By Bruce J. Hill, Fort Hamilton Public Affairs July 16, 2013
FORT HAMILTON, N.Y. (July 16, 2013) -- Fort Hamilton honored its bluff to a fallen Soldier and Fire Department of New York firefighter, June 13, at the post theater during Army birthday celebration week.
Staff Sgt. Christian Engeldrum, 39, of the 69th Infantry Regiment New York Army National Guard, was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device while on patrol outside of Baghdad, Nov. 29, 2004. The Bronx, N.Y. native was assigned to Ladder Company 61, in his native borough. He was a first responder at the World Trade Center site following the Sept. 11 attack, assisting in the recovery effort. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
Engeldrum's wife Sharon, his mother Lenora, son, friends of the family, Soldiers, firefighters and community leaders and hundreds of friends and comrades attended the ceremony, which was originally slated to be held at the bluff overlooking the Narrows and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, but was held at the theater due to inclement weather. A large photo showing the plaque bearing Engeldrum's name was unveiled on the theater's stage during the ceremony.
Col. Eluyn Gines, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton commander, called Engeldrum "an American hero," and said it was fitting that the ceremony was taking place during the week the nation was celebrating the Army's 238th birthday, and Fort Hamilton's 188th birthday.
"It is a week of celebration but also of remembrance," Gines said, adding that it is important to recall the lives lost in war and the loved ones they left behind. "Every life lost is a tragedy. There's really no preparation for it. It's a pain that rips through your soul."
In addition to the bluff dedication, the fort was also reserving four permanent parking spaces on the base for the families of military members killed in war.
"He was a true hero in every sense of the word," said New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, of Engeldrum, who noted he had saved lives as a firefighter. "After the Sept. 11 attack, he rushed to the World Trade Center to rescue thousands. The first responders were among the first in the battle."
The firehouse where Engeldrum worked contains a plaque dedicated in his memory.
"There is also a Veterans of Foreign Wars post named after him," Cassano said. The fort dedication is meaningful, the commissioner said. "With this ceremony, Christian will forever be a part of Fort Hamilton."
"The Fighting 69th called him Chris or by his nickname, Drum," said Lt. Col. James Gonyo, commander of the regiment. He said that visiting the bluff will allow people to pause and remember and shed a tear. "Engeldrum Bluff will also give military members a chance to find the courage to go on with our lives."
Of all the speakers, the person who received the most sustained applause was the person who spoke only a few sentences. Engeldrum's widow, Sharon, thanked all those taking part in the ceremony.
"I thank you for the great honor," she said. She left the stage to a standing ovation.
Following the ceremony, Lenora Engeldrum said the event made her happy.
"It's great to know that Chris is being remembered," she said.
She described her son as "an action man," and said he signed up for the National Guard following the Sept. 11 attacks.
"He was outraged by what happened on 9/11," she recalled. Her son always had a sense of fairness and would become upset if he saw something unfair, she said.
She wasn't surprised when Chris served in both the military and the Fire Department.
"When he was a little boy, he was always playing with a G.I. Joe. And he had fire trucks, too," she said.