By Donald Wittkowski
As the horrors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks began to unfold around him, insurance executive Rick Blood urged his co-workers to evacuate their office on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower in New York.
Blood, who served as a volunteer fire marshal for his company, Aon Corp., was last seen on Sept. 11, 2001, on the 78th floor of the South Tower while trying to lead a group of people to safety, after a hijacked jetliner slammed into the skyscraper and set it ablaze.
His body was never found in the building’s rubble. Although Blood was among the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks, his family later learned of his heroic deeds from five co-workers who credited him with saving their lives.
On Monday evening, Blood’s sister publicly shared the tragic, yet inspiring, final moments of her brother’s life in keynote remarks during Ocean City’s memorial service marking the 16th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil.
“I’ve wanted to tell my brother’s story for 16 years,” said Becky Wynne, a resident of Virginia Beach, Va., whose family spends their summer vacations in Ocean City in Blood’s memory.
Wiping away tears, the 52-year-old Wynne told hundreds of people at the ceremony that her brother’s attempts to save others did not surprise her and the rest of her family. Blood, after all, was a strong-willed leader who always protected his family, she recounted.
“He was always the word of wisdom, the caretaker and the ultimate big brother,” she said.
Blood was just 38 years old when he died, leaving behind his wife, Kris, a son, Michael, who was 3 years old at the time, and his 1-year-old daughter, Madeline. His wedding was held just one day after the World Trade Center was attacked the first time by terrorists, in the 1993 bombing, Wynne said.
Although Blood grew up in Williamsburg, Va., his heart belonged to New York City. As a teenager, he hung subway maps on his bedroom wall and played a New York version of Monopoly, according to his obituary published in the New York Times two weeks after his death.
“He would say that New York was where the action was and that’s where he wanted to be,” Wynne recalled.
Blood also loved Ocean City, a place where his parents would take the family on summer vacations when the children were growing up, Wynne noted. She said it was her brother who revived the tradition of Ocean City vacations after the family had stopped for a while.
Now, Wynne and other family members have continued that tradition in his memory. They have missed their Ocean City vacation only one year, in 2001, after his death. The family also has honored Blood with a memorial plaque attached to a bench on Ocean City’s Boardwalk.
“Rick loved Ocean City as much as he loved New York City,” Wynne told the crowd.
Wynne was given a standing ovation when she finished the tribute to her brother. After the ceremony, tearful well-wishers approached her and gave her hugs.
“I don’t know you, but you did a beautiful job,” one woman said to Wynne in remarks that were echoed by others.
The 9/11 ceremony included other emotional moments. During his remarks, Mayor Jay Gillian announced the death Monday of Ocean City Housing Authority Commissioner Ed Speitel, a community leader. Gillian said Speitel’s passing was a reminder of just how fragile life can be.
“He was one of the kindest souls and kindest men I’ve ever met,” Gillian said.
The mayor also used the ceremony to recognize the bravery of first responders in Ocean City and nationwide. More than 400 police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers died in New York on 9/11.
The 9/11 ceremony was held on the grounds of Ocean City’s fire station on Sixth Street. Speakers delivered their remarks next to the city’s 9/11 memorial, which features a beam recovered from the charred remains of the World Trade Center.
Ocean City Fire Chief Jim Smith revived a firefighting tradition that dates to the 1800s by repeatedly ringing a bell, an act that symbolizes the death of a firefighter in the line of duty. On Monday evening, the bell ringing, known as the “striking of the four fives,” was in honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.