A staple of the Naples community, a stalwart supporter of the local veteran community and the driving force behind the Freedom Memorial Jerry Sanford, like many Southwest Florida residents, lived a full life before he arrived here. His amazing story is delicately detailed in the recent release of his book, It Started With a Helmet.
Jerry had always been told that he should write a book but just didn’t get around to it. Unbeknownst to him, his better half, Chris, had been recording audio of his poignant stories told to friends and family, particularly around September 11th. When he traveled to New York City for his 9/11 medical check-ups he was particularly animated being around the vibe of the city. “Of course, he’s just a chatterbox in the city. Especially when he visits a firehouse.”, said Chris. Just after the first of the year Chris whipped up a manuscript, sat him down and said, “Read this, Papi.” He was in disbelief as he tore through the pages that detailed some of the amazing events of his life including the story about the helmet and his volunteer tenure with the FDNY after 9/11.
After Jerry retired from the FDNY and moved to Southwest Florida he found himself employed again at North Naples Fire. It was there he learned about a 1914 FDNY fire helmet from Ladder 42 in the Bronx. By sheer coincidence he and a group of men returned the helmet to the firehouse captain in New York City on September 10, 2001, the day before the terrorist attacks. We all remember what happened the following day and exactly where we were when it happened.
The book itself is an easy read and not heavy given the subject matter regarding 9/11 and a variety of life’s ups and downs chronicled in the book. If you’re from New York City or Naples, Florida you will likely read some familiar names and places which will draw a smile or even a chuckle. Most importantly, the book completes its mission by reigniting the charge to ‘Never Forget’ 9/11 and the 343 brothers that FDNY lost that day. It also outlines the story of our own Freedom Memorial at Fred C Coyle Freedom Park on Golden Gate Parkway. It’s been Sanford’s passion for years and he vows to complete it. It’s just short of 23 “state stones” to complete the artist’s vision. “Funding that last part of the memorial is proving to be a challenge because to the average person it looks complete when driving by”, said Sanford.
The book is available at most online retailers such as Amazon and the publisher, iUniverse. The authors have also created a program to provide teachers a complimentary copy to read to their class at ItStartedWithAHelmet.com. Sponsorship information for state stones can be found at the Freedom Memorial Foundation website. Approximately $48,000 is needed to complete the project. All donations to the Freedom Memorial Foundation are tax deductible