Personal reflections on a September 11th 9/11 hero

[Here is why I will always remember. This was posted here originally on 11 September 2006.]
Let me tell you about John Michael Griffin, Jr.
Griff, as he was known in high school, was a friend of mine.
Late in the first half of our lives, he stood up for me physically and philosophically, for being a science geek. John’s endorsement was the first time I was ever deemed cool for wanting to be a scientist.
Griff died an engineer and hero in the collapse of one of the World Trade Center towers five [eight] years ago today.
We lost touch almost twenty years before, but his kindness and friendship formed not only one of the cornerstones of the scientific life I have today, but in the person and father I have become as well.

At a northern New Jersey Catholic high school, in a predominantly Irish town, being a gangly Polish boy from two towns over was not the formula to cultivate one’s popularity or self-preservation.
Throwing the curve in biology and chemistry classes didn’t help either, nor did being a David Bowie fan in a place where Bruce Springsteen was as revered as St. Patrick. That’s probably where the nickname, “Zowie,” came from – the name of the glam rocker’s first child.
Worse, I had skipped a grade in elementary school, and being a year behind physically was not compatible with self-preservation during high school gym class.
But, it was a very simple gesture, sometime in junior year, when one of the packs of scoundrels had me cornered, slamming me against the wall and throwing my books down the hallway. I believe that the offense was that our biology teacher had taken to buying me a Pepsi everytime I scored 100 on one of his exams, and I had been enjoying yet another one.
John, already well on his way to his adult height of 6′ 7″ or 6′ 8″, stepped in and said, “Hey, lay off of Zowie. He’s goin’ places.” And with that, the beatings stopped.
I didn’t play sports, at least not any of the ones offered by our school. At that time, soccer hadn’t taken off in the States but I was a huge player and had met John at Giants Stadium in the NJ Meadowlands where I had season tickets (Section 113, row 7, seat 26) for the relocated New York Cosmos. At just $4 a ticket for kids 16 and under, I could afford season tickets to see some of the greatest international soccer stars of the late 20th century: Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Italy’s Giorgio Chinaglia, Yugoslavia’s Vladislav Bogiçeviç, and, of course, Brazil’s great Pelé.
All accounts of John as an adult include his devotion to the Giants, NY Rangers, and NY Yankees, but few recall those soccer days. John’s family were long-time Giants season ticket holders and probably got their Cosmos season tickets three rows behind me as some sort of promotional giveaway. I recall that John was surprised that a science dork such as I would be cool enough to know about soccer and come to games myself, my father dropping me off outside the gates so he could go home and watch his beloved football games.
But, we Jersey boys loved soccer at a school where American football and basketball reigned supreme. Many Saturday and Sunday afternoons were spent at the massive stadium during soccer’s American heyday of the late 1970s, with crowds of 50,000 – 75,000 that have yet to be matched today.


8 thoughts on “Personal reflections on a September 11th 9/11 hero

  1. My friend’s auto repair shop is around the corner from the firehouse in Waldwick where a burnt twisted I-beam stands in Griff’s memory. I pass it at least once a week and raise my Budweiser to him.

  2. What I learned from the attacks is that there are heroes all around us. They are the people we live with, work with, walk down the street with, etc…. They don’t look to be heroes, but they willingly become the heroes when the cowards decide to act.
    For many of these people, only after they have taken on the role of hero do we see the pattern of giving and caring in their life. Usually, a pattern that makes sense only when they have passed. It is for this reason, 9-11-09 for me will always be about the heroes not about the cowards.

  3. I decided to celebrate their lives and the gifts they gave us because if we don’t the evil ones will have won and I won’t give them that power…John made everyone laught like no one else could in a nice way, always had a kind heart (family tradition) and a great smile 🙂 just to name a few 🙂 His Grandfather (who I was named after) was the kindest most awesome person you could ever want to meet and although I was young when he passed on I still remember vividly a lot of great attributes I found in John 🙂 God Bless his family and all those who gave their life that day and all the USA military, past, present and future!!!!!

  4. You honor him greatly with your stories, and what else can we humans do but rekindle the legends of those whom we loved?
    Thousands of less spectacular losses of course happen all around us, all year round, but those tied to massive cultural memories loom that much larger, and so perhaps there is a tiny consolation in the shared mourning of these great people who were taken before their time.

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