Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11th – A 15 Year Remembrance

Saluting a Regular Jo

“O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!”

“I was born in Staten Island,” is not a phrase frequently professed by yours truly, nycityman.  It struck me fairly early on that New York’s most bucolic borough was meant to be but a temporary way station as, like Tony Manero before me, I yearned for the glitz, glamour and citification of Manhattan (the four floor walk up, bathtub in the kitchen and plague of roaches and mice were just unanticipated character-adding bonuses), after all, “how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree'?”  And by Paree, I suppose, I mean Greenwich Village, after four valuable and enjoyable years matriculating at New York University.

But, all of the above being said, when it comes to the horrific events of September 11, 2001, anyone ever associated with New York’s “forgotten borough” can both, point with great pride at the courage and bravery displayed by the significant number of first responders who hailed from Staten Island, as well as mourn for the large loss of life resulting from their selfless sacrifices.

Now, we are a country full of rage, animosity and division. Such was not always the case. There was a time - a mere decade and a half ago, before a sexist, misogynist, hate-filled white supremacist fabricated his ignorant ways to the Republican Presidential nomination, filling his followers with unfounded fears and prejudices, and turning American citizen against American citizen - when we were once united and loyal. Once we were caring and concerned. And once we were humane and compassionate.  In light of the current ugly political atmosphere and in commemoration of those we lost and those who gave so much of themselves on that terrible day, and the days, weeks and months that followed, I proudly share the tale of a hero who has not forgotten what empathy, kindness and consideration is, nor abandoned the ideals and responsibilities of being an American. This is the story of fellow Staten Islander, Firefighter Jo Jo Esposito.

 Jo Jo Esposito
 "In the tradition of the fire department, we take care of our own”- Jo Jo Esposito

Jo Jo Esposito has served his country, city and community, going on 32 years, as a valiant and committed member of New York’s Bravest, the Fire Department of New York, Rescue 5, in Staten Island. As was the case with so many from the metropolitan area, particularly those of his chosen, gallant profession, September 11th was a day of dire devastation and severe sorrow, when 11 of the firefighters from his unit, including his own brother and cousin, perished in the line of their very dangerous duties.

Left in the wake of this tragedy were 26 fatherless children. Perhaps, one man can do just so much to attempt to counter such grievous, heartbreaking and painful circumstances, and many would never even try, but Jo Jo felt the need and obligation to act, and from that disastrous day, and for the 15 years that have followed, he has shouldered the burden of duty, and love, and served as surrogate father to the offspring of his fallen comrades.

Katelyn Mascali’s father died that day, and for her Jo Jo has been a Godsend, "I'm sure I speak for all of the children of Rescue 5 that we really do get a little piece of our fathers when we’re with him. I know I can feel my dad whenever I'm with him, and it’s an amazing thing."

Madeline Bergin, a widow of those attacks, similarly expressed her appreciation, "It just really, really struck me at that point because he was going through the same loss that we were going through, and his major concern was about us and our families.”

He doesn’t seek recognition, fame or praise, but only wishes to fulfill his calling and responsibility as a firefighter, a friend and an American. And for all of the children and wives who have dealt so long with so much loss, he has been a shoulder to cry on, a father figure to turn to, and a companion to rely on, in times of need and when just facing the everyday burdens of life. At every holiday, graduation, birthday and wedding, Jo Jo has been there for his family from Rescue 5.

On this somber anniversary, it’s good to remember the everyday people, the ordinary citizens, who have stepped up and done the extraordinary. We close with a few more words of gratitude from those whom Jo Jo has touched with his love and generosity of spirit –

"When you think of a father, you think of someone that’s always there for you, you think of a hero, you think of someone that’s always in your corner" - Massimo DiDonna

"That’s how I want to be as a person or an adult in this world, that whenever a friend or family member calls, I'm the first person there, and that’s what Jo Jo has taught me” - Shannon Bergin

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!”

He was a singular genius, the likes of which we will never see again. Performing the finest interpretation of America the Beautiful, live, just weeks after the 9-11 attacks, the legend, Ray Charles.

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

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