Firefighter James Dowdell was in the quarters of Rescue Co. 2 in Brooklyn when he got word that justice had finally caught up with the most wanted fugitive in the murder of his father and 342 other members of the FDNY along with 2,977 others on 9/11.
“Thank God for the military,” he said. “They’re still getting it done.”
The news that Ayman al-Zawahiri had been killed came just as the younger of fallen FDNY Lt. Kevin Dowdell’s two sons was coming to feel that those not directly affected by the attack had all but forgotten it.
“It seems like a distant memory nowadays,” James Dowdell said. “To us it’s not, but to the rest of the world it seems like it might be.”
His older brother, Patrick Dowdell, had been in the military, attending West Point and then deploying to serve in our longest war. He is now working in sales and cybersecurity. He was at home with his young family when a friend called to make sure he had heard about Zawahiri.
“We always say, ‘Never forget,’” Patrick said. “The government as a whole, it’s good to see that they don’t. They’re still going after the bad guys.”
The news did not carry the drama of the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, which had prompted the Dowdell brothers to go down to Ground Zero and join a crowd in chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” Zawahiri was the lesser-known deputy, and his death more than a decade later prompted no spontaneous celebrations.
But coming a year after the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan in which a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. servicemembers, it did remind Patrick Dowdell not to lose faith in his nation’s ultimate resolve.
“We don’t give up,” he said. “We don’t just go, we don’t go away.”
The son and namesake of fallen Fire Marshal Ron Bucca enlisted in the military in response to his father’s murder, and he has repeatedly deployed as a Green Beret. The younger Ron Bucca was training with his special forces unit on Monday when he got a call about Zawahiri’s death in Kabul by drone strike, which seems not to have killed anybody but the intended target.
“He was the last one lingering out there of the old regime,” Master Sgt. Bucca said.
Bucca had joined up with the hope of getting bin Laden, but he had been with his team in Iraq when the Navy SEALS pre-empted him. Others kept after Zawahiri year after year, demonstrating a quality that is increasingly rare these days.
“A little bit of persistence,” Bucca said. “If that isn’t it, I don’t know what is.”
The overall conflict had continued far longer than he would have imagined when he signed up what seems a very long time ago.
“Twenty years of war,” he said.
But as he is now beginning to contemplate retirement, there comes proof that we can still be who we should be.
“That definitely made my day,” Bucca said.