The thing about history and the past is that we get so caught up in events and generalizations that we forget that people, just like us, lived their own individual lives.
My Uncle Phil died on September 11, 2001. He is a hero, for sure, but he was also an incredible human being who was a father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, firefighter, and friend.
It’s important to remember the ultimate sacrifice he made for others with his life, but it’s even more important for me to remember the life he led with a full heart.
My mom’s side of the family is very close. While my immediate family moved a few times, everyone else remained in New York and we made time to see them fairly often. I am so grateful for that.
A lot of the time we stayed with my grandparents when we would visit. That’s where I have some of my favorite memories with my Uncle Phil. He would come over in the morning and bring us authentic New York bagels (delicious!) and we’d all hang out at breakfast.
One of the things I loved most about my Uncle Phil is that he would listen to me as if I was an adult. I would talk to him about school, the different activities I was participating in, and what I was up to in general.
I was 11 years old when he died.
But I still have the memories of him and what he brought to our family. Uncle Phil had a really distinct throaty laugh, a huge winning smile, and was the bearer of big hugs.
When I was probably about 5 years old I visited Uncle Phil at the firehouse. We got to hop into the firetruck, color and learn about fire safety, and eat with some of the firefighters.
It was the first time I ever had a New York eggcream. Now, whenever I have that I think of him.
My uncle also taught me how to play soccer. I loved playing, running around, and having fun with him and my cousins (his kids).
The weekend after September 11th I played a game and scored my first and only hat trick (3 goals). Ever since, whenever I stepped out on the field I would think of him.
Uncle Phil really valued hard work. He was proud of his kids for trying their best in school and elsewhere, and this pride trickled down to his nieces and nephews as well.
He studied and worked hard to become a Lieutenant and was studying even harder to try to become a Captain in the FDNY. Despite having a tough work schedule, he still made sure he had time for the most important thing: FAMILY.
He lived life to the fullest. My uncle was a loving and compassionate person who enjoyed being with his family and friends, participating and watching sports, and generally having a good time (truly, the finer things in life).
When I was in fourth grade we had to write about a person or people in our lives who we thought were our heroes and draw a picture of them.
I chose my Uncle Phil and my Uncle Tommy, who were both NYC firefighters (and brothers). Little did I know that a little over a year later Uncle Phil would perish on September 11, 2001.
I was able to give copies of the piece to both of my uncles. Unfortunately, someone had drawn something on my artwork so my uncles ended up looking like a bizarre version of Bert and Ernie!
My Uncle Phil inspired me to be the best person I could be. If you took the time to read this post, I hope you take a little more time to remember all those who died on September 11, 2001 and remember that they too had lives before their tragic deaths.
This is the I wrote for my Uncle Phil and Uncle Tommy:
My Heroes, Uncle Phil and Uncle Tommy
My two uncles Uncle Phil and Uncle Tommy are heroes to me and many other people. They are N.Y. city firefighters, everyday they are courageous, generous, and unselfish. They are both courageous enough to enter burning buildings, to put out the fires and to save other people’s lives. They are generous and unselfish because they risk their lives to save other people’s lives. Also, they teach children fire safety, and like to have children come visit their firehouses. As you can see, these two courageous N.Y. city firefighters are heroes to me and many other people. (May 2000)