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Sunday, September 11, 2011

A True 9/11 Hero--"I'm just gonna go back and get two-way radios"--the last words of J. Bruce Eagleson (whose family I represented in their 9/11 claim) to a co-worker in the South Tower on 9/11--and Nobody Heard from Bruce Again

J. Bruce Eagleson died on 9/11 in the South Tower.  He had plenty of time to get out of the building, but he was in charge of the World Trade Center's Westfield America Shopping Mall, on the ground floor, and he wanted to make sure all his company's employees were out of the building before he abandoned ship.  The last report of Bruce's activities and whereabouts was communicated to his wife by a Westfield co-worker, who said she saw Bruce going up the stairs inside the South Tower as the co-worker was doing her best to go down the same staircase.  She asked Bruce why he wasn't getting out of the building and he simply said, "I've got to get some two-way radios."  As Bruce's widow later said, why would he need to be getting two-way radios unless he were trying to save people?"

Bruce was married to Gail Petrus Eagleson and before 9/11 they lived with their three sons in Middlefield, CT.  Gail was a public elementary school teacher.

After Bruce's death, Gail sought legal help from Debbie Shapiro, a lawyer whom I have known personally and professionally for more than 35 years.  Debbie called me and asked if I could meet with Gail at her home because some lawyers Gail never heard of wanted to meet with her to "sign her up" to represent Bruce's estate in a legal claim for his wrongful death resulting from the WTC attack.

I knew nothing about how such claims should be handled.  Nobody did, anywhere, because this was a once-in-a-blue moon tragedy with legal implications as yet undefined when I first met with Gail at her home, with Debbie Shapiro.

To make the legal story short, I gradually became expert in the intricacies of the Federal Fund for the Compensation of 9/11 Victims.  And my law firm agreed to handle the case not on our usual contingency fee for such cases of 33 per cent, but rather on a reduced hourly fee basis.  Bruce's Australian employer, Westfield Corporation, agreed in negotiations with me to pay the legal fees for Gail, but, again, on a reduced hourly fee basis.  I negotiated the deal with Westfield's CEO , their Sydney, Australia home-office general counsel, their local Connecticut legal counsel, and other professionals the company brought in to deal with Bruce's case, and me as the estate's legal counsel.

The important part of this story, however, is Bruce Eagleson.  He was truly a Real American Hero.  I will stop  now and let Bruce's lovely widow, Gail, tell the rest of the story.  Here is a link to a Middletown Patch series of three videotaped interview with Gail, in which she tells what happened, in her own words.

Here's the link to the interview videotapes.  You may need to copy and paste it into your browser to see it.

http://durham.patch.com/articles/911-widow-a-lot-of-my-dreams-were-crushed-that-day-video#video-7672757

What really tugged at my heartstrings when I read the Patch article was this quote from Gail Eagleson:



Gail Eagleson said:


"All three boys were very close to their father. Bruce coached their Little League, basketball and soccer teams and also gave swimming lessons to disabled youth."
Gail says she takes solace in a memory of the family’s last vacation together.
“We went to the outer banks in North Carolina. [Bruce] had such a great time … the waves there, he didn’t want to look around the island at all. He just wanted to be in the ocean riding all the waves.”
“I only regret he can’t see his grandchildren,” Gail, now retired after 35 years of teaching, says — Kyle’s 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
She sees Bruce in their blue eyes and their features.
“I kind of planned my future for us to see our grandchildren together and a lot of my dreams were crushed that day.”
“There’s just no one to replace him.”


And here's the full text of the Middletown Patch article:


9/11 Widow: "A Lot of My Dreams Were Crushed That Day" [VIDEO]

Middlefield resident Bruce Eagleson died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, after helping his company's 10 other employees to safety.

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Gail Eagleson of Middlefield recalls the morning of September 11, 2001, a day that would change her family's life forever.

Photos

Gail Eagleson of Middlefield lost her husband, Bruce Eagleson, in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Bruce Eagleson was 53 when he died in the 9/11 attacks. At the time Eagleson was a vice president at The Westfield Group, managing retail stores at the World Trade Center.
Hope Kasper, left, a member of the Middletown Common Council, with her sister Gail Eagleson at her Middlefield home.

Videos

Gail Eagleson of Middlefield recalls the morning of September 11, 2001, a day that would change her family's life forever.
Gail Eagleson of Middlefield talks about the uncertainty of her husband's fate in the early hours and days following the September 11 attacks.
Gail Eagleson of Middlefield remembers her husband, Bruce Eagleson, who died in the September 11 attacks.

On the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Gail Eagleson is in a wistful mood thinking about the husband she lost that day -- the man she calls "her best friend."  
Gail had just graduated from college in 1975 when she met Bruce Eagleson. “It was at a job that I took at K-Mart in the sporting goods department. When I went in to apply, they said, ‘there’s no position here,’” she recalls. “After I went home, I got a call saying, ‘there is a position.’” She was 22.
Turns out, Bruce Eagleson, then 27 and a manager, was in the upstairs office when she applied.
“He looked out the window to see me and then he decided he wanted to hire me,” she remembers.
Within about a year, they were married, and soon had three boys they raised in the Wesleyan Hills section of Middletown. Twenty-three years later, J. Bruce Eagleson was among the 148 Connecticut victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
“My husband was my best friend,” Gail, 58, says, “and I miss him.” Today, Bruce would be 63.
At the time, Bruce, a Manchester High School graduate, was a vice president at The Westfield Group, managing retail stores at the World Trade Center and looking forward to retiring in seven years with Gail.
He had a playful sense of humor, says his sister-in-law, Middletown Common Councilwoman Hope Kasper.
“He liked to play jokes on people. There was one time when he disguised his voice [on the telephone] and we were in the middle of contract negotiations because I was a union officer. And he tells me he’s the custodian and he really needs my help,” she laughs.
“‘I really can’t talk to you right now because we’re in this meeting, but I’ll call you later,’” Kasper said then. “I didn’t realize it was him.”
Ordinarily, Bruce worked at the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, but at the end of July, Gail says, his company “didn’t have a manager to place in the World Trade Center. It was kind of a touchy situation; they wanted to make everything go smoothly with the Port Authority, with the transition of setting up the retail. [Westfield] had plans to develop it and make it a bigger section in the World Trade,” she says.
So Bruce commuted from Middlefield every Monday, spending four days in New York and returning home every Thursday. He was only scheduled to work in the city until January 2002.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Bruce was in a meeting on the 17th floor of the south tower when the first aircraft, United Flight 175, hit the north tower. (See videos)
“It was a regular day,” Gail, who was teaching third-graders at Farm Hill School in Middletown, remembers. “I just got out of a faculty meeting … I just happened to be on my cell phone with my son Kyle and I was talking to him and then my sister called on the classroom phone and she called to tell me the World Trade has been hit.”
Kyle was 22 and had recently graduated from Xavier High School.
“He got off the phone immediately and he called his father,” Gail says, telling him, “‘Dad, it’s been hit.’”
“‘I know, I’m OK, I’m fine,’” she says Bruce told his son, who urged him leave the building. But Bruce, who Gail later found out made sure all 10 of the Westfield employees got out safely, went back inside to get two-way radios — just before WTC 2 collapsed. “You could hear in the background him directing people, saying ‘keep going, keep going,’” Gail recalls.
“‘Mom, you call Dad,’” Gail remembers Kyle saying. “I think he said that because he knew that when I said something, he took it a little bit stronger,” she laughs, “than my son telling him to get out. I tried to call and I couldn’t get a hold of him.”
“I was reassured when Kyle talked to him that he said that he was OK,” Gail says of Bruce. “My youngest son Brett,” then 15, “called me from Coginchaug [Regional High School in Durham], saying, ‘Mom, I’m scared. Will you come here and get me?’ I kept telling him, ‘Dad’s OK.’”
But as the day went on, Gail heard that all of the Westfield employees working on the 17th floor had gotten out of the building safely and were calling home.
“I just figured that he stayed,” she says. “He stayed to help people.”
“[Former Middletown Police Chief] Ed Brymer had gone down to Ground Zero,” Kasper says, “and he had spoken with a firefighter that his cousin had worked with and he told me that they told him that Bruce was evacuating people, that Bruce was a hero.”
Weeks later at a memorial, Gail remembers, “a girl came up to me from the company. She just thanked me and said, ‘your husband saved my life and my parents are so happy.’”
If Bruce had died of a heart attack, Gail says, it would have almost been easier — and comforting somehow to bury his body. And have a funeral.
“I never really got a phone call from anyone” telling her Bruce was gone, Gail says.
“I had a feeling that he died. I just had a feeling, but everybody was very hopeful that he was alive. People would say to me that this happened and they interviewed somebody on TV that said he was a manager at the World Trade and it could be your husband, but it wasn’t.
“That made it worse,” Gail says, “because there were ups and downs, up and downs.”
Then, she says, “There were pictures where they thought he was in those pictures, but it wasn’t him.”
Kyle and Timothy, then 18 and a sophomore at the University of Connecticut and in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, went to Ground Zero right after it happened to post photographs of Bruce. “They came back and said there were pictures all over the place,” Gail says. “There were so many flowers all over Ground Zero and people had left stuffed animals and pictures of their loved ones.”
Losing his father, Gail says, “I think strengthened all [Tim’s] convictions and he wanted to go over to be part of when we went over into Iraq.” Not long after, Tim became captain in the U.S. Army’s 244th Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Iraq.
“Tim always wanted to be an officer in the Army since he was 3, 4 years old,” his mother says. “It was his goal in life. I didn’t want him to do that, my husband didn’t want him to do that. We both tried talking to him. This was just something he wanted to do.”
All three boys were very close to their father. Bruce coached their Little League, basketball and soccer teams and also gave swimming lessons to disabled youth.
Gail says she takes solace in a memory of the family’s last vacation together.
“We went to the outer banks in North Carolina. [Bruce] had such a great time … the waves there, he didn’t want to look around the island at all. He just wanted to be in the ocean riding all the waves.”
“I only regret he can’t see his grandchildren,” Gail, now retired after 35 years of teaching, says — Kyle’s 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
She sees Bruce in their blue eyes and their features.
“I kind of planned my future for us to see our grandchildren together and a lot of my dreams were crushed that day.”
“There’s just no one to replace him.”

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