Sierra Madre Business Web Pages ($125/year, with dedicated domain name, add $50 - Sierra Madre businesses only)
Premium Advertiser Web Pages ($250/year, with dedicated domain name, add $50 - non-Sierra Madre businesses allowed, includes premium link placement and logo)
9/11 Remembrance, A Seven-Part Series on the Five Year Anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001
This seven-part look at a father's story was written mostly by John Napolitano, Sr., whose son, John, was one of the firefighters who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. We must never forget.
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love - Originally published in the San Gabriel Valley Weekly in August and September, 2006
A series of articles reflecting on the events of 9/11/01 and the five years that have elapsed since
By Bill Coburn and John V. Napolitano, Sr.
Back in March, 2002, I received a call from my brother, Lt. John E. Coburn, Jr., (we call him Jay). He is a paramedic in the Matteson, IL Fire Dept., and a member of the International Assn. of Firefighters (IAFF) Honor Guard for the state of Illinois. He told me that every year in September, the IAFF holds a memorial service for the firefighters who had fallen in the previous year, from June to June. He said that because of the World Trade Center bombings in Sept. 2001, there had been very few who had been able to attend that year's service, because the planes were grounded. I learned later that only 13 families were in attendance out of 74. So in 2002, the IAFF was planning to re-honor the fallen of 2000, in addition to the 343 dead from the World Trade Center and the other 82 fallen from 2001. "Bill, I lost 400 of my firemen brothers this year, and I'd like to have my blood brothers with me there when we honor them if you can make it." It's not every day that you get an invitation like that. And I feel sure I'm speaking for thousands of firefighter's families around the country when I say thank God that it's not.
So in any event, I knew that I’d be overcoming any obstacles in the way, and that I'd be going to Colorado Springs in September for the memorial. When I spoke with my brother Pat, he told me he'd gotten the same call. Before long, a plan was formulated, and while it didn't actually get finalized until September, it came to pass that Pat and I joined my brothers-in-law Wayne, Joe and Jim, and we hopped in a motor home for a trip to Colorado. The trip was an eye-opener in numerous ways, and the kind of trip that causes one to reflect upon one's life, one's goals, one's choices, and how they reflect upon oneself, as well as the lives, goals, and choices of others. In short, it was thought provoking, it was moving, it was difficult, it was emotional, it was sad, it was uplifting, it was an amazing experience, and I'm glad I went.
But one of the most important things that happened on this trip was to lead to a cross-country relationship with an amazing man, who in turn is the father of an amazing man, a true hero who died in the World Trade Center bombings. A man who was a hero long before that tragedy struck, through his everyday life as a firefighter in one of the elite firefighting units in the country, Rescue 2 in New York City. This article is one in a series of articles continuing through the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 “bombings.” It will take a look at a father’s love, and how that father has coped with the loss of his son by continuing to communicate with that son through letters written on milestone dates such as Christmas, Father’s Day, the anniversary of the bombings, and his son’s birthday, which, coincidentally, happens to be on the Fourth of July. And the final entry will be a first person accounting of the five year anniversary ceremony held at Ground Zero this coming Sept. 11.
In this series, you will be given a chance to see the father’s reflections on what has happened, his feelings about what has happened, and those who caused it to happen. I believe that you, too, will find this series to be a look into the mind of an amazing man, and a moving tribute, not only to his son, but to all the heroes who died that day, and those who survived but continue to toil in the first line of defense, as law enforcement agents and firefighters. A rare look into the depths of the feelings of a father’s love.
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.
At the Memorial, there were many moving tributes, but the New York wall, dedicated to the 343 firefighters who died Sept. 11, 2001, was overwhelming. There was a program from a funeral service. I opened it, and when I began to read the first quote, I just completely lost it and had to stop reading. It began: "Surprise, Grandpa, I'm here! I wish I had been able to meet you..." It went on, but when I looked and saw the child's name, and the note that the child was 20 days old on the day of the service, and then read the names of the other signers, at least one of whom was also a grandchild, I knew I couldn't read any further. This was after seeing a photo (click photos to enlarge) of ashes at the wreckage, in which had been written the words: "Rescue 2 – John Napolitano, I’m here and I love you, Dad.” Below that was a sketch of a firefighter with a letter, written by that father.
Now I have to confess that I didn’t do a very good job of re-telling that experience when I put a section on my website that was about the IAFF memorial service, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because it was because of a desire to correct the information that John V. Napolitano, Sr., contacted me after Googling his son’s name and discovering my pages about the IAFF memorial. And that occasional “pen pal” relationship has continued through the years, and is the subject of this series.
A little background on Lt. John P. Napolitano, Jr.: John joined the Lakeland Fire Dept. in Ronkonkamo, NY, at age 17, and worked his way up to eventually become the Chief and Commissioner. He then was accepted to Rescue 2, an elite firefighting unit based in Brooklyn, NY. At the age of 33, he was the youngest member of the squad. Prior to Sept. 11, he had taken the examination to become a lieutenant, and his family was informed after his death that he had passed. He was promoted posthumously on Nov. 1, 2001. He leaves behind his wife, Ann, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Emma Rose. Since his death, the street where he grew up has been renamed in his honor, and the Lakeland Fire Dept. has built a new Firehouse, which has been named for him. His father John, Sr., spent time as a policeman in New York.
Here is the text of the letter by which I was so moved at the IAFF memorial that day in 2002:
My beloved son:
I miss you so much sometimes the anguish is unbearable. But I think of your strength, courage and having known firsthand your profound heroism, you give me the strength that I need to continue and to be there for your family as best I can.
You would be very proud of them, Son. Ann is giving the girls all the love and support that they need, and will not allow a broken heart to get in the way. Elizabeth and Emma miss their Daddy and cry for you, but even at a young age, they seem to know how to pull it together and be there for their Mommy. Your three girls are doing you proud, and although their hearts are broken, their spirit is strong, and their love for you is the cement that holds them together, and nothing will tear them apart. That my Son, I can promise you.
I was so lucky to have you, not every father is fortunate enough to have a son that he could look up to. You dedicated your life to helping people and saving lives, you demonstrated at an early age a maturity and profound sense of decency not found in a great many people. You took your profession very seriously but not yourself. You had a great sense of humor, and it was deeply appreciated by your friends, and so was your love which you gave so freely.
Your friends miss you so much my Son, they (unreadable) you so, and my heart breaks for them. I visit from time to time with your fellow firefighters, and when they speak of you, there is a (unreadable) and they all say the same thing, that you were special, and I understand, because for me my Son, you always were and always will be special. Our time together was too short, and my anguish is unrelenting, but with all the anguish and the pain, I would endure it again and again, because having you was a beautiful gift, and it would have been a far greater tragedy to never have had you at all. I walk about the house and the memory of you is overwhelming. I see the great man that you grew to be, but I still hear the childhood laughter. The squirrels in the attic that you tried so hard to catch for me, are gone. It's as if they know that you are not here, and the game is over. Perhaps they cry too. I wish that they would come back so that maybe you would hear them, and you would come back to catch them, and I can see you again. I will never say goodbye to you, my Son. I will be proud of you forever, and love you always.
Up next, a look at the letter I received from Mr. Napolitano, in which he recounts the events of 9/11/01 and his search for his son at Ground Zero.
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love
Second 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
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. 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.
During the ceremony, it took 19 minutes to read the name of the fallen firefighters, from the World Trade Center alone. I decided to post some of the photos and some of my thoughts on the experience, and due to some factual errors, I was contacted in mid-2004 by Lt. Napolitano’s father, who filled me in on the actual events of that day. While the following letter is out of order chronologically for the series, I felt that this was the best place in the series to put it, because it gives a description in Mr. Napolitano’s own words about what happened that tragic day in 2001.
My 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 son’s 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 son’s 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 too soon, and his journey was much too short…John’s journey was magnificent... and watching the chapters in my Son’s life, living his dream to help others…being a devoted husband and father...a loving and caring brother...a trusted and good friend to so many.. and to his Mother and me.. the very best Son... he has made my journey Magnificent.
John Napolitano, father of Lt. John P. Napolitano, Rescue 2 FDNY
Going back in time, now, here are excerpts from a letter written by Mr. Napolitano on July 4, 2002, the day his son would have celebrated his 34th birthday. Just less than a year after the bombings, Mr. Napolitano was in a very reflective mood, looking back on the birth of his son and the atmosphere in the country at that time in 1968, his son’s childhood, teens and his career. He also discusses the trip he made with his daughter-in-law to clean out his son’s locker.
My Son, I love you, and I miss you so much. Today is your birthday, and all week as this day was approaching, I knew that it would be an emotional day. Well Son, emotional would be an understatement. You would always jokingly say, "toughen up", and I tried my best to take your advice, all day I thought about so many things, starting from the day you were born. July 4th, 1968, they were difficult times, I was a young soldier in an Army that no one appreciated or respected, the country was divided, and words like Honor and Patriotism did not seem to exist in the English language. We were at War with others and sometimes with ourselves, everybody had a different opinion as to what it meant to be an American, we were a house divided.
Then you were born, and although the times were confusing one thing that I was so certain of, was that I was so happy to become a father, you made me so proud. But that was just the beginning of so many things that you would make me proud of. I remember the first time I saw you as I pressed my face up against the glass at the hospital, you seemed to look right at me and you smiled that beautiful smile, that I see to this day. I had a Son, and I just met the man that I would respect and admire the most in this world. I sometimes think of the irony about the day that you were born, a 4th of July baby, Independence Day, born during troubled times, and 33 years later, you would become part of an extraordinary group of Heroes, who showed the World, during a cowardly attack on unarmed civilians, profound courage. Heroes who met evil head on with Professionalism, dedication, and compassion, and a courage so great that it has inspired all Americans, and has united this Nation in a way that we have never been united before.
You were a good baby, you slept when you were supposed to, you were up and about when we were, you ate whatever we gave you, and although you cried sometimes as babies do, it seemed that you only cried until your point was made, and then you stopped, and then you would smile that beautiful smile, that I miss so much. You were a good child and a good teenager, you excelled in school and were a member of the National Honor Society. I always waited for the other shoe to drop. It never did. You also were an excellent artist, you could draw anything, I envisioned so many professions that you would master. One day I came home and saw Fireman’s gear in the house, you became a Junior Volunteer at the Lakeland Fire Department, a hobby I thought, a passing fad. I was wrong, you had found your calling, you loved people and didn't judge them by size shape or color, you had respect for others and wanted to save lives, when someone was in trouble you didn't pause to find out if they thought the way you did, or prayed to your God, to you it didn't matter, all life was equal, and you were going to give it your best to save them.
You moved up at a steady pace with the Lakeland Fire Department, while also becoming a New York City Firefighter. You served two Fire Departments, and two communities with professionalism, integrity, and courage. You became a Lieutenant, a Captain, a Chief, the Chief of the Department and then one of the Commissioners for Lakeland, and you were awaiting your promotion to Lieutenant with the FDNY, you married your High School sweetheart, and together you both brought two beautiful little girls into our lives. I was so proud of you. Then the other shoe dropped, Sept 11th and the World stood still, a terrible attack against innocent people, they were trapped under horrific conditions, but you and others did not stand still, the towers were mortally wounded, and even though you didn't know when or where the next missile containing innocent victims would strike, you and the other heroes rushed in, you all were towers of courage, you all saved so many lives, you were the eyes for those that could not see, legs for those that could not walk, and you were hope for those that were in despair and had no hope. The towers came down and in seconds hopes and dreams were shattered.
The time came when I went with your wife to get your belongings from your locker, we went to Rescue 2 and met with your Captain, and your friends, they were so sad and offered to help, but this was something that your wife and I wanted to do. We went upstairs and out of all the plain lockers yours stood out. You had pictures of family all over the place, and drawings from your little girls, when we opened the doors there were more pictures, and drawings with notes, "Daddy I Love You". All your uniforms were pressed and hanging neatly, we took the notes and pictures down and gently removed your shoes and your uniforms and cried. On the shelf was your watch and a necklace with a medal of a Saint that your wife gave you, I know that Firefighters don't wear metal while they work because of the heat, I didn't see your wedding ring and I asked Ann if she had it, and with tears in her eyes she told me that it was still on your finger that you would never take it off, and I understood…Your wedding ring was a symbol of the love that you had for your wife and your family, and you would not take it off.
I see the boy and the good and decent man, and today is your birthday, Independence Day, and while others celebrate the birth of a Nation, and though my heart is broken I am so grateful to celebrate the birth of my Son. You will always be my Son, I will close my eyes and see you, I will remember our games at the Park, the trips to the Zoo, I will remember all the things that you did to make me proud, and I will remember your courage, the courage to work hard, to be a good and decent man, the courage to not take the easy way out, the courage to stand up for what you believe in while still being respectful of others. I wished you thirty three Happy Birthdays, it wasn't enough. I want to wish you so many more, but they were Happy for me, you were and always will be everything that a Father could hope for in a son. Happy Birthday, my son. I love you.
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love
Second 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
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
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 there 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.
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love
Fourth 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
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. We’ve also taken a look at letters written by John Sr. to John Jr. on what would have been John’s birthday, and letters written just before and after the first anniversary of 9/11, including John Sr.’s description of the first anniversary memorial service at Ground Zero.
In the following letter sent to me by John Sr., he discusses the manner in which John Jr.'s daughter’s were handling the loss of their father, and the pride he felt that a section of a county road was being renamed in his son’s honor.
“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”
John Sr. also makes a point of remembering his son on holidays. Here are excerpts from a letter he wrote to John Jr. on Christmas of 2002, in which he describes how much he misses seeing his son with the grandchildren as they open their presents, but then accepts his loss by remembering all those who were celebrating this day because of John Jr.’s heroism, both at the World Trade Center and throughout his career as a firefighter.
My Son, I love you so very much, and miss you beyond description. Today is Christmas, and I miss so much seeing your face as your little girls would open their presents, watching their eyes open wide with joy, and than watching yours open even wider. I missed shopping for you, but when I went into different stores I would look at some of the things that I would have liked to have gotten for you, and tried to imagine the look on your face as you opened your presents, I would see that smile of yours that breaks, but still warms, my heart. I went to different places where there were ceremonies for you and your friends, and I would look at your name carved in stone, and I would touch it and then kiss my fingers, and hope that my kiss would reach you in heaven. Your friends miss you so much my Son, my heart breaks for them, I wish that I could carry their pain, it would be such a small price to pay for having had you. Any sorrow or anguish that I have pales compared to the joy that you have given me over the years, so don't feel sorry for me my son, if I felt a million times more grief it still would not be a fair price to pay for having had you. I was so lucky and blessed; you were, and always will be the best son that a father could hope for. Your Heroism has made it possible for others to enjoy another Christmas as a whole family, and I know that would have made you happy, I know that if we could hear you, the message would be for us to not mourn or cry, suffer or worry about you, and we are trying our best to respect your wishes, but forgive us if every once and a while, if we stumble, or just want to spend a moment alone and ask why...I will always be proud of your Heroism, and of those that were with you…but the thing that I will always be most proud of is the man that you are, the loving and decent husband and father, a hard working man who provided the best that he could for his family, your respect for others, and your many accomplishments in the FDNY, and the Lakeland Fire Department. You were a true role model in every sense of the word, and you were and always will be a man that I am proud to look up to. I said the man that you are, because my son for me you are in my each and every thought. I see you every where, I hear your voice, your laugh, and I see your smile, for me you will live as long as I do, and when my time comes your face will be the last that I see...and perhaps the first that I will see again.. Until that time comes I hope you have a Merry Christmas in Heaven and I want you to know that the thought of you makes my Christmas a little merrier here on Earth...I Love You.
Father’s Day for a child who has lost a parent is a very difficult time, but it’s also difficult for the father who has lost a son. In the following letter, written on Father’s Day of 2003, John Sr. discusses the effect of the loss on the Napolitano family.
My Son I miss you and love you so very much...today is Fathers Day, and although it's a little tough on me, I am so grateful for all the wonderful memories, and I can still hear your laugh, and your voice calling me Dad...But I think the thing that I am most grateful for was the opportunity to see what a great Husband and Dad you were; I can promise you my Son there was none better.
I cherish the time that I spend with your little girls, and they love you so much my Son. Sometimes when I'm driving, Elizabeth will tell stories to Emma about different things that she did with you…her memories of you are so very sharp, and Emma listens to every word, and asks for more. Elizabeth especially likes to tell the story of the times you took her to the Firehouse, and of rides in the Fire Truck...of fishing adventures, when she would catch a big fish...and how you would set it free, something she didn't understand...but I do my Son.. I think it had something to do with you having a soft heart. As for me this Fathers Day I will remember all the trips to the Zoo and the Aquarium, going to the Movies, and pushing a little boy on a swing....I will always feel your hand in mine...I will remember every day like it was yesterday...seeing that little boy grow into the most wonderful man that I have ever known…a good and decent man, and the greatest Father. Yes Son I have my memories…and because of them I am the luckiest Father in the World...thank you my Son for all the wonderful Fathers Days. And to you my Son, Happy Fathers Day. I love you.
And still another letter, written on John’s birthday (the 4th of July) in 2003, in which he describes a special moment with his son’s family and asks a favor….
My Son I love you...today is your birthday and we all are missing you so much...your Mother has been tormenting all week...so is your Wife and your two little girls, and your sisters...it is so very hard...I wish that I could carry all their pain...but I promise you Son that we will try very hard to have some of your courage and hang in there. I do have one favor to ask of you. Ann saved all the messages that you left for her and your daughters whenever you were at work telling them how much you loved them. She saved so many…well Fathers Day, Elizabeth was sad, and when Ann asked her what she was thinking, she said that she "was forgetting Daddys voice". so Ann, Elizabeth and Emma sat on the floor and listened to all your messages…you made their day Son, you came through for your "Girls". Well, for that favor...if you could once in a while whisper in Elizabeth’s ear, it would make her so happy.
Today is your birthday and we are thinking about what might have been, I probably would have bought you boots...like I did every year. I know that it was kind of a joke in the family, but I know you really enjoyed them. After 9/11, seeing a pair of your boots on your front porch was very hard, but still a welcome sight. I guess we all are going to be thinking about what gifts we would have bought you on your birthday...but the truth of it son is that your birthday will always be a reminder that you were and always will be a Gift to us...the Greatest Gift. Happy Birthday Son.
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love
Fifth 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
By Bill Coburn and John V. Napolitano, Sr.
In this continuing 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. Since then, we’ve taken a look at the world of a father who lost his son, and the emotions that have played a part in his life since then. John Sr. calls the firefighters and policemen who died at the World Trade Center the first patriots of the 21st century. We’ve been with him as he recalled his son’s childhood years, into his career and the family that he loved so much. We’ve seen John Sr. remember his son on his birthday (coincidentally, this 1st patriot of the 21st century was born on the 4th of July), on Father’s Day, and during the holidays. With this article, John Sr. shares with us some memories from the Ground Zero memorials held on Sept. 11th, including a serendipitous meeting on more than one occasion with a friend of his son’s, and he discusses the anger he feels about the events of 9/11 (you will be surprised) and he tells us what he would say to those who condone or commit acts of hatred.
I received this letter on Sept. 11, 2004.
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 New York 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 son’s name, and again for a moment...time stood still... I put a flower on my son’s picture.. "I'll see you next year Son…I love you".
I said goodbye to my son’s friend he told me that he will be see me September 25th for the dedication to John (Editor’s note, the dedication was of a section of a roadway that now bears John Napolitano’s name), 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.
The following are excerpts from a letter John Sr. wrote last year (2005) on Sept. 11.
My Son..I love you so much. Today, September 11, I again went back to the World Trade Center.. not to search..but to mourn..and again Lenny is at my side to mourn also.. for you, and his brother.. photographs with smiling faces are held high, and below, faces are not smiling but filled with tears...I strain to hold your picture high…I want the world to see the face of a Hero.. "This is my Son…Please don't forget Him"...I placed photos of your little girls next to yours for you to see.. for the World to see.. Today is so hard my Son...but I have to be there.. and today your sister is going to read aloud your name for all to hear.. I wonder if God will let you hear. Your sisters miss you so much. I listen as all the names are said aloud, their smiling faces held high.. every year I get to know them better...and I mourn for them also…and now I hear your sister’s voice, saying the names of those that you tried to save, and names of those that were also Heroes, and in a firm but fragile familiar voice.. I hear your name..and your sister tells the World how much she loves you.. and my Heart breaks.. and others are crying for their loved ones..and for you.. we are all becoming one big family…united in sorrow, bound together by grief.
World Trade Center is now a building site. but I still see the twisted steel,
and smell the damp grey ash that was everywhere.. and I close my eyes, and write
with my finger once again, on a wall covered with ash.. "Rescue 2 John
Napolitano I am here and I love you Dad".. and it ends…and we slowly leave,
tired and drained and we know that we will be back next year.
And this letter, written on Christmas, 2005:
My Son..I love you.. today is Christmas.. your favorite holiday.. you loved it so much because it gave you the opportunity to bring happiness to others. I just want you to know Son that you are still bringing us Happiness. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I see your smile. I can hear your laugh, and I can hear your voice..."Merry Christmas Dad".
The Guys at Lakeland still hang your Christmas Stocking, and I know that they always will. The days before Christmas they decorated the Fire Truck that carries your name with brightly lit Christmas lights, and with Lights blazing and the Siren screaming and "Santa" sitting on top, they drove through the neighborhood waving to all of those that stood outside their Homes. They slowly came down the street where you grew up, a street that also bears your name..."LT John P Napolitano Drive". I stood outside and watched, and I remembered how whenever you could, how you used to be on that Truck smiling and waving, and how especially you loved the Children, and I closed my eyes and I remembered.
The Rig stopped in front of the House, as they do every year. Santa waved.."Hello Mr. Nap," and all the Firefighters disembarked, and in single file, walked up to the House, and up the stairs onto the front porch, and each and every one of them gave me a hug…They were hugging you my Son.. did you feel it?
As they said their goodbyes, and walked back to the Rig, I saw you my Son that day in September, as you got off the Rescue 2 Rig with your "Brothers" and walked towards the Towers. I see you stop as you approach and look up at the dangerous and formidable task ahead of you, I know that you thought of all those poor people trapped, and that you would use all of your skills, and all of your Courage to save them.. and I know also my Son that you thought of us.. your Wife and your little Girls.. your Sisters, and your Mom.. and Me...this my Son I know.
Christmas is a special time of year.. a Magical time.. and whether one believes in the true meaning of Christmas or not, its effects still seem to be felt.. I wonder why this is only for a day. You my Son carried the Spirit of Christmas with you each and every day, and I think also that if there was a way that you could somehow give a Christmas gift to the World, that it would be that each and every one us would carry with us always, for each and every day.. the Spirit of Christmas.. you would want this so that no one ever again has to look up and see the Horror of what you saw.. so that a Father doesn't have to see his Son in the Shadows, and have to close his eyes to hear .. "Merry Christmas Dad".
You will be with me forever...till I see you again.. Merry Christmas my Son..
Part 6 -
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love
Sixth 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
By Bill Coburn and John V. Napolitano, Sr.
In this continuing 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. In these articles, we’ve taken a look at the world of a father who lost his son, and the emotions that have played a part in his life since then.
Here, in John Napolitano Sr.’s own words, are his memories of the tragic day and those following it, and his thoughts as we approach the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Next week’s column, the last in the series, will be John Napolitano Sr.’s first hand account of the fifth anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero.
As we approach the fifth anniversary of that terrible day in September, I would like to take the time to thank everyone who has reached out to the Family of Lieutenant John P. Napolitano and let us know that you have taken him into your Heart, and that you will always remember and honor his sacrifice. People like Sgt. Brian McDonaugh from the New York City Police Department, and his wife Beth. At “Ground Zero”, Sgt. McDonaugh saw a message written in the ashes by a father searching for his missing firefighter son... “Rescue 2 John Napolitano I’m here and I love you Dad”.. Sgt. Mc Donaugh, a father himself, was so moved by what he saw, that he wrote it down word for word so that, as he later said...“I wouldn’t forget”. Later that evening when he got home, he showed his wife Beth what he saw, and together they cried. Later Beth and her husband contacted me and told me that they will always keep a picture of my son, and tell their children about him, and that they will always honor him, and I know that they will.
And then there is the Thurston family from Colorado, who at the 2002 Ceremony for Fallen Firefighters promised me that they will always “look after” my Son, and they have. Every 4th of July, John’s birthday, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and every 9/11 anniversary, they go to the Memorial Wall, where my son’s name is etched, and they leave a heartfelt card. Mrs. Bietler from Pennsylvania, who proudly wears a Memorial Bracelet that says “ LT. JOHN P NAPOLITANO FDNY RESCUE 2 9/11/2001”. Captain Jeff Pennington, from the Gilbert Fire Department, Gilbert, AZ, and his family, who did a study of John and bonded with a brother firefighter that he never met…Captain Jeff and his family, at their own expense, came to New York to attend a ceremony honoring John, the re-naming of a county road to “Lt. John P. Napolitano Parkway”. Captain Jeff still calls me from time to time to see how I’m doing, and even came to my home to spend a couple of days with me. Once while visiting with the guys at Rescue 2, Captain Jeff and I went on two “calls” with them. Captain Jeff was thrilled and beaming from ear to ear. As I rode in the rig I could feel the presence of my son...and I know that he smiled on us.
And then from Sierra Madre, California, there is you Bill, who have embraced my son and kept his memory alive.. I thank all of you, and on September 11 when I make my pilgrimage to the World Trade Center, my thoughts will also be of all of you, because I know that on that day, that you mourn also. But I wish to ask of you just one thing, which I will ask in closing.
Recently here in New York there was a dedication to the 343 fallen FDNY firefighters, and one volunteer firefighter, it is an approximately 10 feet high, and 60 feet long bronze sculpture of firefighters and the events of 9/11. The Memorial is attached to the wall of “10” Company, the firehouse across the street from the World Trade Center. When I was talking to my daughter-in-law, Ann, about going to the ceremony, and knowing that she wouldn’t be up to it, her and my son’s youngest daughter, Emma Rose, piped up and said “I want to see where Daddy was”. We were at a school concert. Elizabeth who now “plays” the violin was in the orchestra. Ann asked Emma if she was sure about going, and she said that she was. Ann looked at me to see if I was up for it. I really wasn’t...but I said that it would be okay. When Elizabeth joined us Ann and I asked her if she wanted to go, and she did. I knew that this day was going to come. I was going to take my son’s “little” girls to Ground Zero.
My best friend Lenny, who was always with me those days in September, as we searched for my son, and his (Lenny’s) brother John, would also go to the ceremony, and bring his daughter Christina. We arrived early that day, parked the car and secured our seats, Firefighters were setting up for the Ceremony, speakers and equipment were being tested for those that would present speeches this day, Lenny and I, as we always do when we are at the Trade Center, were reminiscing. My mind was also elsewhere. I walked to where my granddaughters were sitting.. They’re getting so big I thought and so beautiful. They were talking to Christina and smiling. Now to take their smiles away. I asked them if they were ready to hear about their Daddy...and others. They said that they were. I told Christina that we would be back; I gave Lenny a silent nod. This one time my good friend would not be at my side. We were each others rock those dark days, but today the rock that I would lean on would be my son.
I placed my hands on my Granddaughter’s shoulders and guided them towards what had changed their lives forever. As we walked along the security fence to an area where only family members and Authorized Personnel are permitted, the girls were looking at what seems to be a big hole left by some catastrophic meteor. I showed my ID to security, and they opened the large gate and let us in. Once inside this secure area you are struck by the sight of all that has been placed there, from beat-up teddy bears, to badges, firefighter and police shirts, a helmet of a British “bobby”…notes and photographs, of loved ones of the missing. Things that were placed at “Ground Zero”. Things that say “I Will Never Forget”. Things that say “I Love You”..
I took the girls to where you can see the whole “site”, to where the Towers used to be. I pointed to where the South Tower once was, and I told them that is where “Uncle Glen” (Police Officer Glen Pettit), “Uncle Pete” (Firefighter Peter Brennan), and “Uncle Billy” (Firefighter William Mahoney), and their “Pop Pop’s” good friend John, (Lt. John Crisci) was. And I gave them a moment to reflect. I pointed to where the North Tower once stood, and I said to the girls “That is where your Daddy was”. I explained to them as was told to me by an eyewitness…How the Rescue 2 rig came through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and up West Street.. Of how the seven members of Rescue 2 geared up for battle, looked up at the enemy before them, and with no fear, but armed with Professionalism, Compassion and Courage, and with a look of Determination on their faces, paused only to give each other knowing glances…and strode into the North Tower to save lives.
Elizabeth and Emma didn’t ask any questions. They stared at the nothingness. Whatever thoughts they had, I know that when they are ready they will ask. I told them that the Ceremony was about to begin and that we should go. We left through the Security Gate from which we entered, and along the fence that surrounds “Ground Zero”, I stood between them holding them by the hand, and as we were walking, both Elizabeth and Emma, at the same time, looked over their shoulder, at where the North Tower once stood, and I wondered, was it for a hopeful one last look at their Dad? I looked straight ahead, putting on my sunglasses...like I did so many times when I was with Lenny, leaving the “Pit”...not wanting anyone to see the tears.
I have recently volunteered to devote some time with Tribute New York City. It consists of people impacted by 9/11 who share their experiences with those who come to the World Trade Center to reflect and pay their respects. Some are survivors who escaped the Towers, some are family members, or rescue workers, or rescue workers who were fathers searching for their sons. I went on three tours so far, and it is very hard on me, the last tour were members of the press. I was asked by a reporter why do I do this, and does time heal some wounds, and I told him that I would explain during the tour, when I am introduced. The tour guide started our walk around the World Trade Center describing the buildings and the building process, as we walked she explained the events of the day, where the planes came from, what floors were impacted, the response from firefighters, and police officers and EMT’s. We walk to the World Financial Center, and the Tour Guide this day talks about her cousin who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, and she speaks of his family.. then she introduces me.
The group looks at me like they know that they are going to hear some important things. It is going to be more than what they expected. I tell them what I do for a living, but that I was once a cop who worked in Brooklyn, I tell them that my son was a firefighter assigned to Rescue 2, and how on September 11, 2001 my son was scheduled to be off. Of walking into one of the stores that I supervise, walking to the back loading area and being asked “What are you doing here? Don’t you know they’re calling for cops, and ex-cops? We’re being attacked.” This is how I found out about the Towers being hit. The South Tower collapses. I tell them how I keep on trying to call my son, I knew that he would be going, I wanted to tell him to be careful.. not to be a hero. His phone was busy. I keep on trying, still busy. I call my house, I tell my wife that “I can’t get through to Johnny”...she is crying, she tells me that it is Ann on the phone, that Johnny worked last night...somebody switched with him. That he is already there. I try to get into the City but can’t, I decide to head home...figure something out.. find out what is going on. The North Tower comes down…my son is not in there...no way. He has people safe somewhere...I know this…he is an excellent firefighter.
I arrive at my son’s house first. Ann is sitting on the couch surrounded by her and my son’s friends...a tearful smile as she sees me…the girls going on 3 and 6 quietly playing. Ann tells me there is no word. I tell her not to worry, everything will be alright. I go to my home a little more than a mile away. My wife sitting, a blank look on her face, her sister next to her crying, my brother-in-law Cono looking worried. “Listen everybody…everything will be okay.” I go back and forth from my house to my son’s. It’s getting late, traffic should be better, I start to head into the City, Cono wants to come with me. We don’t get far. His cell phone rings. Cono tells me to turn around and head home. I ask him…“is my Son gone?” “No” he says. “Diane is excited, she said to come right home.” I race…through stop signs, through red lights. Cautiously, but quickly, like I was driving a radio car. I run into my house. My wife is sitting on the floor, she is being held by her sister Diane, and over and over again my wife is saying.. “My Baby.. My Baby”… “No”.. “No”… I hear this in my mind every day. I tell this to my group… I tell them how a woman carries a child inside of her…is the first person to love that child…Is the first person to suffer for that child. The child grows up…gets married…has children.. But that child never stops being the mother’s baby..
I get through to Rescue 2, they tell me that John and every member of Rescue 2 is missing. I tell them that “I’m an ex-cop, to give it to me straight…Should I expect the worst?” They tell me that I should stay close to Ann and his mother. That they don’t know where everybody is, that John could be trapped. I go to Ann’s house…Her and John’s friends are still there, the girls won’t go to sleep because Daddy didn’t call yet…He always does when he works nights. I asked Ann if she got any other word, she takes me aside and said.. “Dad, Glen, Pete, and Billy are missing too”. I feel my knees buckle, but I have to keep a positive look. “ Don’t worry Ann.. Everybody could be working, and they don’t know where they are...you’ll see”. I go home it’s early morning. I call my best friend Lenny. His brother John is missing. Lenny and I leave for the World Trade Center.
I tell the group that Lenny and I go to a Brooklyn precinct, and they help us into Manhattan, we piggy back rides with different police officers, and hook up with the Fire Department, and Lenny and I arrive at the belly of the devastation. We walk through the Winter Garden Restaurant area. We look up at shards of hanging glass 150 feet above our heads…the floor turning to mud from all the ash mixing with water.. Ash from the World Trade Center.. And in time realizing some of the ash...is from people. We walk outside and onto West Street .. twisted steel is everywhere…some of it reaching up like fingers…smoke rising. And gray ash like fresh fallen snow covering everything. The sounds of alarms from firefighters not moving…a shrill piercing sound…so many...spots of red that were once people.
I tell the group of moving debris a bucket at a time. Of someone thinking that I was a “Fed” and giving me a piece of the skin from a plane. I found a “Fed” and gave it to him. I climb on steel not knowing where to look, feeling heat from the fires below. Calling my son’s name in the dark…listening…listening. Nothing. Lenny and I asking firefighters did they know anything about Glen Pettit…Pete Brennan...Billy Mahoney…John Crisci…John Napolitano. The sadness in their eyes. I write a message to my Son, in the ash...still warm...“Rescue 2 John Napolitano I’m here and I love you Dad”.
I tell them how I said to Lenny that if I can find my son’s truck... “maybe I can find him”.. then I see what looks like a rescue truck. I climb, run, over the steel, Lenny following. It’s a ladder company truck, almost broken in two, I say to Lenny...“there might be firemen here”…and as we look…we see under a steel beam a young woman. She is dead, the beam across her head. She is wearing a sundress, and she is covered with that gray ash, except for a small patch of blue from her dress. I have two daughters, and as I looked at this Sweet Angel, I thought that this was somebody’s “Daddy’s Little Girl”.. and could she be a young mother and back home her baby is missing her and crying for her. Which one of the many “missing” posters was she? This baby did not deserve to die this way. Lenny and I made a Cross out of the debris, and prayed for her…and for her family, we loved her. I alerted some passing rescue workers of this young girl…and moved on. Whenever I think of my Son, I think of her…that is the way it should be.
I tell my group about the messages written back to me, from firefighters, police officers, and other rescue workers. “Mr. Napolitano I know John. If anyone could get out of this...he can..”.. “Mr. Nap don’t give up hope.” “Bravo Company was here.” Lenny and I stood and saw the dead and what was left of the dead being removed. In the days that followed, Lenny and I would go down there with renewed hope. Today I will find my Son. He will climb out of some hole that nobody thought to look. His helmet and coat will be covered with that gray ash, his face will be dirty.. but he will be alive. And I will dust him off, and wipe his face, and I will hug him, and I will bring him home to his girls. “C’mon Johnny, lets go home, your wife and your daughters are waiting…your sisters too…And your Mother is worried.”
I tell my group about the day that they found Lt. John Crisci, the day they found police officer Glen Pettit, the day they found firefighter William Mahoney…that still missing is Firefighter Peter Brennan, and still missing is my Son…Lt. John P Napolitano.
I also tell them about John’s Journey, how he was so good all his life, not only a good son, but a good student, and a good friend, how he would walk to school and home from school a schoolmate that was overweight, to make sure that no one picked on her. How he helped other kids in the neighborhood with their schoolwork, always with a smile, the young man who decided to devote his life to helping others. How he inspired others not only to being a good firefighter, but to being a good husband and dad. I tell them about the 5 year old girl whose life he saved, the daughter of a firefighter. I tell them of him crawling about in a collapsing building saving trapped firefighters. I tell them of one of those firefighters dying with John on September 11, 2001. I tell them of all the good things that John has done to be a better person to help others achieve their goals. My son’s journey may have been short. But it was magnificent...and in seeing all the pages of my son’s life he has made my journey magnificent.
Back home, Ann had to tell Elizabeth and Emma about their father. They thought that they had done something wrong because it had been a long time and…“Daddy didn’t call”. Ann told them, as best she could to a 3 year old and a 6 year old, about bad people hurting other people, and how their Daddy went to save some other little girls, and little boys, mommies and daddies, but that he couldn’t save them all, and that… he couldn’t save himself. That they will not see their Daddy anymore…because he is in Heaven. Emma and Elizabeth cried, their little hearts, so filled with love for their Father, broken. Ann hugged them and told them, to never forget that although they had their Daddy for a short time, that they had…the very best Daddy.
Those early months, I would have the Honor from time to time to baby-sit for my son’s little girls. They were so much like him. Emma kind of bold…a sense of humor...Elizabeth, thoughtful, a quiet sensitivity. And a love to draw… I would watch them and see my son. Emma would point at my son’s pictures and say.. “That’s my Daddy” and I would say “That’s right.. that’s your Daddy”.. Elizabeth would sit quietly and draw. One day Elizabeth drew something and went into my son’s old bedroom, when I went in there to see what it was, I saw laying on his dresser was a drawing of a little girl with golden hair and written on the drawing were the words…“Daddy I Love You”..
History says that my Son was a Hero because he died saving lives...I say that my Son was a Hero... because he LIVED to save lives.
My answer to the reporter as to why I do this admittedly painful tour was this…that if talking about my son can in some way make others want to be like him, and if more and more people live his life, than maybe... just maybe, we can be a better World and stop killing each other, and have for an enemy a common enemy of sickness and disease, and not each other, so no other Father has to look for his son…in the shadows.
As for time being a healer, I explained to this reporter that time is a relentless enemy, that I miss my Son more, every second, of every hour, of every day…That I don’t need the anniversary of 9/11 to feel the pain. I see 9/11 every day and will do so till the day I die. I also feel that if feeling less pain means to have less memory of my Son, I say this: bring the pain on and times it by infinity, because it is no price at all to pay for the Son that I have.
And that one thing that I was going to ask you, and those who Honor John, is this: When you speak of Lieutenant John P. Napolitano, do not dwell so much on his Courage that day in September, or the tragic way that he died, but rather, remember always…the Heroic way that he Lived..
John Napolitano, Father of Lt John P Napolitano, F.D.N.Y. Rescue 2
A Hero, A Tragedy, and A Father’s Love
Seventh and final article 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
By John V. Napolitano, Sr.
September 12, 2006
Dawn Ann Napolitano, or "Dawnee" as Lenny always called her, was two years younger then her brother John, and no two siblings could be more different…John quiet…Dawn loud…John low keyed…Dawn flamboyant…John ask him once…Dawn keep on asking…John homework yes…Dawn what homework? Well you get the picture. Once my neighbor laughingly shared a story with me, she told me that when the school bus dropped the kids off after school, that there was some teasing and pushing that looked like it was going to get out of hand, she went on to say that "Your Son, Johnny, was trying to be the peacemaker…but Dawn threw her books down on the ground, and said to the kids that were being unruly.. "Let’s Go"…Dawn and John…brother and sister…opposites…where John would say "let’s think about this" Dawn would say "let’s see what happens". Although different in many ways…no brother and sister were ever closer, the bond that they had for each other could never be broken. Not even by a skyscraper. Today Dawn, the "tough" one was going to "Ground Zero". Today we will see how "tough" Dawn is.
Dawn is also bringing her special son and special daughter. Some call it stepson, or stepdaughter, but Dawn doesn’t like that word. And neither do I. She loves them as a mother, and they love her right back. At home my wife is babysitting Dawn’s four year old son, named John, after his Uncle John. We know that John Grosso will keep his grandmother on her toes because he inherited a great deal of his mother’s genes. But we need for my wife to stay busy this day, and hope that "baby John" lives up to all of our expectations. I think of my grandson, and also look at my grandchildren Danielle and Christopher and my daughter as we leave, and I think to myself "what a good mother Dawn turned out to be".
We pick up Lenny and head into "the City". There is a lot of traffic in Manhattan, I find a parking space several blocks away from the World Trade Center, but made good time and will not be late for the Ceremony. I am nervous. We walk to "Ground Zero", and Lenny is telling Dawn about where we entered the Trade Center that first day, and the days after. The more we walk, and the closer we get, the more solemn everybody seems to be. The streets are congested, as Manhattan streets get. Dawn walks faster and is slowly getting ahead of us, I walk quicker to keep up, Lenny, Christopher, and Danielle following closely. But Dawn is looking straight ahead, picking up her pace, she hears in the distance the bagpipes playing, she is getting closer, and almost running to what is not there...running to her brother.
I show my ID to those in charge of security, and we are let into the viewing area, it is crowded, it seems more crowded then last year, the names of those that were lost that day in September are being said over loudspeakers, and with each name a heart breaks, and the sound of crying is all around you.
I hold my Son’s photo, sometimes near me, sometimes in the air. Others are doing the same with their loved ones, I see familiar faces, but this year I notice a difference. The faces are getting older. But the smiling faces of Angels held high are still the same.
We walk with the crowd towards the ramp that will descend to where the towers were. The first bell rings...the north tower is hit. Lives are lost. Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers are gone forever. Everybody stops moving and are silent…except for the sobs.
The names of the lost are said again. The procession down the ramp continues. Volunteers are giving out water or snacks. It reminds me of those days in September. People giving out nourishment to those who searched, and sometimes giving a shoulder to lean on. Everybody that is in the "Basin", or what was sometimes called the "Pit" of the Trade Center, are looking at the photos held tightly, the faces of each others loved ones, sharing each others pain. Civilians, Police Officers, Firefighters, Servicemen. Strangers hugging strangers. The Bell rings again, the south tower is hit.. and people are dead… Everyone is silent, except for the crying. The names are said again. We stand by the south tower, waiting to hear, Glen Pettit, Peter Brennan, William Mahoney, and Lenny’s brother, John Crisci. I hear Dawn sniffling. Her eyes are red, Christopher and Danielle their heads bowed. Lenny and I look at each other, and we remember.
We hear the name John Crisci, and soon after, the bell rings...the south tower has collapsed. People are dead. Lenny, tears streaming down his face, looks up at the sky, and salutes his brother.
Dawn is crying.
We walk with the crowd towards
the north tower, I look at all the faces. My 9/11 family. I look at the
children, and I am suddenly aware of another thing that is different. The
children are older. Babies are toddlers, toddlers are youngsters, youngsters are
teenagers, and the teenagers, they may be the young men and woman that I see in
uniform. Children of the victims and of the Heroes of that day in September.
Children of our fallen firefighters and police officers, America’s first
Patriots (of the 21st century). They have picked up their mother’s or
father’s banner and are now the Defenders of Freedom...for us and for others. A
group of Marines pass by me and as they do, I thank them for their service, and
I shake each and every one of their hands. So much the same, this five year
Anniversary, and yet so much different. Dawn looks at everything around her. A
mother wearing a photo of her child is crying. She goes to her knees and with
her hand scoops up some dirt, but to her I know that this is more than dirt,
this is sacred. It is her child that she is trying to hold. Dawn is crying.
I see an Infant that never seemed to cry, he was awake when he was supposed to be awake, slept when he was supposed to be asleep. This being a Father, was so easy. I remember the toddler who would always smile at me as I held him in my arms, he would pull on my nose and ears, and I would bury my face in his stomach and he would laugh.. The little boy who on Christmas morning, would patiently wait until his younger sisters opened their gifts, before he opened his, and would try to not get in their way as they scurried all about looking to see what was theirs. I see a teenager who one day came home with firefighter’s gear. A teenager who would devote his free time as a volunteer firefighter.. A teenager who decided that he wanted to help people.
I close my eyes and see a young man marry his high school sweetheart, I see him join the fire department of the City of New York, still volunteering with the Lakeland Fire Department. I see the young man become a Dad. I see my Hero.
I see a fire truck come to a stop at a horrific scene, from above is great danger; steel and concrete and glass is falling. And so are people. Seven members of an Elite Rescue Unit exit their rig, secure whatever tools they are going to need, go into the horror, walking into where so many are trying to flee. People are in trouble. People need to be saved. There are many brave heroes this day. Of the seven from Rescue 2, one of them is my son. I know that all these heroes did what my son did. They used all of their skill, and all of their courage, to save lives. And I also know that they thought what my son thought. He thought of his wife, and his children, he thought of his sisters, and he thought of his mother.. And he thought of me.
The bell rings. Lives are lost. My son is dead...and then a name…John P Napolitano. I become aware of someone crying loudly. It is my daughter, Dawn. She is standing straight, her arms at her side, her eyes closed. And she is crying. I stood close but left her alone most of the day, so that she could reflect on what she saw, to leave her with her thoughts…she now saw her brother die…I put my arm around her, and hold her as she grieves for her brother. "Tough guys" do cry.
I go to a pool of water where the north tower once stood, it is filled with flowers and photographs, of our Loved Ones. On a bed of flowers I put my son’s picture. The names are being said. I speak to my son, and in a while it is time to go, Dawn, Lenny, Danielle, Christopher, and I head for the ramp that will lead us out of the "Pit". Back home, my wife is watching everything on television, the camera zooms in on a photograph in the pool of roses, and the newsman says the name. "Lieutenant John P. Napolitano". And a Mother cries.
We walk slowly up the ramp, we are all very much tired, and emotionally spent. This fifth year Anniversary, had a few differences, but one thing kept nagging at me, I kept looking for the firefighter that had my son’s picture in his hat. Every year I would meet him and his wife, we would cry, we would hug. One year when he was looking for me, I said that my son would show the way. But this year we didn’t meet…"well last year wasn’t as crowded", and "anything could have happened," I thought. But still I was a little disappointed.
Dawn was misty eyed as we slowly walked up the ramp, looking at the pictures being held high by those still going down. I held another picture of my son close to me as I walked on. Dawn will remember this day for the rest of her life; I looked at Danielle and Christopher, and I know that today they got a little older. Lenny and I would look at each other every now and then, and no words had to be said, we would just shake our heads. I think about all the indecision of what kind of Memorial should be placed here. What would be a fitting tribute to all who were lost that day in September. What will make a statement. And an idea came to me, the answer was so simple, and it stared at everyone right in the face. LEAVE IT ALONE. Simply leave it alone. A big hole in the ground. A hole that could never be filled. Surround it with the faces, of all who were lost, leave the ramp so that all can come to visit, and look upon the faces. And have them look back at us, I turned to look back at the "Pit", to see the big hole surrounded by faces, and as I was looking down, I heard "Mr Nap"…"Mr Nap". I turned, and on the other side of the rope going down the ramp was my son’s friend, the tall firefighter, and his wife. Tears streaming down their faces, and soon down mine.
"We looked all over for you",
he said as he hugged me, he almost lifted me over the rope that separated us,
his wife loosened it so that I could step through, we held each other for a long
time, he was crying, I hugged his wife, she was crying, then back to hugging
him.. The Honor Guard of Police Officers and Firefighters, that stood near us
were wiping tears from their eyes. We spoke for a while, I hugged his wife and
then him one last time, and I gave to him the photo of my son that I was
carrying, and I said.. "here, you’re in charge of this". As the firefighter and
his wife walked down the ramp, I walked up, and even though I was crying, I
smiled...I know that my Son answered me.
Editor’s note: I want to thank John Napolitano, Sr. for sharing his thoughts with us these last couple weeks with letters written especially for this series. And for letting me publish the letters that he has written to me the last couple years, and the letters he has written to his son since 9/11/01. John writes his son each year on his birthday (the 4th of July), at Christmas, on Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and sometimes in between. The letters can be found on a website called Legacy.com, and you can view them by clicking on the link to World Trade Center, and entering John’s name. If you view the John Napolitano guestbook, you’ll find page after page of memorials, words written by John Jr.’s family and friends, and by complete strangers. Strangers that have been moved to write a few words of remembrance, some to comfort his family, some to respond to other tributes, some that are written just because the viewer couldn’t read all they’ve read without adding their own thoughts.
I think back to the day I first learned about John, at the IAFF memorial for fallen firefighters in Colorado Springs. I remember how it took 19 minutes to recite the names of the fallen New York firefighters, and it gives me the chills just to think of it. I can’t help but respect and appreciate those who work as firefighters and police officers, putting their lives on the line on a daily basis. And it fills me with pride to think of my brother Jay, a paramedic in Illinois, and my brother-in-law Bob, a volunteer firefighter in Sierra Madre for more than 20 years. I’m proud that John Napolitano, Sr. who is, in my mind, a hero for having raised a son to be the man that John Napolitano, Jr. was, thinks of me as a friend. It is amazing to me to think that because I went to Colorado Springs in 2002 and decided to put my remembrances of that memorial on my website, and because John Sr. Googled his son’s name a couple years later, I now have a “pen pal” relationship with this very special man. To John, his wife and daughters, and to John Jr’s wife Ann and their daughters Emma and Elizabeth, I wish you the best, and hope that with time, comes peace. And I want you to know that 3,000 miles away, there is someone who was profoundly moved and affected by hearing the story of your son, brother, husband and father. Rest assured, I will never forget.
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.