Happy Mother’s Day to all and a message to those special moms. I am thinking about you also as I speak about the mother of Lt. John P. Napolitano of FDNY, Rescue 2. Mother’s Day is a day that we honor God’s greatest miracle, and on that day so many mothers throughout our country do something that they probably have done so many times before. They sit somewhere quietly and alone and look down at a photograph of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, a police officer, or a firefighter, but they will not see the hero. What they see is their baby. Mothers carry a baby inside of them. They are the first to love this child, and when this child is born they are the first to suffer for it. The child grows, gets married and has children, but this child never stops being the mother’s baby.
The years go by quickly, but wonderful memories let me live those years over and over again. It is Sept. 11, 2001. I go to the back loading area of one of the Long Island supermarkets that I assist in ordering their bread products, and I joke with the guys who are back there all huddled by a radio. One of the guys who knew that I was once a cop said to me, “What are you doing here? They are looking for cops — off-duty cops, ex cops. We are at war.” That is how I found out about 9/11.
I picked up a phone and immediately called my son’s home, not far from mine in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. I thought he was off but would be responding, and I wanted to tell him to be careful. Don’t be a hero. I got a busy signal. He is probably getting instructions, I thought. I keep on trying. Still a busy signal. I call my home and my wife answers. I tell her, “I am trying to get through to Johnny, but the phone is busy. I want to tell him to be careful.”
My wife is crying. She tells me that our daughter-in-law Anne is on the phone. “Johnny is already there. He worked last night.” The South Tower comes down. I hang up the phone. I’m stunned. I tell the guy who told me that they were looking for cops, that my son is at the World Trade Center. He looks at me sadly and shakes his head and says, “You know what you gotta do.” I can’t get into the city just yet, and I am going back and forth between my house and my son’s. And then Anne gets a call. Her husband, my son, is missing and so are family friends who are NYPD and FDNY. I go to my house, jump out of the car and rush up the stairs, and in our den off of the kitchen is my wife, sitting on the floor. She is being held by her sister Diane, and both are crying and my wife is saying, “My baby, my baby. No, no,” over and over again. And to this day I see this and I hear this.
I learn that my lifelong friend Lt. John Crisci of FDNY is missing also. His brother Lenny, my other best friend and also former NYPD, and I head for the World Trade Center. I am crushed by what Lenny and I see. I write a message in the ash to my son by one of the triage areas. In case he is injured and found, I want him to know that I am there. I am thinking about my friend John, and my son’s friends and schoolmates, police officer Glen Pettit, and firefighters Pete Brennan and Billy Mahoney. I see in the rubble, shoes, papers, gray ash everywhere. A young woman under a steel beam. I see exhausted firefighters and police officers, and I see my wife back home waiting for her son. I have to bring him home. He has a wife and two little girls, he has his sisters, and he has his mother.
In the weeks that followed, Pettit, Mahoney and Crisci were recovered. Still missing were Brennan and my son. Many mothers lost their children that day in September. Whether they were the innocent victims or the heroes who were killed trying to save them, the pain is equally unbearable. And then there are the mothers of those brave troops who also lost their lives to Islamic terrorists and also have a broken heart that will never heal.
As I think about my wife this Mother’s Day, I think of them, just as when I think about my son, I think about all of those who have fallen with him. To all these mothers I cannot say to have a happy Mother’s Day; the words are not enough, so I will simply say that, “It is Mother’s Day; God bless you” as I look back to that terrible day in September, when America gained another hero, and I have lost a son, but my wife lost her baby.
John Napolitano, Wellington