9/11: Twenty Years Later: Commemorating Brian Grady McDonnell

Nora Toscano, Editor-in-Chief

September 11, 2021 marks the twenty-year anniversary of the horrific attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. Countless lives were destroyed and our community in Wantagh lost many irreplaceable heroes. It is extremely important that we remember and honor these brave men and women. As a community, it is our job to keep their legacies alive. 

Maggie McDonnell, whose Wantagh-raised  husband Brian Grady McDonnell lost his life saving Twin Tower employees, spoke with us about her late husband and the necessity of commemorating our fallen heroes. At the beginning of our interview, she remarked, “Most of these kids were not born when it happened and just to know that there is an interest in it and that these people won’t be forgotten is incredible.” 

Mr. McDonnell was in the NYPD and worked on Emergency Service Truck One, which is in Midtown Manhattan. Mrs. McDonnell said, “Emergency service is equivalent to what some people may know as SWAT. He went into the police department in 1987, when he had just come back from serving in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.” 

She said, “He was in the police department for about twelve years, but he was only in emergency service — that was his dream job that he kept applying for— he was only in Emergency Service Truck One for about eleven months.”

In New York City, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum tells the story of our fallen heroes, which Mrs. McDonnell helped shed some light on. She said, “Brian’s remains were never found. He was one of many who were never found. In the beginning, the NYPD — they had 23 members that died on 9/11—they would gather all the families together, we would meet at police headquarters, and everybody would go down. It was a very close-knit family. We’re still extremely close: all the kids grew up together, we attended functions together, sometimes we’d vacation together. I met a lot of good friends.” 

She said that her family used to visit the memorials in the city often but haven’t gone in a few years. She said, “That’s not where his spirit is right now. Everybody says all the people that died on 9/11 were heroes, but I looked at him as our hero before 9/11. The date is very significant, so many people died and it can’t be forgotten so it doesn’t get repeated, but I would like people to remember how he lived before that day. I think that is his legacy. Not to be remembered that he died on 9/11 but what kind of person he was…I want him to be remembered as what kind of person he was: what kind of police officer, what kind of father, husband, brother, and son he was. I think that is more important to be remembered than just that he died on 9/11.” 

He was Irish and extremely proud of his Irish heritage, marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades or watching them every year. He grew up in Wantagh and went to St. Frances, MacArthur High School, and then SUNY Farmingdale. He went back to school part-time after he came out of the army.

Mrs. McDonnell said, “His legacy is probably his children and the fact that he was an extremely kind and generous person, a very proud man, the type of person whose world was black and white. He never wavered in his beliefs; there was no gray area with him.” Mr. McDonnell was very proud to serve his country and to be a cop. It was his dream since he was a child. 

He was interested in weightlifting, bike riding, and powerlifting. Mrs. McDonnell said, “He used to keep a journal of how much weight he could lift and things like that. I’m considering next year maybe having a memorial fundraiser in his honor but possibly making it a powerlifting competition.”

When asked whether she had seen the Wantagh community come together as a result of the events of 9/11, Mrs. McDonnell replied, “Very much so. It’s all over. We have a 9/11 flag in front of our house. Brian was extremely patriotic and all of us are. And we have an American flag that has all the names of the first responders who died on it. Every 9/11, we put that flag up for the whole month of September.”

She said, “All these years later, one of the reasons my daughter went into education was because she felt strongly that 9/11 itself, what led up to it, and what continues needs to be taught. When I was a little girl, we learned all about World War II and Vietnam, but our books dealt with fact; we had textbooks.” She said,“To my knowledge, that doesn’t exist now, 20 years later, and I am fearful and sad to think that this will not be taught. That people are taking an interest in this makes me proud. If it’s not a topic for discussion, how is anybody going to learn and remember what happened?” 

Mrs. McDonnell closed out our interview with a heartfelt statement that members of our community, and all communities everywhere, should keep with us.  “You don’t want your loved ones to be forgotten, but more importantly, you don’t want something like this to happen again. It’s history and you have to know it.”