P.J. Schrantz, an Army veteran and former firefighter who worked alongside the heroes of Sept. 11 to rescue those who could be rescued and deliver from wreckage the bodies of those who could not, described his darkest hour as one of sitting in a hotel room, beer in hand, cocaine stash in front, gun to head, curse of God on lips.
“I’m trained to save people,” he said, in reference to his military and civilian careers. “But I couldn’t save my son.”
Not only did Schrantz suffer the loss of his godfather and four firefighter colleagues in the devastation of the attacks on America’s soil. But just a few days into helping at Ground Zero, he had to leave to take son Dustin to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for chemotherapy.
Dustin, at the age of 2½, had been diagnosed with leukemia. He died, in Schrantz’s arms, at the age of 7. Shortly after, Schrantz, who had always considered himself a Christian, nonetheless lost faith and plunged into darkness.
“The only life I wanted to save above all others,” he said, “and I was helpless. … I blamed God and went into a very dark place.”
Who could blame Schrantz, really.
But it’s the journey back to the light that captivates.
Schrantz, in a chat at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., described how one fateful day after his son’s death, while he was still in the throes of grief and anger and desolation, he was driving and saw a sign advertising an Easter Sunday service at a nearby church.
“I looked up at the sky and said, ‘God, either you’re coming back into my heart, or I’m done with you,’ ” he said, recounting his decision to attend.
Schrantz described the condition of his heart as reluctant, at best — until the point where the pastor played a short film of people who were asked to respond to the simple question, “If you had 30 days left to live, how would you spend it?”
He watched intently as a trio of young girls, giggling, said ” ‘shopping’ — and it made me angry,” Schrantz said.
His ears piqued as another said, “telling my kids every day I loved them,” he remembered.
And then came this, a woman without hair who said shortly, just before walking away, “I was just told I only have 30 days to live.”
Schrantz, with the death of Dustin still heavy on his heart, said her answer hit him like a ton of bricks. His anger with God began to melt.
“I became a special needs teacher at my church,” he said. “That was how I honored my son.”
But it wasn’t long after that Schrantz felt himself pulled in a new charitable direction, toward veterans.
While working security at a Kid Rock concert at Jacob Pavilion in Ohio, on a date that coincided with the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Schrantz said he was alerted to a man on a nearby bridge who seemed poised to jump.
“I rushed over” and began to talk to the guy, Schrantz said. “He tells me, ‘I served two tours in Fallujah. I feel empty and alone.’ I know how he felt … and I said, ‘Hey, I’m a dad and I lost my son. I could use a hug.’ “
“It was filmed and the video went on the Internet,” Schrantz said in an email. “Turned out that someone in the [Donald] Trump inner circle watched it and the next thing I knew, I was invited by Donald J. Trump to be his personal guest to spend election night at Mar-A-Lago. My life has not been the same ever since.”
There’s an understatement.
Schrantz, who now serves as personal security to the likes of Vice President Mike Pence, and as a body guard to the likes of Judge Jeanine Pirro — an event at which we first met — also spends his time raising money for veterans’ causes.
He has a charity, Veleve.org — a play on the two words “veterans” and “believe” — and is currently filling seats for a star-studded “Heroes Ball” set for Nov. 24 at the Mar-A-Lago Club. Tickets are still available for those interested in attending (visit website, email PJSchrantz@Veleve.org or call 561-305-8584), with proceeds to help veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions and other traumas.
“If a guy from Brooklyn, New York, can make an impact — can go from the depths of wanting to die,” Schrantz said, “anybody can do anything. I like to say, if God is for us. who can stand against us?”
Sage wisdom. Hard-knocks-life truths. But mostly, inspiring story. From the ashes of Sept. 11, from the darkness of lost hope, from the pits of desperation and grief — to the glory of God’s grace.
“At the end of the day,” Schrantz said, “I know I’ll see my son again.”
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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