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9/11 Firefighter's Spirit Keeps Giving

The Boston Herald via YellowBrix

June 22, 2011

BOSTON – A decade after he died as an iconic American hero, Jerry Dewan remains a public servant, providing educational and medical opportunities to kids through a fund established in his name.

It’s called the Gerard Dewan Memorial Fund. In addition to offering a scholarship at Sacred Heart School in Roslindale, which he attended, and endowing a family resource room at Children’s Hospital, it’s also been used to underwrite youth sports organizations, and even to meet specific needs of hurting families when the holidays arrive.

It’s the kind of stuff Jerry would have been involved with anyway, because that was his nature, but fate ordained it would be his death that triggered the donations that made it possible.

Jerry was a Boston kid whose heart’s desire was to be a firefighter, but court-ordered hiring guidelines kept him from joining the hometown department his family had served for three generations.

So he followed his dream to New York, which was where he was serving at Ladder 3 in Manhattan the morning America was attacked by madmen shouting, “All praise to Allah!”

Ladder 3 was one of the first units to arrive at the World Trade Center inferno, and for a long time Jerry’s personal actions remained unknown.

He was simply one of 343 New York firefighters who perished.

Because there were no remains to bury, a memorial service was held at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, where more than 2,500 firefighters stood in stirring, silent tribute that October morning.

“But it brought no peace,” Jerry’s sister, Maureen Gilligan, said, “because they still hadn’t found his body.”

Then, two weeks before Christmas, the family received a call from Jerry’s lieutenant at Ladder 3, a house that lost 12 men, saying Jerry’s body had at last been recovered. It was found on Stairwell C of Tower 1, alongside a beam from the 40th floor.

“Everyone stopped and saluted as we brought him out with dignity,” Lt. Steve Brown assured the family.

So a second service was planned.

“We expected it to be small,” Maureen recalled. “But as we drove up to the funeral home in West Roxbury, we saw 200 New York firefighters waiting on Centre Street for us. I think I hugged and kissed every one of them before they left, whispering, ‘Please, be safe.’ ”

But she knew better, because she now also knew Jerry’s final moments had been spent climbing 40 perilous stories, hoping to save the lives of others.

They’ll be telling stories about him again this Saturday night at Moseley’s, the 10th annual fund-raiser honoring her kid brother.

If you’d like to be there in spirit, make your check payable to the Gerard Dewan Memorial Fund and mail it to P.O. Box 320561 in West Roxbury, 02132.