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9/11 firefighter Bob Beckwith, who stood beside George W. Bush in iconic Ground Zero photo, dies

Bob Beckwith, the retired firefighter who appeared in an iconic photo with President George W. Bush atop a fire engine at Ground Zero just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, has died. He was 91.

Former Long Island Rep. Peter King (R-NY) announced Beckwith’s passing on Facebook Monday, hailing the veteran first responder as “an American icon who personified the best of the FDNY, New York and America at our most perilous moment.”

“I was proud to call Bob my friend and extend my prayers and deepest sympathy to his wife Barbara and all his family members,” King, 66, added. “Bob Beckwith R.I.P.”

There was no immediate word on Beckwith’s cause of death. He is survived by his wife, their six children and grandchildren.

Beckwith, from Baldwin, New York, was 69 years old and retired for seven years after serving with the FDNY for three decades when on Sept. 14, 2001, he raced to Ground Zero to help with the search and rescue efforts — and inadvertently became a part of history, with his photo splashed across newspapers and television screens across the world, even making it onto the cover of Time magazine.

Beckwith, wearing a fire helmet and a respirator around his neck, was standing on top of Engine Co. 76’s mangled fire engine in the middle of the rubble, when he was approached by senior presidential aide Karl Rove with an unusual request.

“Somebody is coming here. What you do, you help them up, and then you get down,” Rove instructed Beckwith.

A few minutes later, the firefighter saw Bush, sporting a gray jacket and slacks, walking toward him and raising his arm.

“I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I pulled him up on the rig, I turned him around. I said, ‘Are you OK, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’” Beckwith recounted to NBC New York in 2023. “So, I start to get down and he said, ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘Oh no, you stay right here.’ And he put his arm around me.”

Someone handed Bush a bullhorn to address the first responders and ironworkers laboring at the site, and he began talking, with his arm draped around Beckwith’s shoulder. That image of the two men — the president and the firefighter — framed by mounds of debris and construction equipment has become an indelible part of the 9/11 legacy.

“We can’t hear you,” a person in the crowd shouted. That is when Beckwith said the president changed his speech on the fly, delivering an impassioned rallying cry that electrified his audience — and the nation.

“I can hear you,” Bush said through the bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”

Beckwith, describing the moment more than two decades later, remembered how the people at Ground Zero “went berserk” and broke out in chants of “USA!”

“I can hear you,” Bush said through the bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”

“And there I am standing there. I did look up to heaven and I did say, ‘Look at me, Ma. I’m with the president,’” he told the local NBC station.

As he started to walk away, a Secret Service agent tapped him on the shoulder and handed him an American flag, saying that Bush wanted him to have it.

The following year, Beckwith and his wife were invited to the White House, where he gave Bush the famous bullhorn.

The two men had forged a bond stemming from their chance encounter atop the crushed fire truck.

During Bush’s two terms in office, Beckwith and his wife were invited to the White House Christmas party every year.

Every year, Beckwith would receive a Christmas card featuring a holiday-themed picture painted and signed by the former president, who has become an amateur artist in his retirement.

At his home in Baldwin, Beckwith kept a framed copy of the famous Time magazine cover depicting himself and Bush at Ground Zero, and the flag gifted to him by the ex-president as precious mementos of their iconic encounter.

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