A Family Tradition

John & Joe Mooney.

By Georgin Brennan, Contributor
April / May 2002

On a day that seemed like hell, a father and son fond solace in working together.


Balancing against twisted beams on the remains of the World Trade Center, ironworker John Mooney was clearing the way for the rescue effort when he put his hand on the shoulder of the man working next to him. “He turned around and I saw it was my dad. I hadn’t known he was there,” says John, 24. The father and son hugged briefly and continued working.

“I had told John to go to his regular job. I didn’t think he would go down,” says Joe Mooney, his eyes searching out his son now as John moves around the studio where, together with the other ironworkers in our story, they have come for a photo shoot. “It’s the first time we have all gotten together like this and it’s good to talk about it,” admits John, who stood on 20th Street on the morning of September 11 and watched as thousands walked North away from the devastation. Unable to get home, he slept in a bathtub in a friend’s apartment. He woke on September 12 knowing that he had to help with the rescue attempts.

“When I got there, it was something of a collective conscience. Nobody was speaking, things just got done,” he recalls.

Meanwhile, Joe, a 46-year veteran ironworker, was making his own way down.

On the morning of September 11, Joe, having just returned from a trip to Ireland, was at home with his wife when the television images bombarded their front room. “I went to the window and saw the second plane crash. I was devastated because I had worked on the towers,” he says. He and his brothers, Marty, Jimmy and Paddy had worked on the team that built the World Trade Center.

“Some people have a scrapbook. Instead, my father has Manhattan. It is tough when a piece of that is destroyed,” says John, recalling how as a kid when he came to the city with his father Joe would point out all the buildings he had worked on.

Joe and his wife, Pauline, have been married for 30 years. They met when he was working on the construction of the WTC, at a dance to benefit ironworkers. Joe, whose family hails from Cork, and Pauline from Dublin, both with other dates, shared a glance across the room.

“I used my charm,” grins Joe, indicating that love was at first sight. “We were married within the year,” he says as he places his hand on his son’s shoulder. “And this and his sister Anne-Marie were the result.”

John graduated from Syracuse three years ago and taught third grade in Corpus Christi, Texas. To make extra money he worked summers with his father. And though he intends to do his master’s in English literature, he’s been working iron for two years now and seems happy to stay where he is for a while. “It is the best job in the best city with the best view,” he says. ♦

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