Running for a Memory
The race seemed more important than ever. For 18 years, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Dennis Cross competed in the Turkey Trot, a 5- kilometer race held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where firefighters ran for charity. Now he would be absent.
His wife, JoAnn, used to operate a fitness studio and induced him to run with her. But once the children arrived, she stopped running. That was 15 years ago.
Yet she felt an unshakable need to have a Cross in the Turkey Trot to honor her husband, a battalion chief of Battalion 57 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. So she concluded she would be that Cross. And she would recruit additional firefighters to run, too, in honor of all the firefighters lost in the attack.
Chief Cross, 60, known as Captain Fearless, lived with his wife in Islip Terrace, N.Y. His favorite saying was, "Take care of the men and the men will take care of you." Mrs. Cross was going to take care of his memory. She vowed she would finish this race and then begin an annual memorial run for her husband next April 27, the anniversary of the day they met.
For nine weeks, she trained, building up endurance. Race day came. She ran, as did her four children. She finished in 29 minutes. "I thought I was going to do it in 45 minutes," she said. "I was proud of myself."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 29, 2001.
At age 60, Dennis Cross had spent nearly two-thirds of his life as a firefighter in New York City.
And retirement wasn't on his calendar anytime soon.
"He wanted to be the first to put in 50 years on the job," said JoAnn Cross, his wife of 37 years.
Along with so many of his brethren, Cross' career was cut short Sept. 11. The battalion chief for Battalion 57, based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, was killed when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
His body wasn't recovered until a week later.
"The first three days it was more than hell," said his wife. "When they found him on the seventh day, that was such a relief because we could bring him home. So many of our friends haven't been able to do that."
As is common in the profession, fighting fires was a family affair. Cross' father, Charles, was a New York firefighter, as is his only son, Brian.
Cross joined the department in 1963 after returning home from a two-year tour in Vietnam, where he served in an Army communications unit, JoAnn Cross said.
In the department, Cross was widely admired as a gutsy firefighter and, later, as a respected leader.
"He was a quiet guy, but powerful," JoAnn Cross said. "When he made captain, they called him Captain Fearless."
He was promoted to battalion chief in 1993.
A frequent runner who kept himself in excellent shape, Cross was looking forward to competing in an annual 5K race around the Thanksgiving holiday in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Now, JoAnn Cross hopes to turn the race into a fundraiser for a local charity that aids burn victims.
Cross is also survived by three daughters and three grandchildren.
An estimated 3,000 mourners, mostly firefighters, attended Cross' funeral Sept. 22 in Islip Terrace, Long Island, where he lived.
Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.