NEW YORK — Thursday, at a firehouse in Manhattan known as ‘Ten House’ that used to look out on the World Trade Center towers, I met three young men, all rookie firefighters with the New York City Fire Department.
They are three young men — all sons of New York City firefighters — who have all themselves become New York City firefighters after losing their dads on the same day.
Matthew "Mattie" Ryan recovered his father's Irish claddagh ring. It stands for friendship, loyalty and love. His dad was a battalion chief.
Christopher Ganci's dad was a legend: chief of department, Pete Ganci. Mayor Giuliani spoke at the funeral. Christopher has his dad's old helmet.
And then there's James Dowdell. His dad was in New York's prestigious Rescue Squad Four. All he has left is the tool that belonged to his dad that was found in the wreckage.
"[It's] the only thing we got from him," says Dowdell about the Halligan tool. "They never found him, they never recovered any remains, so to us this is special to have. I was fortunate enough to have 16 great years with my father."
Dowdell was in high school on 9/11. Ryan and Ganci were in business, making money. Ganci has an Ivy League degree and an MBA.
"Things that were important are no longer important," Ganci says, "and things that you know you used to value so much aren't the same. Your whole value system changes. It's a little foggy now, but I just know I'll never feel that innocent again, and now I look at life through an entirely different way."
"When I heard that the building collapsed, I knew in my heart that he was in there," says Ryan.
Ganci's dad, the chief, survived the first tower collapse. But not the second.
"He turned back and went right back into the breach," says Ganci. "He went right back, knowingly, and I look at it and say, 'Do I have that kind of mettle? Do I have that kind of strength?' I hope that I do, but the word hero gets thrown around so many times, so loosely. You look at baseball players, and people think of actors as heroes, and I look at what these guys do. Those men — they are heroes."
"My father, our fathers, they weren't at the top of that building trying to make a million dollars," says Dowdell. "They were NYC firemen, you know? Never be rich and never be poor. They were just doing their job, and their job is to help people."
All three firefighters say the same thing about their beloved New York City Fire Department: so many of the veterans — the guys their dad's ages — are now gone. All that wisdom and experience vanished when those buildings came down five years ago this coming Monday.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints