Bob Beckwith, 9/11 rescuer who stood next to President George W. Bush atop debris, dies at 91

Feb 5, 2024, 1:17 PM | Updated: 1:17 pm

President George W. Bush, left, stands next to retired New York Fire Department firefighter Bob Bec...

President George W. Bush, left, stands next to retired New York Fire Department firefighter Bob Beckwith on September 14, 2001, three days after the 9/11 terror attacks. Mandatory Credit: Paul Richards/AFP via Getty Images

(CNN) — Bob Beckwith, the former New York City firefighter who famously stood alongside President George W. Bush atop a charred fire truck in the rubble of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has died, according to the union representing New York firefighters and former US Rep. Peter King. He was 91.

The cause of Beckwith’s death was not immediately released. He had malignant skin cancer, along with other health problems, he told Focus on the Family last year.

Beckwith was already retired when terrorists hijacked two commercial planes and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, killing 2,753 people. Another hijacked plane crashed that day into the Pentagon, killing 184 people, while 40 passengers and crew aboard a fourth hijacked plane died when their plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Like many retired firefighters, Beckwith rushed to the scene of terror in Lower Manhattan – and he soon became a symbol of strength and resilience.

A grandfather’s call to action

Beckwith, then 69, was enjoying life as a retired grandfather on Long Island when he heard the news on September 11, 2001.

“I told my wife, ‘I’m going down,’” Beckwith recalled in a 2005 interview with CNN.

His family tried to stop him from going to Ground Zero. But after Beckwith learned one of his colleague’s sons was among the hundreds of firefighters missing, he put on his old uniform, strapped on his helmet and rushed out the door.

“I go start digging with the guys in the North Tower, and we come across a pumper with a 76 Engine,” Beckwith said. “And we’re working because we’re looking for survivors and we’re looking for people, and we’re hoping they found an air pocket or something.”

During that devastating first week of horror, heartbreak, and hope, word trickled down among rescuers that Bush was going to visit Ground Zero. Beckwith climbed atop the charred hull of a fire engine to try to get a better look at where he thought the then-president might speak.

Beckwith was alone atop the truck when a man he assumed was Secret Service approached him. It turned out to be Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove.

“He comes over and he dusts off (the spot) next to my foot and he says, ‘Is this safe?’” Beckwith recalled.

Rove then told Beckwith “someone important” would come over and asked the retired firefighter to help give the VIP a hand up onto the truck and then leave his location. Beckwith agreed.

“And the president came, and he is shaking hands with all the ironworkers and all the cops and all the firemen that were down there … and I figure he’s going over to the microphones, but he makes a quick right, and he puts his arm up and I said, ‘Oh my God!’”

After helping Bush onto the truck, Beckwith started to crawl down – but the president stopped him.

“He says, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Uh, I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘No, no, you stay right here.’”

As chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” settled down, Bush started speaking. Still, someone from the crowd yelled they could not hear him.

Bush draped his arm around Beckwith, then said, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” The crowd erupted in cheers.

Images of Beckwith – stoic but resolute – with the president’s hand on his shoulder became an iconic symbol of fortitude.

A lasting legacy

Beckwith also made an impression on the president himself.

“Do you remember the Time magazine where the president is holding up the flag? He wanted me to have that flag,” Beckwith told CNN in 2005. “I still have it.”

Bush later reflected on his decision to address the crowd at Ground Zero alongside Beckwith.

“I felt like I needed to say something. And I got up on a pile of rubble, and I wanted a firefighter to be with me,” Bush said. “It was a statement of solidarity and, so I get up on this fire – it turns out to be a fire truck that had been destroyed.”

“It was a very emotional moment,” Bush continued. “The whole event was emotional because I was looking in the eyes of people who had rushed into danger to find loved ones and coworkers and people that they cared about.”

In his later years, Beckwith visited Bush in the Oval Office and was immortalized in wax at the Presidential Wax Museum near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

And even in retirement, Beckwith was a steadfast activist for firefighters, traveling internationally, speaking and raising money for the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation.

“A fireman is a fireman,” he said in 2005. “You’re in a family of great people.”

CNN’s Josh Campbell and Zenebou Sylla contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Kevin Monahan was convicted of second-degree murder, among other charges..
Mandatory Credit:	Lori V...

Ray Sanchez, CNN

New York man sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing woman when car turned in wrong driveway

Kevin Monahan was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for shooting and killing a woman who was a passenger in a car that turned in the wrong driveway.

25 minutes ago

FILE - This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, and partially...

Eric Tucker, Adriana Gomez Licon and Freida Frisaro

Judge in Trump’s classified documents case is expected to set a trial date during a crucial hearing

The federal judge overseeing the classified documents prosecution of Donald Trump is expected to set a trial date.

4 hours ago

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced February 29 that Heritage Store Hydrogen Peroxide ...

John Towfighi, CNN

Mouthwash recalled nationwide over poisoning risk

One brand of hydrogen peroxide mouthwash is being recalled nationwide for posing a potential poisoning risk for children.

14 hours ago

NORTH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 10: Ballots are processed by an election worker at the Clark Cou...

Gabe Stern, Associated Press/Report for America

Nevada county election official in charge of controversial 2022 hand-count plan resigns

A Nye County spokesperson says top elections official Mark Kampf is resigning.

14 hours ago

Protesters gathered outside the Alabama State House in Montgomery in the wake of the IVF ruling on ...

Devon M. Sayers, Shirin Faqiri and Eric Levenson, CNN

Alabama House and Senate approve bills aimed at protecting in vitro fertilization after personhood ruling

The Alabama House and Senate each passed bills Thursday aimed at protecting in vitro fertilization treatments .

19 hours ago

FILE: Vivint Doorbell Camera (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)...

Haleluya Hadero, AP Business Writer

Some doorbell cameras sold on Amazon and other online sites have major security flaws, report says

Consumer Reports says some doorbell cameras sold by Amazon and other online retailers have security flaws that could allow bad actors to view footage from the devices or control them completely.

19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Bob Beckwith, 9/11 rescuer who stood next to President George W. Bush atop debris, dies at 91