THE small boy struggled to peek his blond head over the church podium before he piped up with his tiny whisper of a voice. "God bless America," Christopher, 5-year-old nephew of slain firefighter Michael Ragusa, sang fearlessly, all by himself, until his child's voice rose to the rafters of Brooklyn's St. Bernard's Church. September 9, 2003 -- THE small boy struggled to peek his blond head over the church podium before he piped up with his tiny whisper of a voice. "God bless America," Christopher, 5-year-old nephew of slain firefighter Michael Ragusa, sang fearlessly, all by himself, until his child's voice rose to the rafters of Brooklyn's St. Bernard's Church.
"Land that I love." Within moments, more than 800 dignitaries, relatives, friends and strangers spontaneously joined the tot in song - at least those who could find their voices from under their tears. And we understood.
For months, we'd mechanically mouthed words such as these until their meaning was all but lost. But Christopher helped us get it.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Michael Ragusa, just 29, gave up everything. His family, his girlfriend, his every hope for the future. He gave up his life. He gave it all up to save the people of his city, his country.
And yesterday, just before the final handfuls of earth were placed on the coffin of the last 9/11 firefighter to be laid to rest, a little boy's voice, a familiar song of love, devotion and faith, reminded us that this was more than a funeral.
It was a celebration of a remarkable young man. And of all the young men and women, friends and strangers, who on 9/11 put the love of their country above themselves, sacrificing their very lives so that others might live.
Yesterday, we finally got a chance to thank him.
Rudy Giuliani summed it up best when he spoke of how Ragusa and his colleagues won the first battle in the war on terror.
"They attacked us because they thought they could kill an extraordinary number of people and break our spirit," Rudy said. "They killed an awful lot of people, but not as many as they thought because of the extraordinary bravery of Michael Ragusa.
"He and his brothers saved America that day."
Michael was remembered for his humor. But his mother, Dee, said her biggest worry was that the next generation would grow up with fear and hate.
"I hope every parent raises their children with love and respect for their fellow man - and their country," she said, stressing the last part.
She was soothed by the knowledge that her son died helping others. He donated blood - a vial of which she placed in his coffin - in the hope of saving someone.
"He would not like us to think of him as dead," she said.
"He left behind life."