By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
At the Fort Hamilton Army Base there is a bluff on the waterfront that offers a breathtaking view of the Narrows and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. From June 13 on, that bucolic space will forever be known as Engeldrum Bluff in memory of Christian Engeldrum, a firefighter-turned-soldier killed in the Iraq War.
Engeldrum, 39, a staff sergeant in the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard, was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) while he was on duty outside of Baghdad on Nov. 29, 2004. Prior to his tour of duty in Iraq, Engeldrum, who hailed from the Bronx, was a New York City firefighter assigned to Ladder Co. 61 in his native borough. He was a first responder at the World Trade Center site following the Sept. 11 attack, assisting in the recovery effort. He is buried at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/ Arlington National Cemetery.
On Thursday, soldiers, firefighters, community leaders, Engeldrum’s wife Sharon, his mother Lenora, and members of his family gathered at the fort for a ceremony dedicating the bluff in his name.
The fort’s commander, Col. Eluyn Gines, had originally planned to hold the ceremony on the bluff, but a rainstorm forced a change of venue and the event was held inside the fort’s Post Theater. The change gave the ceremony a much more intimate feel that it might have had if it had taken place outside.
A large photo showing the plaque bearing Engeldrum’s name was unveiled on the theater’s stage during the ceremony.
Gines called Engeldrum “an American hero” and said it was fitting that the ceremony was taking place during a week when the nation was celebrating the 238th birthday of US Army and when the fort is marking its 188th birthday. “It is a week of celebration but also of remembrance,” Gines said, adding that it is important to recall the lives lost in war and the loved ones they left behind. “Every life lost is a tragedy. There’s really no preparation for it. It’s a pain that rips through your soul,” he said.
Gines announced that in addition to the bluff dedication, the fort was also reserving four permanent parking spaces on the base for the families of military members killed in war.
New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who noted that Engeldrum had saved lives as a firefighter, said that he was “a true hero in every sense of the word.” After the Sept. 11 attack, Engeldrum “rushed to the World Trade Center to rescue thousands.” The first responders, Cassano said, were “among the first in the battle against terrorism.”
The firehouse where Engeldrum worked contains a plaque dedicated in his memory. There is also a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post named after him, Cassano said. The fort dedication is meaningful, the commissioner said. “With this ceremony, Christian will forever become a part of Fort Hamilton,” he said.
The 69th Infantry Regiment, the unit Engeldrum belonged to, is known as the “Fighting 69th.” Lt. Col. James Gonyo, commander of the regiment, recalled that Engeldrum’s colleagues called him “Chris,” or by his nickname, “Drum.” Gonyo said that visiting the bluff “will allow us to pause and remember; to go and remember and shed a tear.” Engeldrum Bluff will also give military members a chance to “find the courage to go on with our lives,” Gonyo said.
Gonyo read aloud the Joyce Kilmer poem “Rouge Bouquet,” about soldiers from the Fighting 69th killed in a World War I battle. The poem included the lines, “Dead in their youthful prime, never to laugh nor love again, nor taste the summertime.”
Of all the speakers, the person who received the most sustained applause was the person who spoke only a few sentences. Engeldrum’s widow, Sharon, thanked all those taking part in the ceremony. “I thank you for the great honor,” she said. She left the stage to a standing ovation.
Following the ceremony, Lenora Engeldrum said the event made her happy. “It’s great to know that Chris is being remembered,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She described her son as “an action man” and said he signed up for the National Guard following the Sept. 11 attacks. “He was outraged by what happened on 9/11,” she recalled. Her son always had a sense of fairness and would become upset if he saw something unfair, she said.
She wasn’t surprised when Chris served in both the military and the Fire Department. “When he was a little boy, he was always playing with a G.I. Joe. And he had fire trucks, too,” she said with a smile.