Friday, September 9, 2011

Michael Vernon Kiefer - We Will Never Forget

9/11 forever changed the course of American society, and for thousands and thousands of Americans, the course of their individual families.  But, life goes on and here we are ten years later, but we do not forget. Truly, we never will.  I'd like to share with you one of the many, many heroes of that life-altering day.

His name is Michael Vernon Kiefer and he was born just after midnight on Dec. 5, 1975.  I know because I was there. My Michael - Michael Paul Ronzino - was born a few hours before in the same hospital.  His mom and I were in side-by-side rooms. We had met at our Lamaze class and became good friends.  To differentiate, we called the Michaels "Michael Vernon" and "Michael Paul".  Over the years moves didn't allow us to visit with each other too often, but every year on the boy's birthdays, us two moms would call each other.  Catching up on our boys and families' lives, we would laugh, sometimes cry, and sometimes pray together for our boys. The bond between us was our Michaels. 

From earliest toddlerhood, Michael Vernon played Fireman.  He had his little, plastic helmet and his sit-in little red fire truck. I can remember him eating in his highchair with the red Fireman's helmet on. With one hand he was shoving Cheerios into his mouth and the other hand firmly held the helmet in place because it was too large.  He was not going to let his precious helmet fall. And there on his face was a huge grin. He was happy and content. Little Michael Vernon was destined to be a Firefighter.

As Michael Vernon grew up, he volunteered at local firehouses. During high school he became a Junior Fireman. Faithfully, year after year, Michael Vernon helped put out fires in the local neighborhoods learning from his matured firefighting brothers.  In January 2001, his dream of becoming a New York City Firefighter became a reality.  He was now a full-fledged member of the brotherhood of Firefighters in New York City - Ladder Company 132. 
Michael Vernon was also a man of faith. His priest recognized this and asked him about a possible call to the priesthood. Michael Vernon's reply was, "You save the souls and I'll save the bodies."  And that he did. He did it with all the passion in him, as a man who was called by God.  

Nine months after becoming a New York City Firefighter, Ladder Company 132 was the first Fire Company to reach the Twin Towers on that fateful New York morning.  Totally unaware of the monstrosity of danger New York City was truly in, the brave men of Company 132 ran into Tower One to do one thing - the one thing Michael Vernon was called to do in this life - save bodies.

For two days his family and friends waited on baited breath to hear news of Michael and his Company. Those two days extended into nine months.  Not one body from Company 132 was ever recovered, nor were any of their belongings - not even their helmets.

On 9/13 I answered the telephone. I heard Michael's mother's voice. She didn't have to say a word, somehow I knew. Our worlds had come together 25 years earlier but now they collided with the most unimaginable grief. "His was the first Company in..." was all I heard before I collapsed to the floor, expelling a long wail that shocked my own senses.

About nine months later, when all hope of recovery was laid to rest, his family held a memorial service at a funeral home. The scene is forever etched in my mind. Traffic was backed up for miles, so we could only inch along the road.  As we got within blocks of the funeral home, we saw the huge ladder trucks - one on each side of the road.  Their ladders were raised high and joined in the middle, with the American flag hanging over the road.  As we passed under the flag, I put my hand over my heart as a gesture of respect, and maybe to try to hold my heart back from bursting. It was solemn and visually painful. Hundreds of saluting Firefighters lined the streets and hundreds were coming and going from the funeral home.  The Brotherhood of Firefigthers were there for one another. Some came from all over the United States to honor a fallen comrade.  

Inside, you literally couldn't move and I certainly couldn't breathe.  The periphery of the room was lined with photos of Michael Vernon from birth to adulthood - from little boy playing fireman to an adult in actual uniform. Joe and I, along with hundreds of others, paid our respects to his family and fiance. We reminisced and cried, then said our goodbyes.   

Michael Vernon Kiefer died not just a hero, but as a martyr, living his calling to the end. He died as passionately as he lived, saving bodies.  Tower One was Michael Vernon's threshold into Eternity. He died living his dream; he died faithful to God's call. Thank You, Lord, for Michael Vernon Kiefer's life.

In Honor and Memory of Michael Vernon Kiefer, 
Truly One of New York's Bravest and One Called By God to Save Bodies -
Thank you, Michael Vernon, for giving your life for others and glorifying God in the process 

As I was searching the Web for photos, I came across this one of an unknown little boy. Maybe another man, with a passionate call of God to save bodies, is in the making.  

May The Lord bless him and keep him.
May he live his life just as passionately
and to the glory of God


There is an organization, Friends of Firefighters, who gives support and help to surviving New York City Firefighters and the families of those lost in the Twin Towers massacres. Please donate to this very worthy non-profit organization.
Thank you!

Because of Him and Unto Him,

This story is shared on Tell Me a Story


Anonymous said...

beautiful post, mom. i've been thinking of michael vernon so much for weeks now... makes me teary-eyed...

Diane said...

I know, Alece...thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate it. Please pray for his family. This will be a tough one.

wordglow said...

Very moving story, Diane. I could picture him as a little boy...and it made me think of the children I've watched grow from babyhood too. I'm SO sorry for your terrible loss...and how hard this anniversary must be for you and his family.
I heard a young woman on the radio today sharing about how she was on the 36th floor when the plane hit. She told a story that made me think God has his angels all over that place that day... and it makes me know that even for those who did not make it out, God was closer than we can know. She told how she was talking with her boss one moment and they were running shell-shocked for the exit the next. While they were in the stairwell, the door suddenly jammed and they couldn't move. She said they were all facing the thought that they were not going to survive, when suddenly the door burst open and a man was standing there - smiling broadly - and ushering them out. He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eyes, and told her everything was going to be alright. She said he was definitely NOT a policeman or a fireman. She believes he was an angel. Talk about goosebumps... that was exactly my thought as she described his peaceful smile. And how she was incredibly able to escape from so many floors up. She told how she was raised to love the Lord but had fallen away, made her career and things her god, and how a severe emotional breakdown after the events brought her into the deepest love for God. She feels she would not have eternity with God if he had not spared her. He alone knows why some survived and others didn't, but I praise Him that your Michael knew and loved him, and I believe that God had his angels lifting him up from the moment he stepped in there. Psalm 91... I will send my angels to surround you... May that thought give you comfort this day...
Love, Pam

Diane said...

Thank you, Pam, for your kind words. What an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it with me. It moved me. I know there must be MANY angel stories conerning 9/11. To God be the glory!

Pat and Lauren Kiefer said...

Dear Diane,
My mother and I are sitting here in tears after having read your beautiful tribute to our Michael Vernon! Words cannot express how grateful we are to you for remembering him and sharing his story with so many. Micahel truly was the glue that kept our family together and we are broken without him. We miss him more and more with each day that passes. Life deifnitely does "go on" but things are never the same. Things are just not as happy as they would be if Michael were here to share in them. Michael now has two beautiful nephews, Michael Anthony 7 months and Jack Michael 4 1/2 months old, they would love spending time with their uncle and we know Michael would love spending time with them. Both boys were born having rough starts in this world and we have no doubt that their guardian angel, their uncle Michael was there watching over them. Michael Anthony was born with meningitis and was in the NICU for two weeks. Jack Michael was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and had open heart surgery at 4 days old and is scheduled for his second one on September 21. He will need one more when he is about 3 years old. We pray that Michael will be with Jack and help him to come home to us as quickly as possible. Diane, I am so glad that I met you so many years ago. And yes we will alwyas have a connection through our beautiful boys. I hope that someday soon we can make plans to meet. I love you and pray for your family as well. Thank you for being such a good friend. My love to all!
Pat and Lauren xoxoxo

Andrew Ronzino said...

This is an amazing post, Mom! I started to tear up while reading it! I saw his name at the memorial at Ground Zero. I'm going to be linking to this post on my own 9/11 post if you don't mind.

Diane said...

Oh, Pat and Lauren...I have no words. Joe and I are a mess reading your comment. Thank you for taking the time to write. I know how painful this is for you all and I do know how much you miss Michael and the loss you feel.

I am so grieved by the health of both babies. Please be assured I will be praying so much for them. Please keep me posted.

Lauren, I know you have grown into a wonderful woman. I have such strong images of you when you were young. I hold you and your sister and your families close to my heart - you all come with me before God's Throne when I pray. Please trust The Lord. I know Michael Vernon would want that.

Pat and Buddy, we send our love and hugs. God bless you and keep you. Give our love to Kerri as well. Joe and I are very blessed in our lives to have known the Kiefer family. Michael Vernon has left his mark on this world and we are better human beings for having known him.

I love you...

Diane said...

Thank you, Andrew. I know you saw his name, you took the photo for me. Next time you come home, we'll have to visit the memorial at Ground Zero. You may have to hold me up!

Thank you for linking my post to yours. I want people to read about him. I love you, my son!

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers said...

Beautiful post, Diane. Thank you so very much for sharing. My heart and prayers go out to Michael's family. Looking back, I'm amazed and also bolstered to see how people in New York City survived and continue to survive the horrible events and aftermath of that tragic day. God bless America!!!!!

Diane said...

Yes, Sheryl, God bless America! Thank you for reading and commenting. And most of all, thank you for praying for Michael Vernon's family. I truly appreciate that.

A Joyful Noise said...

Oh Diane your story is so moving and to think that you were so involved personally in Michael Vernons dreams and his family is amazing. Thank you for sharing this sweet and sad story at Tell me a Story!

caryjo said...

Lovely... and heartbreaking.

One of the aspects I've heard and thought about a number of times which ones of His kids had been placed in those buildings to protect and draw many others to safety, losing their own lives.

As sad and hard as it is, the only good part is that just maybe some of those who were saved physically have now been saved spiritually b/c of the hands of these dear ones.

Thank you for sharing so dearly and with so many details. Turns our hearts, souls, spirits, and minds in the right direction.

Claire Vorster said...

Thank you for telling Michael Vernon Keifer's brave story Diane. We will remember them.

Sending your family and Michael's family all the love in the world.

One day, no more death, no more tears. Just love.


Diane Ronzino said...

Thanks so much Claire for reading and commenting! Yes, one day, no more death, no more tears! Just Love! Wahoo! And back with Michael Vernon once again!

Lori said...

Last year (2015) my boyfriend and I participated in a stairclimb to honor the firefighters lost but not forgotten on 9/11. We are both firefighters in N.C. My boyfriend , Tim, wore a tag with Michael Vernon's picture and name on it during the 110 flight climb. After the climb, Tim put the tag in his Legends race car in honor of Michael Vernon and the other firefighter lost. The race car is known as the 'firefighters car' since it is red with a Maltese cross on the doors so we felt it was fitting to carry the tag on there. Every race, we see Michael Vernon's name and face. Each time, I pause for a second and say a prayer for him, his friends and family, and all the lives he has touched. I just wanted to tell his loved ones that he is still remembered and his and their sacrifices are not forgotten.

Diane Ronzino said...

Oh, Lori....I cannot tell you what this means...we are all so connected...thank you to you and your husband for the work you do on behalf of the community. You put your lives on the line to help those caught in throes of hell (fire). God bless you and thank you so much for taking the time to write. It means so much.

May I ask, how did you find my blog? I will pass your post on to Michael's family.

Thank you. God bless you and keep you.

Diane Ronzino said...

And Lori, thank you for the prayers! You are a very special woman!

Lori said...

Diane- Thank you for your sweet comments! :-)
I found your blog by searching Michael's name and it popped up. I read it and was touched by his life's story. It is truly an honor to carry Michael's tag and keep alive the memory of such a hero.

Diane Ronzino said...

Oh, wow, Lori... I'm so glad my post came up. This is only a snippet of what I know of this incredible man. His family can share who he really is.

I truly believe you are a Divine connection in their lives. I'm sure one of them will reach out to you.

God bless you and protect you and your husband.

Diane Ronzino said...

Good Morning Lori, I am in NC - Charlotte - visiting friends. I'm here only through Wed. I leave the first thing Thursday morning. I don't know where you live, but I would love to stop by and visit you if you would like and we can arrange it with your schedule. Hopefully, you are not too far away. Here is my cell. Please feel free to call or text me. 631-566-5065

I look forward to hearing from you.

k beltran said...

I was only a fifth grader in a small town in Georgia when news broke that NYC was under attack. Fast forward 14 years later, I recently visited the National 9/11 Memorial for the first time which was an eye-opening, heartbreaking experience. Our tour guide was a first responder on 9/11, and he explained every detail that was behind the memorial. I am not the greatest photographer, but I captured a picture of a white rose placed over someone's name, but that name is too blurry in the picture. The one name that stood out though was Michael Vernon Kiefer. So I took it upon myself to "google" his name and learn who he was. That is how I landed on your page. In learning about him, I cried because he was a young man full of life and dreams who gave his life to save others. I pray his family continues to find strength and comfort every day, and please know, his story of passion inspires me to continue following my passion as a nurse, but not only that--- I learned about him fiance at that time who is a successful PA. Her story inspires me to find the strength and determination to finish my nurse practitioner degree and be like her! I may never meet them, but please tell them that Michael's legacy lives and has reached out to a young woman in Georgia who will always pray for all those whose lives changed after this day. God Bless!

Diane Ronzino said...

"K", I am so very touched by your posting. What a precious heart you have! I am most moved by your words. I'd love for us to keep in touch. Please contact me on FaceBook - Diane Ronzino - or something. Here is my cell if you'd like to text me: 631-566-5065. I have a non-profit, so my message is for that but you can leave a message if you'd like to connect verbally. Thank you for taking the time to read out Michael Vernon and write your heart. I wish you much success in your endeavors! God bless you, K. Diane