By Larry Provost
On Sunday, a day whose weather resembled that of a beautiful September morning in 2001, Retired Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) Captain John Vigiano, Sr. joined his two sons who were killed almost seventeen years ago in the radical Islamic terrorist attacks upon the World Trade Center. The Vigiano family leaves and continues to impart a strong legacy; a legacy of sacrifice but more so a legacy of service.
John Vigiano Sr was a former United States Marine and was a legend in the New York Fire Department, retiring as a Captain on the job. He and his wife Jan had two sons, John Vigiano II and his younger brother Joe Vigiano.
Each son followed their father into service for the people of the City of New York. John Vigiano II became, like his father, a firefighter with the FDNY. Joe Vigiano joined the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and joined one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous unit of the NYPD; the Emergency Service Unit or ESU, whose job can be likened to the Special Forces of the NYPD. ESU trains in special tactics but also for rescue work that includes fire rescue.
The Vigiano brothers were the third generation of their family to serve in the uniformed services of the City of New York.
With these two important and heroic jobs, it is no mistake that both Vigiano brothers were called to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That day, their service to the City became their service to the entire nation and those who cherish freedom throughout the world.
John II and Joe were both killed saving the lives of those whom they did not know.
Three hundred and forty three New York City Firefighters were killed on September 11, 2001. Twenty three New York City Police Officers died on September 11, 2001. Over half of the NYPD officers killed that day, fourteen total, were ESU officers.
John Vigiano, Sr. transformed his grief into continued service. He searched for his sons at The Pile that the media called Ground Zero. Joe was found. His brother John II was not. Captain Vigiano became a tremendous supporter of Gold Star Families and was beloved by them, for he knew what they went through. He gained their respect as well as that of others who support military families such as Gary Sinise, leading trips to Walter Reed to visit wounded warriors and their families. Captain Vigiano was also a supporter of perhaps the least understood, and one of the most important fronts, in the continuing war on terrorism; the trials of the terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A film about his son Joe, Twin Towers, won an Academy Award in 2003 for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
Captain Vigiano lived to see the fourth generation of his family enter service. His grandson Joseph Vigiano, Jr., the son of NYPD ESU officer Joe Vigiano, not only followed in his grandfather’s footsteps by entering the United States Marine Corps but in July 2016, like his father and his mother, he joined the NYPD. Joseph Vigianio, Jr. was only eight years old when his father died on September 11, 2001. When he joined the NYPD, Joseph Jr. told The New York Daily News, “I’ve been waiting for this all my life. As a kid I always wanted to be a police officer or in the military and now I get to do both.” Though his mother was a cop, she tried to discourage him at first. She relented.
When Joe Jr. graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island a few months before entering the Police Academy, Captain Vigiano asked his grandson’s Drill Instructor if he knew that Joe’s father and uncle were killed on September 11 and if he knew that his grandson was an Eagle Scout. The drill instructor had no idea. Joe Vigiano Jr. remained humble but steadfast, not defined by the tragedies of the past but instead honored to be bound for service. Just like his father and uncle, and like his grandfather.
The Vigiano family exemplifies the exhortation of Jesus who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Like his sons, Captain Vigiano has now fought his last fire. They have given their all. It is now up to us, as Lincoln said:
“…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Semper Fi, Captain.