GYMPIE fire fighter Rob Frey emerged from behind an international security veil last night (our time), to share a spot in the United State Congress with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, sources say.
Although no official statement has been made to The Gympie Times, the paper has learned that Mr Frey flew out of Australia this week as part of his long journey of commemoration, in the tenth year after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City.
Mr Frey confirmed his journey in a phone call to delay publication of the story for security reasons.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was due to address the US Congress last night and, in a rare honour for Australians, Gympie fire fighter Rob Frey has been invited to accompany her.
The man who last year described the then-Deputy Prime Minister as “lovely” was an important part of the 2010 Tour of Duty by fire fighters who ran a 7500km relay across the US from Los Angeles to New York.
The run finished in New York in the early hours of September 11.
But before all that happened, Mr Frey took part in one of the most poignant moments of his American visit, something which was expected to be referred to during last night’s ceremony in the US capital.
Mr Frey had the emotionally intense job of handing back a hat which had belonged to an elite US fire fighter killed in the collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings.
The tale of how the helmet came to Australia and found its way home has been described as a story which one day should be turned into a movie.
In 1998, Australian military personnel went to Manhattan to train with the New York Fire Department’s finest as a preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
At the end of the exercise, the Australians handed the New Yorkers a slouch hat and received in return the battle-scarred leather helmet of fire fighter Kevin Dowdell.
Mr Dowdell died in the World trade Centre attacks, attempting to rescue office workers.
His body was never found, but a Gympie resident had shown Mr Frey a fire department hat given to her son, Warwick Penrose, a former Australian soldier.
Mr Frey then found himself in the same running group as Mr Dowdell’s son, James.
Now in possession of the hat, Mr Dowdell said he would keep it in a glass case at his home.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.