As he drove home to Baldwin three days after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, and only hours after he was photographed standing alongside President George W. Bush atop a demolished fire truck at Ground Zero, retired firefighter Bob Beckwith did not realize he had become part of history.
Driving over the Williamsburg Bridge, he mused: "Who's going to believe I was with the president? My kids are going to say, 'Yeah, right.' "
Arriving at home, he saw otherwise.
"People are coming out of their houses with candles, neighbors are coming up my driveway," he recalled. "My neighbor across the street is a city cop and he yells, 'Beck, you're on TV.' "
The 30-year veteran of the FDNY, now 79, has repeated the story of his encounter with the president dozens of times. The media came calling again this year after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
"I would have liked it to be on George Bush's watch, but it wasn't, so OK," Beckwith said.
Of the day that made him famous, Beckwith said he was just trying to find a good spot to watch the president tour Ground Zero when Bush unexpectedly made a turn on his route and hopped aboard the crushed Engine Company No. 76 truck.
The ironworkers, firefighters, police officers and rescue personnel at first had difficulty hearing the president, Beckwith recalled. Then Bush was handed a bullhorn.
"That built us up," Beckwith recalled. "Then we wanted to get back to work because I still believed there was people alive who had to find air pockets. I was wrong. But I really believed we could still find somebody."
He remains somewhat bashful about his appearance with the president, though a blown-up Time magazine cover of him and Bush adorns his den.
Beckwith has turned over the tens of thousands of dollars he's earned for public appearances to the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation.
"I was one of many guys, many retired guys down there, many, and they were doing their job down at the site," he told The Associated Press.
"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. That's it in a nutshell."