Recently, Sierra Madre News Net was contacted by John Napolitano, Sr., a former NYPD police officer, whose son, Lt. John Napolitano, Jr., died heroically at the age of 33 following the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11/01. I first became acquainted with the story of John, Jr. at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Memorial Service held in Colorado Springs, on Sept. 21, 2002. Each year, the IAFF holds a memorial service to honor the previous year's (June to June) fallen firefighters in the US and Canada. Because flights were grounded when the ceremony was held in mid-September, 2001, preventing families from attending, the IAFF chose to honor the 2000-2001 fallen along with the 2001-2002 fallen, which included the 343 fallen firefighters from the World Trade Center terrorist attack. I have posted a section on the website from the Sept. 2002 memorial. IAFF Memorial 2002. The photo above shows a message written in the ashes at Ground Zero in 2001, by John Sr., with a photo of John, Jr., superimposed, as he worked on the first WTC bombing, in 1993.
I recognize that there were more than 3,000 who died on 9/11. I do not mean to diminish the deaths of the civilians who were killed, the policemen and Port Authority members, or the military personnel who died at the Pentagon, or the loss that was felt by the thousands more who were touched by their passing. I do, however, have a personal involvement with the firefighters who gave their lives, and for that matter, those who did not give their lives, but helped to save thousands more lives, and preserve civil order, by their efforts on 9/11/2001. That involvement is with the first line of defense, police officers and firefighters, including my brother, Jay, who is currently a paramedic in Matteson, IL, and former trainer of Air Force firefighters. It also includes my brother in law, Bob Burnett, a 22 year veteran on the Sierra Madre Fire Dept., as well as numerous friends who serve as firefighters with SMFD and other departments, and as police officers with SMPD and other departments.
That is why you will find that my 9/11 pages each year are generally dedicated to the first line of defense, the police and firefighters who were called into action on 9/11/2001, and who will be called into action the next time terrorists strike, and they will strike at some point, no matter who is elected in November, as implied by some. I have to admit I'm disappointed that the current federal administration, which prides itself on its response to 9/11, has not done a better job of funding the domestic first line of defense troops that will be required to respond to the next terrorist attack.
But this is not an editorial page. So let's move on.
On my IAFF pages, there is a page which honors Lt. John Napolitano, Jr., based on my understanding and recollection of what I saw at the NY wall of the Colorado Springs Memorial in 2002. An entirely new wall had to be built for the 9/11 fallen, as the existing wall was not designed to deal with that many casualties.
A few weeks ago, nearly 3 years after 9/11, and nearly a year after my IAFF web pages were posted, I was contacted by John Napolitano, Sr., who provided me with a clarification of what occurred, which you will see below. I wasn't sure if I should correct what I had done wrong, or leave what I had reported, adding the corrections, as provided by former NYPD officer Napolitano. I've decided to leave what I reported, and publish the communications forwarded to me by Mr. Napolitano, Sr. Please recognize that what you are reading at first has some errors in fact, corrected in the following e-mail and images sent by Lt. Napolitano's dad.
Corrections provided via E-mail from John Napolitano, Sr.:
name is John Napolitano, and I am the father of Lt John P Napolitano from Rescue
2, FDNY. I wanted to send to you a clearer version of my tribute to my son and
tell you how it came about.
I had some
time as a NYC Cop and got to the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/12/2001,
to search for my son, with me was my best friend from childhood, Lenny Crisci he
retired from the NYPD, we grew up on the same street in Brooklyn 5 houses from
each other..we were searching also for his brother John also from the FDNY..and
three of my sons friends from our neighborhood, one Police Officer, and two
Firefighters, my son John went to school with two of them and all of them
volunteered their time with the Lakeland Fire Dept, from which my son was once
Chief of the Dept, and then Commissioner.
Lenny and I
were overwhelmed by what we saw, and like many that were there will taste the
ashes forever. I still see myself climbing on the debris, not knowing where to
look, but looking through twisted steel and calling my sons name, and hoping to
hear him call back to me.."I'm here Dad!...I'm here!!.." I would try so hard to
hear that.. and when it didn't happen, I would cry... maybe if I yelled louder..
Lenny and I
would ask the Firefighters that were there if they knew anything about my son,
or Lenny's brother, or my sons friends.. but they could only shake their heads,
and look down...the pain in our eyes, only adding to the pain in theirs... at
some point at a Triage area, I wrote with my finger in the ash on the wall a
message to my son.. I wrote.. "Rescue 2 John Napolitano I'm here and I love you
Dad".. The Firefighters treated my message to my son as a shrine, and some have
told me that whenever they would collapse near it from exhaustion, that they
would look at it, and put their helmets back on and go back to the "Pile".. and
in the days after I wrote to my son. Firefighters and Rescue Workers from all
over wrote messages back to me to let me know that they were there, and to not
give up "Hope"
That day on
Sept 12 near a Fire Truck, under a steel beam, Lenny and I found the body of a
young girl..she was wearing a sundress, and covered with gray ash.. this was
somebody's "little girl".. somewhere people were worried about her and missing
her..my heart was so broken..she didn't deserve to die like this.. and I didn't
want her to be alone.. Lenny and I made a cross from scraps of wood and we stood
it near her and said a prayer... I will never know her name and her family will
never know that someone prayed for and loved their baby.. but after we alerted
nearby Rescue Workers and moved on... I thought that if my son was gone, and
found by someone... that they would pray for him... and even if for a little
while.. love my baby.
I had the
very best Son..and for 33 years he gave me the most wonderful adventure.
It has been
said that it is not the destination that matters but the journey... and although
John reached his destination to soon, and his journey was much too short..
John Napolitano, father of LT John P Napolitano FDNY, Rescue 2
Hi Bill and thank you so much for remembering my son, knowing that there are people like you out there who will always remember the innocent victims, and the Heroes that were lost trying to save them, make difficult days a little less difficult, and it's OK to use anything that I sent to you about John.
John's daughters are doing well, but at times they have their moments. As you know John was also a member of the Lakeland Fire Department, and the Firefighters at the Station that was his first command, and where he started as a Firefighter, John was to eventually become the Chief of the Dept and then Commissioner, have John's gear encased in a glass and wood cabinet that is bolted to the wall at the entranceway, and on the shelf above his bunker gear is his helmet with two electric candles on both sides that are always lit.. one day when I was visiting at the Station I had John's little girls with me, and while I was talking to one of my son's friends, I heard the youngest, Emma, say to her sister, Elizabeth, .. "I saw Daddy's costume...I miss him".. and she started to cry, but before I could get to her and console her, the "older" sister stepped up to the plate and told her that everything would be Ok, and put her arm around her.. I thought to myself that if my son could look down from Heaven, I know that he would have had a smile on his face.. and he would have been proud.
There have been many ceremonies and Street dedications throughout New York for our Nations First Patriots, and the Street where I live and where John grew up carries his name also, but on September 25th, there is going to be a County Road dedicated to John for what he was to so many people, his dedication to the communities that he served, and the Heroic way that he lived, the first bill signed into law by the newly elected Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, was to dedicate and rename "Motor Parkway" in Ronkonkoma NY, "LT John P Napolitano Parkway"
As for me Bill, I'll always see the twisted steel, smell and taste the ash and the dampness, and perhaps that is the way it should be.. but it is a small price to pay for the memory of my son, I will always see the little boy... and I will always see the Great Man... he will be with me forever.
Again .. thanks for Remembering.
John Napolitano, father of LT John P Napolitano, FDNY Rescue2
Hi Bill.. thank you so much for your kind words, but especially for the place in your heart that you have reserved for him.. and all the other Heroes.
Today Lenny and I went to the "Site", as we will every year.. We held my son's and his brothers' pictures high above our heads, and listened to the names over the loudspeakers, waiting for our "guys" names to be said.. we looked at all the other people and the smiling faces on the pictures that they held high, and they too were waiting for a "name" to be said loud, and just when I think that my heart cannot break any further, I look at all the sorrowful faces... and prove myself wrong.
At the first anniversary as Lenny and I were walking in the crowd, Lenny called my attention to a Firefighter who had my son's picture in his hat.. he was tall and with his head high my son was elevated above everyone... I squeezed my way towards him, he was with his wife and both looked so sad, when I approached him I pointed at his hat and said.. "thanks for carrying my Son".. he looked like all the air came out of him as he looked at me, and I grabbed him to hug him and he held me as tight as he could, and he broke down crying and he said to me..Mr. Nap.. I loved him so much... I loved them all... but John..." I told him I understood, soon we were all crying, Lenny Me, the Firefighter, his wife.. we all proceeded down the ramp to where the Towers once were to complete why we were there. This Firefighter had once been a member of the Lakeland Fire Dept and was a good friend of John's, he followed John into the FDNY, having started in 1994, four years after John.
After the ceremony I hugged him goodbye, and told him that I would see him next year. When next year came, even though it was very crowded, as Lenny and I were walking towards the ramp, an emotional day became more emotional as I again met up with my sons friend.. we smiled... we hugged.. and then we cried.. and as I held him I said in his ear that it was OK to be sad today... but that John would want him the rest of the days to be happy.. to love his wife and kids as much as he could.. that this I know is what my son would want.... we went down the ramp, to be where we belonged, to be near those that we love, those that we will forever honor... and when it was time to go, we said our goodbyes, and I said.. "I'll see you next year"..
The World Trade Center site, is much more "sterile" now, but as Lenny and I walked with the crowd we both still see the "debris field", we held pictures high for those to see the faces of Heroes, I think maybe to also share our heartache.. I was approached by a NY TV News Team, I was asked if I have any anger.. without hesitation I said that my anger is that, in this day and age, with all the spectacular things that Humankind can do, with all the goodness that is in us, that there are people that are filled with so much hate and rage at those that don't think the way they do, or don't pray the way they do, that they are willing to sacrifice themselves just to know that they killed and made them suffer.. them and their families.
To those people who would commit, or condone, acts of hatred, I say this.. that although the world saw on September 11, 2001 such an act of hate.. they also saw acts of Compassion, Professionalism, and Profound Courage, and it is these acts that the World at large will forever remember and embrace.
The crowd was very thick this third anniversary, but not too far in front of me was a tall familiar Firefighter, I pointed him out too Lenny and got through the crowd to him, I came up beside him and put my hand on his shoulder, this time we hugged longer.. and cried longer.. Lenny caught up and we all slowly made our way down the ramp. I shook every hand of the British "Bobbies" that stood in Honor, and Thanked them for being there.. I eventually stood at the footprints of the North Tower, I waited for my sons name.. people were laying flowers and pictures where the Tower once stood.. I put my sons picture there, and I just stood there looking at him, trying to imagine what he was doing that day.. how high up was he.. was he tired.. was he afraid..and when the steel crumpled, and he heard it coming towards him.. did he think of us and know.. how much we loved him.
I heard my sons name, and again for a moment..time stood still... I put a flower on my sons picture.. "I'll see you next year Son.. I love you"..
I said goodbye to my sons friend he told me that he will be see me September 25th for the dedication to John, I said goodbye to his wife, and I told her that I know that she is taking good care of her husband, and that I admire her courage, she told me that her husband was looking for me and was asking Security if they could locate me. and that she was happy when I found them.. I smiled at her and hugged her goodbye, I know that I will see him next year, and that I won't have to plan on where to meet.. My Son will show me the way.
Thank you Bill for remembering.
John Napolitano, father of LT John P Napolitano FDNY, RESCUE2
Thank you, John, Sr., for letting me know the real story of what happened, and for beginning this correspondence, and for allowing me a glimpse into what the WTC memorials are like for those who attend them. Here we are, 3,000 miles away from each other, with no possibility of ever having met each other. Had I visited NY, we could have passed each other on the street without thinking about it. But thanks to your e-mails, I feel that we have come to know each other somewhat, and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about your son, and the memorials. I'm sure these are difficult feelings to express, but you've done a wonderful job. As regards your comments to the NY TV team, and the comments regarding those who commit or condone acts of hatred...it seems pretty obvious to me where your son got the qualities he had that drew such respect and love from his fellow firefighters. Congratulations on creating and raising an exemplary human being, and for being one yourself.
As I wrote to Mr. Napolitano, "I just ran a Google search on your sonís name, and it seems that while he is physically gone from this world, he will always be remembered in a virtual world, which honors and reveres him. I hope that it will always be so."
We must never forget!! http://www.september11-tribute.org/Victims/WTCVictims.htm.
Ray Charles singing America the Beautiful, a tribute to the WTC victims by Jessica White.
Copyright © 1998 - 2011 by The Coburn Group, Sierra Madre. All logos, trademarks or product names mentioned or displayed herein are the property of their respective owners. All photographs and videos on this site Copyright 1998 - 2011, by Bill Coburn, Sierra Madre, CA unless otherwise noted. Any reference to the City of Sierra Madre or Sierra Madre applies to the community of Sierra Madre and not the city government. The City of Sierra Madre, California government is not affiliated with Sierra Madre News.Net at this time. Any city government information provided herein has been previously published for public dissemination and is shown here as a public service of Sierra Madre News.Net without explicit permission of the government of the City of Sierra Madre.