Somber FDNY Bravest Return to Memorial

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of firefighters lined Riverside Park yesterday to honor their fallen brothers at the annual FDNY Memorial Day ceremony.

The ceremony, held every October, was canceled after the World Trade Center attacks.

Last year, it was held at Madison Square Garden and attended by about 50,000 people. This year an estimated 6,500 firefighters showed up to pay respect to all 1,126 firefighters killed either on- or off-duty in the department's 138-year history.

The Upper West Side park is home to the Fireman's Monument, which was built in 1913.

"It's good to be back here," said Firefighter Jack Becht of Ladder 15 in lower Manhattan, which lost eight men on 9/11.

Mayor Bloomberg gave a short speech touting a new training facility on Randalls Island.

Then Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta drew loud applause after telling the crowd he hoped one day there would be a similar statue at Ground Zero naming the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11.

Scoppetta quoted Winston Churchill: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

Family members of civilian victims oppose that plan, arguing that all lives lost that day were equal.

There was also a special tribute for six firefighters and two EMS workers who died last year, including two members of Ladder 135 in Queens who both died of cancer within a week of each other.

Firefighter Vanclive "Van" Johnson, 42, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on Aug. 22. His wife gave birth to their son last week.

"He found out she was pregnant right after he was diagnosed," said Firefighter Dom Zito, who worked with Johnson at Ladder 135. "It's been really tough."

Just days later, Firefighter Russell Brinkworth, 46, lost his battle with throat cancer.

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