Howard Kaplan was attempting to explain the good and the bad of being in New York following Sept. 11 until we heard the bell ring out.
At Tuesday morning's 9/11 service we both were attending, it marked the collapse of the World Trade Center's north tower.
Kaplan became silent and bowed his head among a crowd of a two dozen observers outside the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Museum.
To Kaplan, a retired Los Angeles Fire Department captain who was deployed to New York, the bell is a sobering reminder of the death of 343 firefighters connected to the rescue response.
Later he would put into perspective the hundreds of firefighter funerals held in the wake of 9/11.
"One of the hardest things is, you realize that New York Fire had 343 funerals, and it’s—How do you do that? It’s almost impossible, you have to have two or three a day," Kaplan said. "Day after day after day, I don’t know how they could handle it without commiting suicide afterward. It’s insane to think about attending 100, 200, 300 funerals with the bagpipes. It's pretty remarkable and hopefully it will never come to anything near where people have to witness that again."
Eleven years later, Kaplan continues to find ways to honor their memory by participating in memorial events and donating wall hangings to community organizations.
He presented one of his memorial wall hangings to Jim Finn, president of the LAFD Museum Historical Society, on Tuesday.
"I've been giving them away where they can be used as retirement gifts or raffled at charity auctions," Kaplan said. "I came here for a meeting and showed them one and I said 'I'll have a tag made for you.' It was sitting at my house and I thought today would be a perfect time to give to them."
Kaplan's tributes doesn't stop with the wall hangings. He continues to visit New York for special events, like the tenth anniversary. He rides in commemorative motorcycle trips and he's amassed five tattoos. (See the slideshow for a glimpse at two.)
For Kaplan, it's a life-changing event that he finds important to observe each year and at the same time, he runs into mixed emotions. As a teacher of a fire technology course at a college, it even comes up in class.
"I get very emotional about it. I talk about it in school. I cried in front of my class, not on purpose. Most our people, some of us got sick, physically, nobody I know has had mental issues, but a lot of people won’t go back. I have to, but there are certain things I see in commercials and stuff that I have to shut off. I can't watch because it’s something related to something I saw there," Kaplan said.
"I keep thinking, If I had not gone would I be better off? Probably."
"I’m glad I went, but I’m sad I went. It’s hard to explain."