This Son of an FDNY Legend Hunted His Dads 9/11 Killers Through Five Combat Tours
by Michael Daly
September 11, 2021·12 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Getty
With a rosy dawn on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a figure in the uniform of an Army Green Beret stood to the edge of Ground Zero wearing a name tag reading BUCCA.
Master Sgt. Ron Bucca Jr. is the son of a former Green Beret who became a legendary member of the New York City Fire Department. Fire Marshal Ron Bucca Sr. was also one of 343 FDNY members who perished at the World Trade Center across from where Ron Jr. now stood exactly two decades later.
Ron Jr. had been 23 when he enlisted to get the people who killed the hero he called dad. Now 41, he has been guided through five combat tours by a principle imparted by his father.
You do the best you can with the cards you are dealt, Ron Jr. said.
Some of the very best cards Ron Jr. had been dealt were fellow Special Forces operators such as those who joined him on the corner as the sky brightened on Saturday. They greeted each other with smiles and easy laughter and manifest affection, seeming much like firefighters.
Its the same bond, said retired Master Sgt. Brendan OConnor, who received the Distinguished Service Cross after repeatedly exposing himself to withering gunfire to aid wounded comrades in Afghanistan in 2006.
The soldiers may have been betrayed by a host of political leaders, but they still had themselves. And there was not a waft of defeat about them despite how everything had played out since the attack on the Twin Towers that once stood across the street.
Twenty years of war, OConnor said. And we are no safer.
But because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are officially over, operators who otherwise would have been deployed were able to join Bucca in honoring his fallen father on Saturday.
Most of the battalions are back, OConnor said. Its an unusual moment in time.
Altogether, 54 Green Berets proceeded with Ron Jr. through security and on to the memorial. They were joined by a variety of family and friends, including Rons wife, Silvana, a former Army officer who served five tours in Iraq.
I had a birthday in Baghdad, she said.
The Green Berets stood shoulder to shoulder and saluted as an honor guard bore the flag up to a ceremonial platform. The national anthem played. And the annual reading of the names of the dead commenced.
Ron Jr. led the contingent over to the memorial pool that occupies that footprint of the South Tower. He stopped where the names inscribed along the edge include that of his father. His comrades fell into formation three lines behind him, saluting after the alphabetized list of names came to the former soldier who became known as The Flying Fireman during his time with the FDNY.
Michael Daly/The Daily Beast Michael Daly/The Daily Beast And the son is the match of the father, a former Green Beret who served with both remarked.
For all of us, the story of Ron Sr. and Ron Jr. offers everything we need to prevail in this unrelentingly dangerous world: dedication and resilience and determination and courage and selflessness. We have their example to follow no matter how misled we are by those we elect.
In 1986, Ron Sr. survived a five-story fall while attempting to save a fire lieutenant at a burning building in Manhattan. Bucca struck a telephone wire and a pair of cables on the way down, but fire officials concluded this slowed his fall only minimally. They theorized he was saved by his Airborne and Special Forces training he received in the Army after enlisting at 17 near the end of the Vietnam War. He landed on his hands and feet like a cat, suffering only a broken back in a fall that doctors would have expected to be fatal.
It wasnt my time, Ron Sr. later said.
The mayor then, Ed Koch, visited Ron Sr. at the hospital and offered his own explanation.
Hes the first man Ive ever met who I can say has learned how to fly, Koch said.
Ron Sr. could only walk with excruciating pain when he learned that a young cop named Steven McDonald was in the same hospital after being shot and paralyzed by a teenager in Central Park. Ron Sr. nonetheless managed to repeatedly visit McDonalds bedside.
I just remember him in his hospital pajamas and a back brace, and he would always come in and see if I was OK, if I needed anything, McDonald would recall.
He had been through a very bad time himself, but he always took the time to check on me. I couldnt communicate because of the gunshot wounds, but that didnt matter to him. He knew I was in a deep depression, dark moods, and he would spend time with me, trying to give me pep talks.
McDonalds wife, Patti Ann, took to calling Ron Sr. The Flying Fireman. McDonald subsequently regained the power of speech and became the citys strongest voice for peace and justice when he forgave the young man who shot him.
Ron Sr. ignored those who counseled him just to retire at age 32 with a tax-free disability pension. He also dismissed the experts who predicted he would never be fit for full duty. He was determined to return to the business of saving lives as a member of Rescue 1 and designed his own, often agonizing physical rehabilitation program.
Im going back to Rescue 1 in a year! he told his wife, Eve.
A year later, he was indeed back at Rescue 1. He became a fire marshal by 1993 and responded to the scene of the World Trade Center bombing. He was the only member of the FDNY assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
He also remained an Army reservist, serving as a Green Beret and assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency. There, he came across something that had been retrieved from a computer belonging to a Trade Center bomber after that attack: Our calculations were not very accurate this time. However, we promise you that next time it will be very precise and the Trade Center will be one of our targets.
He became one of the first of any agency to warn about the danger of al Qaeda.
At the arrival of the new millennium, the nation went on high alert for a big New Years Eve attack. The moment passed without event and our leaders seemed to imagine that the danger passed with it. The FDNY spot on the JTTF was among the items deemed to no longer merit the expense.
From what he had learned on the JTTF and continued to see with military intelligence, Ron Sr. was certain the threat was only growing. He kept a set of building plans of the Twin Towers in his fire marshals locker.
On the sunny morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Ron Sr. looked out the window of the Fire Marshals base just uptown from the World Trade Center and saw the attack he expected had come.
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