at the Flashbus event, 10 years’ time has already colored our national memory of the event and has changed the way we discuss it… Your portraits from that time, I believe, will stand the test of time as one of the most truly authentic and accurate ways for anyone – 100, even 500 years from now – to relate to the emotions those brave souls were enduring. As a photographer, you’ve always had my respect. As an American, you have my gratitude as well. Godspeed.

Richard Jackson says:

on May 4, 2011 at 9:14 am

As one who witnessed 9/11 firsthand, I agree with your sentiments. This is not a time for jubilation or celebration, but a time for reflection, contemplation and remembrance. Many wonderful and beloved people died that day in an act of senseless violence. That act had no purpose except to spur on more violence, which is exactly what it accomplished.

The murder of Bin Laden is simply the logical and expected conclusion of that chapter in our history, much as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the logical conclusions of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I have no problem with “eye for an eye” retribution in situations like this. But it isn’t something I rejoice in. More like a necessary evil of life among humans, many of whom are more animalistic in nature than our civilization belies. There are people in this world who will respect nothing less than overwhelming force and violence, and there are times when it must be applied to keep the greater peace.

But it won’t bring back the dead, and the celebrations must be tempered with the respect for what we have lost and admiration for those, like Louie, who are the true heroes in life. Ordinary guys who do extraordinary things. Every day.

Stephen Coppinger says:

on May 5, 2011 at 2:04 am

A thoughtful post followed by a number of equally thoughtful comments, reflecting a variety of opinions but all with dignity and spoken softly. There must be something about photography… Closure is perhaps what most feel, coupled with the feeling that some sort of justice has been done.

Thank you for sharing the insights of those (including yourself) who were more closely involved in that truly infamous day.

Tom McKean says:

on May 5, 2011 at 6:02 am

Cool! Great post Joe.

Iden Ford says:

on May 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

I instantly thought about those fire fighters we met with from DLWS in NYC when we went over to the fire station.
It was so great to meet them personally and to thank them for their heroism.

joop says:

on May 6, 2011 at 8:10 am

All you can do is move on and look to the future. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but enjoy it while it lasts, you never know when your time is up!

Best wishes from the Netherlands!

Gibson Freeman says:

on May 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Thank you for your comments. This sums up what I could not put into words. A bell cannot be unrung. We cannot bring back the ones who are lost. There is a part of all of us that will be for ever missing (even those of us from as far away as Georgia). Thank you again — and all the Louies.

Brenda Richterkessing says:

on May 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

‎”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

sam says:

on May 13, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Joe……where the hell are you? Im a fine art photographer that is not only intrigued by mother nature, but also creative lighting. Needless to say, Im addicted to your blog….its been 10 days…Im going through withdrawal symptoms of not reading your insight presented with that great dry sense of humor…..say it isn’t so……say that you have not forsaken us!

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