Oakbrook Center honors fallen 9/11 firefighter
Following a Father's Day blaze in Queens, N.Y., that killed two firefighters in 2001, Lt. Kevin W. Donnelly had a premonition.
The confident and cool New York City firefighter told his brother, Ed, that he expected to die in the line of duty.
On Sept. 11, 2001, that premonition came true. Kevin was one of the Ladder Company 3 firefighters who died after rushing into the burning World Trade Center trying to save others.
Now, almost 10 years later, Ed Donnelly says he knows his brother is still looking out for his family.
Ed's granddaughter, 17-month-old Olivia, was born with a partially developed heart and has been in and out of hospitals.
"We know Kevin is her guardian angel looking over her every day," said Ed, who has lived in Oak Brook for 17 years.
On Friday, Oakbrook Center management made a $5,000 donation in Kevin's honor to the NYC Fire Department Ladder 3 Battalion 6 Memorial Fund. A short ceremony was held in the shopping center's courtyard and Ed, Olivia and Ed's wife, Suzanne, accepted the check.
The money will help pay for a memorial luncheon for families of Ladder Company 3, which lost 12 firefighters during the attacks.
The event gave Ed a chance to reflect on his tough-as-nails brother.
"He was just a ton of fun," he said. "He was an unbelievably tough guy ... pound-for-pound, he was the toughest human being alive but the nicest human being alive."
On Sept. 11, terrorists hijacked four airplanes and flew one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A second plot was foiled when passengers took control of the plane and flew it into a field in Shanksville, Pa. The other two airplanes hit their mark and barreled into the World Trade Center. The resulting blaze toppled the towers and killed about 2,600 people.
Among those was Kevin, a member of the elite Ladder 3, which was one of several companies to lose firefighters.
Most of those firefighter casualties were first responders who rushed into the burning buildings trying to rescue as many people as possible.
The acts increased the level of respect people had for firefighters, said Oak Brook Fire Chief Tom McEllin. He also said it instilled in his company a sense of duty.
"There was a bump in respect and we said, 'Hey, this is important. We have to be ready for any kind of emergency, whether it be a terrorist attack, or any kind of emergency to serve the public. We have to perform at that high level,'" McEllin said.
Friday's somber and swift ceremony was attended by several members of the Oak Brook Fire Department.
Also on hand were managers of Oakbrook Center and village Trustee Gerald Wolin, who said the tragedy changed everyone.
"(Sept. 11) was a life-changing event for all of us," Wolin said. "It's important that we remember those who lost their lives that day or were permanently scarred by the tragic events that took place."
The flag that was wrapped around Kevin's body when it was recovered flies above Oak Brook's fire station every year on Sept. 11.
The family had a memorial Mass for Kevin in October of 2002 but his body was not found until March of the next year. The discovery provided closure but Ed, who will travel to New York next week, said it also reopened old wounds when they held the funeral.
He says those wounds get reopened every year about this time.
"It's pain, it's pride, it's memories of special times," he said. "It's tough, it's a very public display. Appropriately so, but it's a difficult time."