MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif.
Nearly four years ago with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001, a handful of fanatical Islamic fundamentalists hoped to instill fear and to show weakness on the part of Americans. Instead, America demonstrated strength and indomitable resolve.
Police officers, firefighters, rescue workers, emergency responders and volunteers, undaunted by the weather, fatigue or the stress of helping thousands of people amid the horrific chaos in Manhattan that dark day, served heroically and set an example of sacrifice for generations of others to come.“My son Michael and I knew several firefighters that gave their lives that day,” said Forras during an Aug. 25 interview while visiting Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “While here, I want to thank the Marines for everything that they do, especially those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or are soon to deploy. As protectors of our nation, keeping all of us free, in my eyes they are the real heroes. My son is now in the Marines serving his country and I could not be more proud of him.”
The attacks that motivated so many Americans young and old to serve their country in the armed forces also sealed the decision for Forras' then 16-year-old son, who bravely ventured to Ground Zero with his father and the Westchester County rescue team soon after the twin towers collapsed.
“My dad set the example for me growing up and I knew I was going to be involved in public service,” explained 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Michael D. Forras, test cell operator, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. “I really thought that I was going to become a firefighter like my dad, but I also thought about joining the military and for a while wanted to be a Navy SEAL. In the end I decided I wanted to be a Marine.”
With his father continuing to work at the disaster site both above and underground, Michael witnessed his father endure extreme physical and mental exposure while working with little sleep at the site for more than a month.
“My goal has always been to be an example for my children that you can't just take, that you have to give as well, and you have to give back to the community,” explained the elder Forras. “Based upon the type of business that I was involved in and the many relatives and friends of Michael in our family who chose the military as a career, I think being around these people and what their values stood for was always extremely important in my heart and I knew my son would one day share them too.”
A spokesperson for the memory of those that perished at Ground Zero, Vincent Forras said he has been fortunate to meet many famous politicians at 9/11 memorial rallies, including many senators and congressmen, celebrities, former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani and Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“Meeting our president was an absolute honor,” said Vincent Forras who in a gesture of thanks for his support of Ground Zero firefighters presented Bush with his Ground Zero Service Medal. “He presented me with the Presidential Medal and later gave me something personal that I cherish very much, his personal coin that I now wear around my neck everyday.”
Today, Vincent Forras is one of the many “walking wounded” following 9/11. Thousands like him who worked or lived in the disaster area have reported health problems related to the attack, and the potential long-term effects of the environmental contaminants from Ground Zero remain unknown.
“Several firefighters and good friends of mine have since died or are now in poor health after working at Ground Zero,” said Vincent Forras. “Some have had heart attacks at an early age and some continue to have problems with their lungs. Most of the search and rescue dogs are now dead too.”
Stricken with respiratory ailments and a handful of other medical issues that his doctors believe are a result of his time at Ground Zero, he has redirected his life and the painful memory of his fallen comrades toward giving back to the world community.
“After I retired from the fire department I started the Gear Up Foundation that is a living memorial dedicated to doing great things in the name of those we lost on 9/11,” said Vincent
Forras who was born in New York City in 1957. “The foundation brings fire equipment and hope to fire departments and communities in need around the world, giving them a means to save lives. In many third World countries they do not have anything like the fire fighting equipment we have in the United States and they look to our firefighters as supermen. Every day in poor communities and in countries all over the world, people die in fires because there are no rigs, no bunker gear, no axes and no medical apparatuses.”
According to Forras, sometimes their fire truck is a simple pick-up truck or they run into a burning structure with flip-flops and a wet rag over their face.
The fire trucks that his foundation donates around the world bear the foundation's seal and
the names of all the New York firefighters that died from 9/11 so that their memory lives on.
“Our first program was in Guayaquil, Ecuador,” said Vincent Forras. “The next truck will be sent to Thailand, and the Philippines are receiving equipment as well. Our goal is to generate healing through helping for those who faced 9/11 while reaching out to others, and to teach children to be caring and involved in their communities through an international educational program of fire prevention. It's also our hope that the work we do will dismantle the language of hate and be a lasting tribute to the surviving family members and our fallen heroes.”
Michael Forras is also giving back to the community, helping with his father's foundation and occasionally volunteering as a guest speaker to elementary school children to talk about what it was like at Ground Zero and what it is like to be a Marine.
“I really enjoy talking to the kids and get a lot of satisfaction from it,” said Michael Forras.
Vincent Forras is looking forward to traveling to several Third World countries later this year, including Ecuador, Thailand and the Philippines, to continue the work of his foundation.
“This year will be the first year since 9/11 that I won't be in New York on the anniversary of the attacks,” said Vincent Forras. “On September 11 this year the president of the Philippines will be hosting a memorial ceremony in his country to honor the victims of 9/11, and I am going to be there to present a letter from President George Bush thanking the people of the Philippines for their continued support.”
Over the past few years through his foundation's Web site, Vincent Forras has received an outpouring of support and thanks from many Americans.
“Through email I met a Marine originally from the Midwest who is a crew chief with a helicopter squadron,” said Vincent Forras humbly. “Before returning from his home to his base at Cherry Point recently while on leave, he drove all the way out to see me in New York. He said he wanted to give me something. When we finally met, he presented me with a folded American flag that flew aboard more than 144 combat missions in Iraq, and said ‘Vincent this is for you. This flag carries the blood of my Marines.”