Triplets Jim, Bobby and Charles Crossfield were just babies when their dad, Bob, received a notification on his pager about the attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bob Crossfield, a firefighter and member of federal and state emergency response teams, arrived in New York that night with about 70 others from Pennsylvania.
As part of a search and rescue team, he spent nine days combing through the wreckage — nine days that would have a lingering and detrimental effect on the rest of his life. Crossfield has had 11 cancer surgeries, which he says were caused by 9/11 and his 34 years in the Fire Department.
Now 18, Jim, Bobby and Charles are graduating from Archbishop Ryan, and all three are pursuing careers in the military.
Jim is going to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and Bobby is heading to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Charles is following in the footsteps of his older brothers, John and Joe, and enrolling in the Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Pennsylvania State University.
Their father’s response to 9/11 and its lasting damage, along with the family’s extensive military history, inspired them to commit their lives to service.
“We’re all super patriotic but definitely, when that time rolls around, Sept. 11th every year, it’s kind of unusual around the house,” Bobby said. “Maybe a little more quiet.”
“For us as a family, it just means something more,” Jim added.
Military service runs through the fabric of the Crossfield family, who live in Fox Chase. Bob served in the U.S. Air Force, and he said the boys’ ancestors fought in World War I. John, 23, is stationed in San Diego with the Navy, and Joe, 20, is finishing up his junior year in Penn State’s ROTC program.
“We grew up in a military family,” said Jim, who will be studying aerospace engineering in Annapolis. “It was almost something that we didn’t even think about. It was just like in our nature.”
“It almost felt like an obligation,” Bobby added.
All three took inspiration from their older brothers, and they said they feel a duty to serve the country. Each will be required to serve five years in the military after graduating from college.
“I just think it’s taken for granted today,” Jim said. “We live in a country where we have so many freedoms that people are just so oblivious to what they have and what other people and other countries don’t.”
Charles will be focusing on nuclear engineering at Penn State, and Bobby said he would like to work toward becoming a physician’s assistant at West Point
“Their mom, Joan, and I are extremely proud of them,” Bob Crossfield said.
Of course, they are also worried. It’s not clear what conflicts or security threats lay ahead, but “every pair of boots has to be filled,” Crossfield said.
Crossfield said he’s not sure whether the triplets are motivated by anger — at his many appointments at Fox Chase Cancer Center or by the death of their uncle, who also had cancer and was a 9/11 first responder.
“These boys grew up with that every day,” he said.
At Archbishop Ryan, the Crossfield brothers are involved in a variety of sports and activities, and they even started their own organization, the American Heroes Club.
The club raises money for the Travis Manion Foundation, a Doylestown-based nonprofit that supports veterans and their families. It also organizes events for firefighters, police officers and honors them at Ryan sporting events.
When they graduate in June, Jim, Bobby and Charles will be separated for the first time, all in different states. They credit a sibling rivalry with pushing them this far, but, soon, they will be on their own.
“Being one of five brothers, it’s like a rivalry in itself,” Bobby said. “It’s almost like you’re competing 24/7.”
“I feel like that’s made us better as people because when you’re always in constant competition with someone it kind of brings out the best in you,” Jim said.
“Without those two always pushing me to be the person I am today, I wouldn’t be in this position right now,” he added. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org