Posted 1/1/13 – Long time readers will remember the story of my visit to the International Association of Firefighters’ memorial service in 2002, honoring the fallen firefighters from the previous two years, including the 9/11 firefighters. Out of that trip came a pen pal relationship with the father of one of the fallen firefighters, John Napolitano. Through the years, John has been kind enough to share his thoughts as a survivor relative, and in 2006, I used his writing for a six-week serial column, including his report on the five-year anniversary service at Ground Zero.
John has just shared his thoughts on this New Year’s day, and I thought I’d share them with my readers…
A New Years Day Tale…
One day many years ago I went into my shed in our backyard..I grew up in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn we didn’t have a shed, come to think of it…we didn’t have a back yard either…so anyway here I am a homeowner in Lakeland, Ronkonkoma, New York, we bought the house a few years back and we were happy that our kids had it a little bit better than we did, my Son John was about 15 now, Dawn was 13 and Stacy was 9..so I go to the shed, don’t remember why, probably going to do some homeowner stuff..and there in the shed was a Fire Hydrant..a big Red Fire Hydrant.. I close the shed door and just stood there, here I am a cop in Brooklyn, and somewhere in Ronkonkoma a Street is missing a Fire Hydrant.. I’m thinking to my self, no way my Son John has any thing to do with this..he never got into trouble, he’s an Honor Student..plus he’s skinny, no way he can carry this thing, it probably weighs more than him.. but if he did put this thing in the Shed, I know his friend Terry Mawn had to have a hand in it, anyway I decided not to say anything right away, I will watch them and figure out what they are up too, so off in the corner of my shed is the mystery of the big Red Fire Hydrant.
Time went by and to tell the truth I never gave the Fire Hydrant a second thought,my Son and his Friends all used to hang out by my house, we were the last house on a dead end Street, no houses across the Street, in those days, my Wife Joann and I used to leave the doors unlocked in case the kids had to use the bathroom or if they got hungry or thirsty, when ever I came home from a tough tour, I used to park my car down the block and watch my Son and his Friends play and in time everything became right in the World again, they were good Kids..not perfect, like that Fire Hydrant thing..but they were good Kids.
Time went by, I come home and there is Firefighter stuff in the House, I asked my wife ..”whats this”.. she tells me that our Son John became a Junior Volunteer Firefighter with the Lakeland Fire Department, that all his friends are doing it…so here they are the probable Kidnappers of the Red Fire Hydrant that is in my Shed, they are now “Volunteer Firefighters..John P Napolitano, Terry Mawn, Glen Pettit, John Defilippo, Peter Brennan, Billy Mahoney.. it will pass I thought to myself..they will get tired of it. Soon there was Alarms going off in the house at all crazy hours, and out the door my Son John would rush, the same scene going on in his Friends homes, I thought for sure now that they will get tired of this..I was wrong.
Time went by the Kids are Men now, Terry and Glen are Cops, Billy John, Pete and my Son John are Firefighters with the FDNY, and they are still with the Lakeland Fire Department, all of them married with Kids of their own, except Glen.. I am so Proud of them, they are such really Good Guys..maybe one day I will ask them how the hell I got a Fire Hydrant in my Shed…
Time goes by…it is September, a clear and beautiful day, I am working for a Commercial Bakery that produces bread for some of the New York area Supermarkets, I go into the back of one of the Stores that I supervise, and someone who knew that I was once a Cop says to me..”What are you doing here..they are looking for Cops..off duty Cops and ex-Cops..we are at War”…that is how I find out about 9/11″…I try to call my Son at home I didn’t know that he was already there..in time I find out that my Son and Pete, and Glen, and Billy are among the many missing Hero Firefighters and Police Officers, and also my lifelong Friend Lt John Crisci, FDNY, his Brother Lenny my Best Friend and also former NYPD,together we leave for the Trade Center…Lenny and I went to kindergarten together, right through the 8th grade…never did we ever think that we would be going through something like this..we were not prepared for the horror that we were going to see…I write a message to my Son in the Trade Center ash..I want him to know that I am there…Lenny and I find a young woman under a Steel Beam, we make a Cross from the debris and place it by her…I say a Prayer, and I am thinking to myself that if someone finds my Son…will they do the same, perhaps my Son is beside me…”Don’t cry Dad, she is no longer there, she is with me now, and she is alright…and so am I”.
One day A Cop with a Search Dog is going past me and he stops, we make eye contact, it is Sgt Terry Mawn. Suffolk County Police. Terry was my Son’s Best Man when John married Anne… Terry is exhausted and as he looks at the face of his Best Friends Father, he falls into my arms. I hug him and tell him to be careful, he nods his head then goes to look for his Friends, I leave where I am and climb up the Steel, I do not want to see anymore of my Son’s Friends..this is too hard, on them and on me…I still see them playing by our House…as I go up a hill of Steel I see A Firefighter, his back to me, when he turns we face each other, it is Lt John Defilippo, he looks so sad..John used to come home from School with my Son and if it was a day that I was off I would be cooking, usually a big pot of gravy with meatballs, my Son would go to his room do his homework…John would sit and eat…now he is searching for his Friend..
Time goes by, Lt John Crisci is recovered, so is Police Officer Glen Pettit,and Firefighter Billy Mahoney…not recovered is Firefighter Peter Brennan, and my Son, Lt John P Napolitano, FDNY, Rescue 2…
One day I was babysitting for my Son’s two Little Girls and Emma now 3 years old points at her Father’s Picture and with a big smile on her face says..”that’s my Daddy”..and I
say to her..”that’s right, that’s your Daddy”..Elizabeth now 6 years old used to draw a lot, just like her Father used too when he was a boy, I watch as she goes into her Father’s old bedroom with a piece of paper and when she comes out she doesn’t have the paper, I go into the room and I see on my Son’s old dresser a drawing of a little girl with golden hair and on the drawing in the print of a child are the words..”Daddy I Love You”..
Time goes by, the years where do they go, my Son’s little Girls got big, we sell the house..I put a lot of stuff by the curb, but I am going to keep my Son’s clothes…I see some Guys in a Pickup Truck going through the items at the curb and when they see me they panic like they did something wrong, I tell them it is OK, they speak mostly Spanish but they understand me, I tell them to take what they want – they are happy, one of the Guys was about my Son’s size so I tell him to wait and I go in the house and bring out my Son’s clothes and I give it to him, I tell them that I have some old but good furniture and that they could have it, they say yes and that they will come back with some help, and when they come back the young man that I gave the clothes to is wearing one of my Son’s shirts and he is smiling from ear to ear, he points to the shirt and in a heavy accent he says..”..it like Christmas”.. I smile at him and step away as they take whatever they could use, and when they leave, the young man gives me a hug.. and I think to myself..”Thank you Son”..
Time goes by, there are so many Holidays without those that we love, but yet they are with us, I know that I am not alone..all of those that we lost on 9/11 have Families that are hurting, and the hurt will NEVER go away..all the Son’s and Daughters, Husbands and Wives, Brothers and Sisters, Friends that are in the Military, and are continuing the fight against Evil and have made the Supreme Sacrifice, all those that knew and loved them..are hurting..my Family does not stand alone with a broken heart..it seems that everyday somewhere in this Great Country, a Firefighter, or Police Officer, or other First Responder, loses their life to keep someone safe..and our Family grows..and yet we all find a way to turn to those who are still with us, those who we love, and find a smile and say the words.. “Merry Christmas”.. “Happy New Year”.. and I think that we are able to do this because not only do we appreciate the love that we feel from those who are here but because we still feel the love from those who are not…and although I see what I know so many others see when I close my eyes at night, the devastation, the senseless horror of that day in September..a Flag draped Stokes basket, a Hero carried by Heroes..a young Woman, covered in ash..the faces of childhood friends, playing together..the Face of Hero with a number 2 on his helmet, a Face that says..”no harm will come to you..not on my watch”..I also see the smiling Face of a Boy who wanted to make a difference, and the Face of a Man..who did.
Time goes by, it is News Years Day, and to all my Friends and Family, I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and for me today I am Happy, and celebrate the New Year with you because I still see a smiling Face and I hear a voice that says..”Merry Christmas, Dad..and a Happy New Year”.
We sold the House, coincidentally to a retired NYPD Sargent, he actually worked in one of the Houses that I worked in ..he and his wife were very sad to hear about my Son and were honored that the street sign across from the House on the corner said..”Lt John P Napolitano Drive”..his wife asked me to leave a picture of John, which I did, and I also left some things that I wouldn’t be needing, some furniture and a computer table, and a television..and also in the Shed..a Big Red Fire Hydrant..