By Nicol Jenkins
Not a day goes by that John Napolitano doesn’t remember his son’s smile or his search for him under rubble after the World Trade Center Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001.
Sixteen years later, time doesn’t heal his broken heart and there is no form of closure over the loss of his son, John Napolitano, Jr., one of the fallen heroes of 9/11 who was a Lieutenant for FDNY Rescue 2 and died while saving others in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. John was a wellrespected firefighter, everyone admired him including his Captain, and he left behind a wife and two daughters.
“There is no closure. There is not one day in the 16 years that I do not find myself at the World Trade Center, that I do not think of my son and others lost on that day,” said Napolitano.
The father spoke about his experience on 9/11 to local firefighters, students and staff at the 4th Annual JP Taravella 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. During the event, over 100 participants climbed flights of stairs symbolizing the 110 stories of the WTC Twin Towers. The event benefited the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, a commemoration for the firefighters who lost their lives as a result of the 9/11 tragedy and a fundraiser for families of firefighters lost in the line of duty.
On that tragic day, Napolitano, a retired NY police officer, and his friend Lenny, went to the Trade Center to look for their family members. Describing the scene as “a horror”, they sifted through rubble and searched under fallen steel beams looking for any sign of life. At one point, he wrote a message in the ash for his son, “I’m here and I love you. Dad.” He went back to the site every day for one year and then every week for the next six months, but never recovered his son’s body.
John is part of the 9/11 family, people who embrace each other and understand the pain of losing a loved one.
“There are no words between us, just hugs. Each year when I go to the 9/11 memorial site, I hold my son’s photo up and people say your son was a hero; he didn’t have to be there but he went into danger to save my daughter or son,” he said.
Joanne Elliot is also a member of the fallen firefighters community. Her son, Bill Elliot, a beloved Pompano Beach firefighter passed away on January 6, 2012, after he fell to his death during a training exercise with a new ladder truck. Bill was admired and loved by everyone in the community, was always willing to help others and was very close to his family.
“Everyone loved him, and he shared this talent in helping others. It was not difficult to remember Bill’s last words to me because he never hung up from a phone call without
saying, “I love you, Mom”. I will miss him forever and literally a piece of my heart went with him. I had a heart attack the night he died,” said Joanne. “The message I hope to send to others and my firefighter family is to continue to love and help one another. My family and I are so thankful for the brotherhood of the firefighters and the Fallen Firefighters Foundation.”
James Simmons, teacher and DECA Advisor, says the school’s DECA, SHAPE, and SADD clubs wanted to honor those former students lost in 9/11 and the fallen heroes.
“I learned about NFFF Stair Climbs from my nephew, who runs a climb as a firefighter in Alabama, and found it to be an excellent opportunity to educate my students about the tragedy that occurred when they were very young,” said Simmons. “Overall, I hope attendees gain a remembrance of the selfless acts of the firefighters on 9/11 trying to save others while risking their own lives. For students, an awareness of the tragedy and an increased respect and appreciation of their local firefighters.”
Melissa Livermore, Taravella student and Co-Chair of 9/11 Stair Climb, believes, “students can definitely benefit by learning how hard 9/11 hit the nation.”
For those who have been directly impacted by 9/11, their lives will never be the same. They are part of the 9/11 family. Donations to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation can be made at http://www.firehero.org.