A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love – Part 3

Lt. John P. Napolitano, Jr. in 1978, photo courtesy of John Napolitano, Sr.

Re-posted 8/25/2011 – Third in a series of articles reflecting on the events of 9/11/01 and the five years that have elapsed since, through the words of one victim’s father.  Originally published in the San Gabriel Valley Weekly print media in 2006


By Bill Coburn and John V. Napolitano, Sr.

In the first article in the series, I told you about having traveled to Colorado Springs with members of my family to join my firefighter brother at the memorial for the fallen firefighters of 2001, including the 343 who died at the World Trade Center. I introduced you to Lt. John P. Napolitano, through a letter written by his father in January of 2002, which had been displayed at the memorial. In the second article, I brought you a letter that John’s dad, John Napolitano, Sr., had written to me after he discovered a section of my website that discussed his son. That article also included a letter that John N. Sr. had written to his son on the occasion of John Jr.’s first birthday after his death. Coincidentally, Johnny Nap Jr. was born on the Fourth of July. The series continues this week, with excerpts from a letter John Sr. wrote in Aug., 2002, eleven months after the WTC bombing. In it he discusses the emotions that a parent who’s lost a child feels with each passing special event, holidays, birthday, the birth of a new member of the family, and so on.

My Beloved Son I love you and I miss you so very much. It will soon be a year without you and time in its harshest sense makes me feel every minute of it, and yet it seems like only yesterday that we got the call, telling us that you and others that we know and love were missing. It started with me searching for you in that horrible rubble that not you or anyone else deserved to be trapped in. I climbed over twisted steel peering into holes and calling your name.

Sometimes I couldn’t stop the tears and it would be hard to see, and I would get mad at myself and I would tell myself to stop it, that if this was reversed you would be focused and you would find me. .. In time the holidays came, one more difficult than the other, everybody trying to be strong for somebody else, your friends loving you and missing you so much. I can see the pain in their eyes and my heart breaks for them, Your wife Ann being the best Mom that two little girls can have, and even though they sometimes cry for their Daddy, they somehow “toughen up”, and pull it all together for their Mom, is that you whispering in their ear?

John Napolitano and his "three girls" Photo courtesy of John Napolitano, Sr.


Your “Three girls” are doing you proud Son, their love for you, and the love that you had for them will be the cement that will bind them together, and nothing will tear them apart, that my Son I can promise you. Father’s Day was a rough day for me, I saw the great man that you became, the good and decent husband and father. I missed buying you a gift, I missed hearing you say to me “Hi Dad, Happy Fathers Day”.

Time goes by and another hard day was your birthday, I remembered the day you were born, July 4th 1968, 8lbs 4 oz. I was so proud to become a father, all your life all you ever did was make me proud and happy. I remember the firmness of your handshake, but I can still feel the child’s hand in mine when I took you to the park or the zoo. I close my eyes and I can see your smile, but I can still hear the childhood laughter. They were good times, you were and always will be the best son that a father could hope for, time went by too quickly, thirty three of your birthdays were not enough, I wanted so many more…

Another time has come that is happy and sad, You have a new nephew…your sister Dawn had a beautiful baby boy. She named him John after you, she misses her big brother and wishes you were here to share this beautiful moment. I have a new Grandson that I love, named after someone who had compassion, decency and profound courage, someone who loved people so much that you gave your life to save them. I am sad that your nephew will never know you, to see you smile to hear your laugh, to know your great sense of humor, to be picked up in your arms and to be loved by you, but I know my son that you will look out for him, as you look out for all of us. I will tell him about you, and why he should be proud of his name, I will tell him not only of your courage, but how good and decent you were, all the funny stories and I guess when he gets older some of the sad ones.

Time has given me in some ways a tough but bittersweet job, but one I do gladly, because it is my job to honor you, and as long as I live to keep your memory alive, to keep alive the memory of your courage and the courage of all the other heroes that went with you. When I hug your little girls it will be you hugging them through my arms, and when I take them to the park or the zoo with their little nephew, and I hold their hands, I will always leave a little room for yours my Son. I will tell them how much you loved them, and I will always tell you that I will be proud of you forever, and I will love you even longer.

Your Dad.

The next letter was written the day after the one year anniversary, Sept. 12, 2002. In it, John Sr. talks about his trip to the Ground Zero first anniversary memorial ceremony, which he attended with his childhood friend from down the street. Lenny Crisci lost his brother, an NYPD officer on Sept. 11, as well. Here are excerpts from this very emotional letter.

My Son, it has been a year since you were taken from us and I have felt every second of every day of it. Rescue 2 had a quiet Church ceremony and then the families and Firefighters returned to Quarters to be together. The Lakeland Fire Department had a ceremony at the main building to honor you and the present and past members of the Department. I wrote them a letter thanking them for their quick response to the World Trade Center that day and for all the other days that I saw them at the Site, side by side with the FDNY and other Fire Departments and Rescue Workers from all over the Country, searching for all you Brave Heroes. You all were the first Patriots of the 21st Century. History will record your Heroism and your name, it will document all the events, and the story will be handed down from generation to generation.

As for me, your memory will be with me forever and ever, till the end of time. As you probably know I spent the day with Lenny at Ground Zero. We retraced our steps from a year ago. First we went to Tower 2 the South Tower. We laid flowers and we placed Lt. John Crisci’s picture on some concrete that is still there, I placed your picture next to him. Lenny then wrote his name just like he did that day, and then I wrote on the concrete the same message that I wrote in the ashes that day with my finger, “Rescue 2 John Napolitano I’m here and I love you Dad.”

After a time I told Lenny that I was going to Tower 1 the North Tower, the Tower where you were Lost, and to meet me there in a while. It was a very windy day and the earth from the ground was swirling all over, as I walked across the field I put my head down as the wind picked up and as I looked at my feet I saw that my shoes was covered in dirt much like they were covered with ashes that day. A lot of people held handkerchiefs to there face and held their hands over their eyes because of all the flying dirt and debris. I thought to myself how symbolic it was, even though it was nowhere near the debris and dust cloud that day a year ago, it was as if someone wanted everyone to know what it was like.

They were announcing everyone’s name that perished that day all the Victims, and all the Heroes that tried to save them. I stopped just before I got to the North Tower and I heard your name. For me it wasn’t loud enough I wanted to shout it to the World. I got to the footprints of the North Tower, there were flowers and pictures every where left by family members who had lost loved ones there, Mommies and Daddies just like you, Brothers, and Daughters and Sons, just like you. I looked at all the faces, there were civilians, and Police Officers, and Firefighters, smiling faces looking up at us but no one was smiling back. Instead there were tears.

I held your picture in my hand and I looked at it for I guess a long time and I decided to not leave it there, instead as I turned to leave the Pit and walked up the long ramp leading to the street, I held your picture over my head for everyone to see, some saluted you. I was finally carrying you out of the pit. I do not know what they are going to build over there, a memorial certainly, perhaps some buildings, there will probably be benches to sit. In time people will sit there, maybe feed the birds, there may be children running and playing, and laughing, and I guess that will be okay, and I’ll go also to visit and I may sit for awhile, and maybe some day I will not see all the twisted steel, it’s not important, but one thing that I do know is that I will always see you, and the laughter that I hear will be yours. I love you my Son.