Radio Free Eireann Interview Lt Girard Owens tomorrow on WBAI 99.5FM
As the 11th anniversary of the attack of September 11th loomed, I never thought I would mark it by being on a National Parks boat heading to the Statue of Liberty for a special ceremony for FDNY LT Girard Owens, who saved the last 2 civilians out of the WTC. After recovering from series injuries he suffered as the towers fell, LT Owens embarked on a journey of visiting all 397 national parks. Although recently diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and stage 4 lymphoma, Lt. Owens had visited 396 parks – the last remaining one being the Statue of Liberty. As Paul Harvey used to say “[a]nd now, the rest of the story.” For over 20 years at WBAI I have been receiving postcards from around the world and national parks telling me to go to Cuba. It seemed almost every time I would take phone calls during the show, someone would call in and say “go to Cuba you Commie.” After many years, I learned that it was a fireman making the calls and sending the postcards, but still didn’t know his name. I called him “Johnny From Greenpoint,” and he became a fixture on the show. Then on Saturday, after Radio Free Eireann, ended I picked up the phone and the go to Cuba guy asked me to go with him to the Statue of Liberty on 9-11. When I asked him why, he said “read tomorrow’s New York Daily news.” So I took down his number, and called him the next day after reading the news story. We spoke for an hour and talked about people we both knew, and arranged to meet him at his apartment and go with him and his family to the ceremony.
My wife, aware of some of the extreme lengths that Johnny From Greenpoint went to send his message of “go to Cuba” to me, urged me to be cautious as she kissed me goodbye. Her concern was totally unfounded. When we met, we hugged like the old friends we seemed to have become – it was almost as though we had grown up together. He showed me photos of his travels, and he gave a flag from North Korea and a postcard with the image of Che Guevara. I gave him Brian Mor O Boyle drawings commemorating 9-11. Then of we went to catch the National Park boat that was taking his family and friends to the Statue of Liberty. Sailing out to the Statue, I wondered what my mother and father were thinking when they were going past the Statue of Liberty on the immigrant ship from Ireland - could they ever have imagine that one of their sons would one day be on a National Park boat heading to the Statue for a ceremony honoring a hero Firefighter?
On the island we were met by David Luchsinger, parks superintendent for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, to get the final stamp for Lt. Owen’s national park book. After the stamp was put into the book, everyone took pictures with Lt. Owens at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. When it came to my turn, Joanna Molloy from the Daily news yelled at me “John how does it feel to be with Lt. Owens with your politics?” I pointed out that I was standing to the left of Lady Liberty, and Gerry was standing to the right of her, and the island is big enough for both sides of our politics. As we headed back to lower Manhattan on the boat, I made arrangements to have Gerry come into the WBAI studio on Saturday for a two hour special about his life, and to talk about his calling WBAI for all these years. It will also give a chance for WBAI listeners to talk to him. Gerry told me that he is very sick from working down at the Twin Towers, and he didn’t want listeners two years from now saying - Hey where did the go to cuba guy go? As Cindy Adams says” Only in New York.”
After 20+ years of calls - not to mention postcards from most of the national parks - Johnny from Greenpoint will finally be an invited studio guest on Radio Free Eireann 99.5 f.m.,this Saturday, Sept. 15th, from 1-3:00 p.m.