Thomas Patrick Cullen, III – In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Thomas P. Cullen, III


Before we can memorialize a good man, a husband, a father, and a son to my good friend, we need to remember how he died. He didn’t die of old age, in his sleep, surrounded by family and friends. He didn’t die as a result of working in one of the Twin Towers on September 11th. He died because he and his fellow members of Squad 41 from the Bronx ran into building that was crumbling, on fire, full of people who needed his help.

He offered all that he had to give on that day, without hesitation.


If we were able to ask him today “would you do it all over again the same way,” I suspect he would say yes.

September 11, 2001 was Tommy’s father’s worst nightmare. A firefighter himself, my friend Tom Cullen, Jr., Tommy’s dad, received a call from his other son that morning. Tom grabbed his dog and drove three days straight from the Florida Keys to New York City. He spent many days in a living hell of trying to discover what had happened to his son.

Tommy Cullen, doing what he loved best

Tommy Cullen, doing what he loved best

And this is what Tommy saw as he was running into what remained of the Towers:


From article by Tom Junod,

“They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors — the top. For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds. They were all, obviously, not just killed when they landed but destroyed, in body though not, one prays, in soul. One hit a fireman on the ground and killed him; the fireman’s body was anointed by Father Mychal Judge, whose own death, shortly thereafter, was embraced as an example of martyrdom after the photograph — the redemptive tableau — of firefighters carrying his body from the rubble made its way around the world.”


Tommy met his wife, Susan, at Fordham University. As is true of many in the Cullen family, it was said of Tommy that “fire was his true love.” This love has been passed on to the next generation. When his son, Tom, was two years old he could distinguish one kind of truck from another (that doesn’t happen accidentally). Father and son also shared a love of electric trains, and Tommy, once his son was asleep, would rearrange the toy train tracks set up in the living room.

Thomas Patrick Cullen, III, was a brave man, a good father, and a good husband. He was a fine firefighter and a friend to all who knew him. He died doing what he had devoted his life to doing: rescuing people.

I requested to write this memorial because of my friend, Thomas Patrick Cullen, Junior. If you knew him, you would know how it is that he raised such a fine, brave young man as was Tommy Cullen III. This memoriam is for Tommy, and for Tom as well.

Thomas Patrick Cullen, III’s sacrifice for his country and the people of New York City will never be trivialized or forgotten, not while there is breath in my body or ink in my pen.



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17 responses to “Thomas Patrick Cullen, III – In Memoriam

  1. Your tribute is beautiful and thought provoking. You reminded me of things I did not want to remember about that day but must not forget. So much was lost.

    I remembered Joseph Roberto.

  2. Tom, Jr

    Thank you Kathy, you are a wonderful person!

  3. Keith Cortner

    Kathy, Beautiful tribute to a fellow firefighter, and son of our mutual friend, Tom Cullen Jr. I worked in Fire Rescue with Tom and with the TVFD with him as well.

  4. i am 13 years old and i will remember you

  5. Maureen Rudy


    Your family is remembered today 2,000 miles away at the Red Rocks Memorial Stair Climb organized by the West Metro Fire Department in Denver, CO. I carried Tommy’s picture up the steps nine times which equals the height of the Twin Towers. My brother is a firefighter and organizer of this fundraiser for the Widows and Orphans Fund. In it’s second year, it is a moving tribute with bagpipers and hundreds of firefighters, most in full bunker gear, joined by so many others to pay tribute and remember all the brave who lost their lives on that fateful day.

    As a former NY girl, with cousins who are NYFD and a brother who too attended Fordham, this day is one we have vowed to never forget. Tommy is remembered and you remain in our thoughts and prayers…


  6. Kathy


    thank you for the lovely tribute to my friend Tom’s son, Tommy. I’m reminded every 11thof September how important symbols and acts of symbology are to myself personally, to others who are directly affected, and to society at large.

    You honor me, you honor the memory of Tommy. My heartfelt thanks.

  7. Charleen Dowdell

    You are welcome to look at my pictures on Facebook I have posted several of the Stair Climb.

    • Kathy

      Sorry, Charleen, I thought I’d replied to your post already. I looked at many of your photos and you are one amazing lady! A true American–spirit, heart, and the courage of your convictions. Thanks for the link.


  8. Aris Stefanac

    I got to this sight looking for something to hold onto today and I want to thank you that you were here. My grandson tried to end his life last week and since then the rest of my family has just been crumbling around me. Thank you for your words so that I can cling to the truth that even on this day that was the darkest, God was with us and we were able to hang on and rise up. I do not know what is ahead but I do know that my steps are being guided and he is with me as he was then, even when it looked so dark.

    • Kathy

      Dear Aris, I hope you do not mind, but I am going to share your post with Thomas Cullen’s Dad, who is a good friend of mine. While I can objectively write about the truth of Jesus Christ and how He is with us, Tommy’s Dad, Thomas lives with the sadness of his son’s death every day. And he prospers! He’s an amazing guy, who looks life in the face, grieves, and moves forward. He may have some words of wisdom to speak to your heart.

      You are in my prayers, and your grandson and family are in my prayers. I pray that God covers you in the comfort and peace that only He can give. You aren’t meant to handle this alone–cry out to Him.


  9. Thomas Brown

    I would love any contact info on Tommys’ wife/mother/father/kids.. I did a climb in honor of him.. never knew of him.. i randomly drew his name but now feel as i need to do something for his family….

    • Kathy

      Bless you, Thomas, for doing a climb in his honor. His father is one of the finest men I know, and would be pleased to hear from you, I’m sure.

      His Dad, Thomas P. Cullen, Jr. is on facebook, if you look for him there. If you’re unable to find him, comment back to me and let me know, and I’ll send him a note asking him if it’s ok to share his personal email.

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