I originally wrote this essay in February 2009 for Scout Sunday and shared the excerpt below on my business blog September 11, 2010.  In 2011, I decided to make this an annual post in remembrance. Every trip I have made to New York since 2002, I go down to the WTC site and pay my respects to Richie, an 18-year-old man who answered a call of service to others with such passion and commitment, he never saw his 19th birthday. In May 2013 I saw this, a more permanent reminder of his remarkable courage…

I hope you’ll consider joining me in a moment of silence at 8:46 AM Eastern Time today to remember Richie Pearlman and the nearly 3,000 people who died twelve years ago. 

From February 2009…


A few weeks ago, I was in NY and visited the World Trade Center site as I have on every trip to the city since 2002. This trip I was able to go to the museum for the first time and reflect on that tragic day. As I made my way around to the photographs of the three thousand or so individuals who lost their lives, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face. It was the face of Richard Pearlman. Suddenly, I couldn’t contain my grief. Standing there looking at that wall, at the picture of Richard, the tears streamed down my face. Although I did not know him personally, I did know his story.

In February 2009, I had the privilege of sharing the message for Scout Sunday at my church. My message that Sunday was based on the New Testament book of Luke 6:17-26, commonly known as the “Beatitudes.” I closed the message with a story about Richard Pearlman that I compiled from news reports. Below is the story and the message closing:

…let me share with you the story of Richard Pearlman. He knew a little something about making an effort and the responsibilities of taking care of others.

Richie joined the junior corps of Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps. When he was 14, working as a volunteer dispatcher. At 18, he joined the Senior Corps as a paramedic, where he immediately became a source of knowledge for new dispatchers and new volunteer members. He looked forward to starting his EMT courses and a career in emergency services.

Richie was a constant presence at the Corps. He was the regular Tuesday night and Saturday daytime dispatcher. He was present at every can shaking and blood pressure screening the Corps held. But he found his passion when became involved in the Boy Scouts of America, as an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 106, in Queens, New York. Richie was committed to both Scouting and caring for others. The summer of 2001, Richie was a staffer at Boy Scout Camp Aquehonga in Narrowsburg, NY. He served in the trading post, camp services, assisted the commissioners and as an office manager. While in the office, Richie found his calling and a new nickname, “Mother.” He earned this name for the way he doted on injured campers and staff. Richie was a trained in CPR and as a first aid technician, but his specialty was psychological first aid. He had a knack for calming down the most upset and injured Scout and Scouter alike.

Richie lived with his parents in Howard Beach, NY and was working as a messenger for a New York Law firm the morning of September 11, 2001. He was delivering a package to One Police Plaza when he learned that the first airplane had struck the World Trade Center not far away. He called his boss and told him he had gone over to help. His employer ordered him back to the offices where he would be safe. However, Richie knew in his heart where he belonged. He saw total mayhem before him, and his training kicked in. He shared that he saw people hurt and bleeding. “I have to stay and do what I can to help.”

Upon arriving, the 18-year-old flashed his gold paramedic’s badge #3754 and rushed into a building to aid in the rescue effort. Despite the chaos at the scene, Richie’s heroics were later confirmed on pages 16-17 in Newsweek’s Extra Edition of America Under Attack which shows a picture of Richie aiding the injured—helping a woman covered in blood, but alive, from one of the towers. After getting her to safety, he ran back in to find more survivors. Shortly afterward, the towers came down.

Richard Allen Pearlman, 18, an assistant scoutmaster with Troop 106, chartered to Trinity Lutheran Church in Queens, NY became the youngest victim of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He received The Honor Medal, with crossed palms, the highest award given by the Boy Scouts of America for an act of Heroism at extreme risk to oneself.

“He used to always say,” his mother shared at his funeral, ‘I’m going to be a famous person one day, Mom. I’m going to help save the world. ‘You’ll see.’ “And he did save the world…at least the world for the one woman he helped escaped the towers that day.

Richie Pearlman was an exceptional man. He was a brave, courageous, tenacious, and strong. But, we learned that he was also loving, compassionate, empathetic, and kind-hearted – everything we hope for in ourselves and others. In our scriptures today, Jesus is clear about his expectations of us; that as His followers, we are held to a higher standard through this “code of conduct.”

Richie Pearlman was just the kind of person that God calls us all to be.

The Scout Sunday message closed with this video:

May God bless and keep the families of those who perished on September 11, 2001 (911).


If you would like to commemorate the life of Richie Pearlman, please consider making a donation to the Richard Allen Pearlman Memorial Annual Scholarship, providing scholarships for EMT or Paramedic Training.

It’s In Every One Of Us, by David Pomeranz, is used with permission. The photographs of Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers, and volunteers leader shown in this video were photographed by David Harkins and are also used with permission.

For most of his life, dad has put the needs of everyone else above his own. My sharing the list of things I know he’s done would embarrass him, but I’m willing to bet the list of things he has taken care of without anyone’s knowledge would be twice as long. In this way, he taught me the principles of servant leadership—quiet service to others to build a more just and caring world.

I did not know my parents while growing up. I knew what they looked like and where I could find them every day because we lived in the same house. They were my parents, and I never saw them as individuals. I thought their job was to take care of me; to make sure I had food to eat and clothes to wear.  I think most children feel this way about their parents until they’re well into adulthood. As for me, my perspective changed the summer of 1982.

In 1982, my dad was on the board of directors for our community swim club and one summer Saturday decided he was going to fix a malfunctioning sump pump at the pool. He was up and out of the house early that day, as he usually was, with my little brother in tow. Mom was working. My sisters were sleeping. The house was still and quiet, making it the perfect morning for a 19-year-old college student on summer break to sleep a little later, too.

The phone rang about 11:00 a.m., my sister answered and then woke me to take the urgent call. When I picked up the phone, a family friend told me dad had been injured, and I should come right away. I grabbed a shirt, put on my shoes, and drove up to the pool alone, wondering what had happened and what I would need to do when I go there if I could do anything at all.

DadCarbiderPhoto

I pulled into the parking lot to see paramedics, firemen, and a crowd of concerned friends. They told me the sump pump dad had been working on was in a small well a few feet underground. He had his hands and arms down in the well when the powered-off pump released a residual spark, igniting fumes in the well, and sent a ball of fire shooting up and out of the top where dad and brother were looking in. It happened in an instant, they said, but somehow dad was able to get his face out of the way and move my brother aside.

Paramedics were treating dad for third-degree burns on his arms and hands, and second-degree burns on his face when I saw him. I talked to him briefly and he said he was okay, but I knew he was not. The skin on his arms had blistered, peeled, and rolled down around his hands. It looked as if he had been wearing arm-length latex gloves and had rolled them down around his wrists. My brother had a few singed hairs and some first degree burns—similar to a slight sunburn—on his face from the blowback.

The paramedic told me dad’s condition was serious. It was likely he would be airlifted to Pittsburgh to the regional burn center for treatment, he said. He also told me my brother wasn’t hurt, but like dad, he was in shock, and I should ride in the ambulance to the hospital with him.

Later in the day, Dad was flown to the burn center. After helping my sisters and brother settled with my grandparents, mom and I drove to Pittsburgh. We stayed for a little over a week while dad was stabilized, and then came home for a day. Mom returned the next and stayed for several weeks while dad was treated for his burns and had multiple surgeries for skin grafts. I traveled back and forth several times that summer.

On one visit, I was sitting with mom and dad in the room he then shared with a Rabbi, who had third-degree burns on his hands from a Fry-Daddy® explosion. Both dad and the Rabbi were being treated for pain with heavy doses of morphine, and while alert, they were anything but lucid.

“I used to be a Rabbi,” my dad called out to the real Rabbi in the next bed.

“You did? That is wonderful,” said the Rabbi. “Did you know, I used to kidnap little children for a hobby?”

My mother started laughing so hard—uncontrollably really—she had to leave quickly to find the ladies room. Of course, it would be in the moments after she left that dad would need the bedside urinal and I would need to help him because his hands were bandaged. It was at that moment helping my dad, when I realized my parents were people, too. They had hopes and dreams. They even had bodily functions at the most inconvenient times. Their life and their dreams were on indefinite hold now because of a freak accident.

When dad finished, and I took the urinal away, I needed to do something to take the edge of the awkward moment, so I asked him how to build an AC-to-DC converter to put on the starting buzzer I was making for pool swim meets. I wanted to lower the voltage of the power to the switch since the person tripping the switch would be closer to the water. I did not expect him to tell me. I didn’t think he was lucid. He described the circuit and told me how to diagram it. It worked flawlessly. Teaching me how to diagram a circuit while critically injured and under the influence of painkillers was not the first thing dad taught me. His first lesson was dedication and commitment to the task.

After graduating high school, dad did a short stint in the Navy where his leadership skills earned him an offer for recommendation to attend Officer Candidate School. He turned down the offer and was honorably discharged after three years of service. He moved back to Charleston, married my mother, and started a family. When I was three, he decided to get serious about his college education and began night classes, often carrying a full load each semester, while working full time and raising a family. Five years later, he had earned a B.S. in Business Administration and another in Mathematics.

For most of his life, dad has put the needs of everyone else above his own. My sharing the list of things I know he’s done would embarrass him, but I’m willing to bet the list of things he has taken care of without anyone’s knowledge would be at least twice as long. In this way, he taught me the principles of servant leadership—quiet service to others to build a more just and caring world.

Dad and David

Dad also taught me perseverance and the importance of perspective. When he was younger, he fell asleep while driving and was in a bad single-car accident, but walked away without serious injury. He was helping neighbors trim a tree and were knocked off the ladder by a swinging branch, and fell eight feet onto a pile of branches on the driveway and again, walked away unhurt. He was in the explosion at the pool, and he has had two heart bypass surgeries. Recently, he walked away from another auto accident without injury. My siblings and I encourage him to be more careful because he has used most of his “nine lives.”   He believes there is a purpose in his survival considering how frequently he has had brushes with death.

“I think there’s still someone on this earth I’m supposed to meet,” he says.

To the contrary, I believe many people still need to meet him. Maybe, just maybe, he was is a rabbi once.  of sorts.

Happy 74th Birthday, dad. I love you.

Forgiveness and resurrection are not solely Christian concepts, nor a power and capacity only God possesses. Through her actions, mom proved to me we all have the power and capacity. In those three days of silence, I was forgiven and resurrected. Over, and over, and over.

My mother and I did not always agree.

As a child, I followed the rules and did what I was told,  but as an adult, I was prone to speak my mind. Once, at age 19, I chose to be too vocal within my mother’s reach and promptly had my mouth smacked. Stunned, I walked away in silence, not to rethink what I had said because what I said was the truth. Instead, I needed to consider the timing and delivery of my words and whether it was worth a pop in the mouth for being what she thought was me being disrespectful. I thought I was being honest and direct, not disrespectful. I struggled a lifetime to find that balance with my mom.

Mom shared my gift of impulsive honesty, which is why she likely did not like to be the recipient of the same. Often she would speak without thinking, saying those things on her mind before others were ready, or even needed to hear them.

My dad once told me, “Your mother thinks you should not say some of the things you say to her.”

She saw value in her trait to cut to the heart of matters and speak honestly; she was less appreciative of it in others, particularly when she was on the receiving end of the words.

We lived apart much of the end of her life, yet this did not stop our honest conversations. On the phone several times a year, in the silence of waiting for her response to something I had said, I would hear a “click,” and then a dial tone. Although the distance saved me from a slap across the mouth, I felt the sting just the same. Silence became my mother’s punishment of choice, or perhaps of necessity.

It was best to let mom take the time to think and regroup when she was angry. She always called when she was ready to talk again and rarely did she make mention of our last conversation.

A few years before she died I realized she had a pattern in those periods of silence. Each time she disconnected from me, the breaks would be exactly three days. She always called me on the third day, and I apparently was forgiven for whatever I had said in the previous conversation.

When I mentioned this pattern to my dad, he said with a smile, “And on the third day, the son rises.”

It occurred to me then, forgiveness and resurrection are not solely Christian concepts, nor a power and capacity only God possesses. Through her actions, mom proved to me we all have the power and capacity. In those three days of silence, I was forgiven and resurrected. Over, and over, and over.

For her love, for her lessons, for her forgiveness, and my repeated resurrection. I am, forever, grateful.

Photo Credit: “Fall Eye” ©2012 David L. Harkins