NYC firefighters honor Maui boy Trucker Dukes
Mother: ‘There has been so much love poured into our ohana and especially through all these men’
Next to the plaques of New York City’s finest fallen heroes hangs the memory of a 3-year-old Maui boy who lost his battle with cancer one year ago.
A year after the death of Trucker Dukes, New York City firefighters held a ceremony Saturday to remember Dukes, who was named an honorary firefighter while undergoing treatment in the city. Five plaques engraved in his honor will hang in four stations in Manhattan (“all his favorite places,” family friend June Harper said Sunday) and one at the Paia fire station.
“Spending time with all of you in firehouses really was Trucker’s happy place in the city,” mother Shauna Dukes said. “It wasn’t always easy to get him here as the little guy often felt like junk from treatment, but every time we walked through the door, he lit up in an unexplainable way, and it was worth it. You were his ‘boys,’ and he was so proud.”
Shauna and Joshua Dukes, a Paia firefighter, made the trip to New York City for the ceremony and spoke to a group of firefighters who became like family during Trucker’s ordeal.
Trucker was diagnosed with stage-four neuroblastoma in late November 2014. He underwent years of chemotherapy, radiation and life-threatening surgeries before the family decided to bring him home to Haiku in the fall of 2016 to be treated under hospice care. Trucker died on March 3, 2017, and his memorial service a week later drew about 1,500 people, including firefighters and first responders from New York, New Jersey, Canada, Australia and Oahu — among the many people worldwide whose lives were touched by Trucker’s journey.
While undergoing treatment at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Trucker befriended the local firefighters. On his third birthday — April 10, 2016 — Trucker’s favorite company, Ladder 13, picked him up in the company’s firetruck and drove him to the firehouse for a party. On May 31, 2016, Trucker was sworn in as an honorary FDNY firefighter.
“He would go through (treatment) in the morning, take a nap, then come to the firehouse and hang out with the boys,” New York City Fire Department Capt. Jim Grismer said in a video of Saturday’s ceremony posted by Hawaii News Now. “And knowing this, we all looked up to him as much as he looked up to us.”
During the ceremony at the Engine 39/Ladder 16 station, Grismer and other officials honored Trucker and unveiled a plaque with a picture of him dressed in firefighting gear. “Rest easy, little brother,” it reads. Chief Michael Gala, Manhattan assistant borough commander with the FDNY, said he’d never attended a plaque dedication for a nonfirefighter before. The plaques will hang at the following New York stations: Engine 39/Ladder 16, Engine 22/Ladder 13/Battalion 10, Engine 44 and Marine 1 FDNY, Harper said.
Father Joshua Dukes said Saturday that March 3 “will always have great significance in my life.” But it wasn’t all about sadness, he added.
“I look around this room, and I am encouraged on the saddest day of my life,” he said. “None of us can escape tragedy in this life. None of us are immune, but what we can do is help others through it, serve others through it, lift others up when they fall, and we can be vulnerable and love people even if we don’t barely know them and they live thousands of miles away. That is the good in this.”
Shauna Dukes said the last four years have been “heartbreaking and tragic,” but also “beautiful.”
“There has been so much love poured into our ohana and especially through all these men,” she said. “Every time Trucker and I visited a firehouse, I watched a new grown man fall in love with our little firefighter, and it was one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed in my life.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.