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As StoryCorps marks 20 years, we commemorate a family's service on Sept. 11


Each Friday this month, we're marking 20 years of StoryCorps. We're revisiting classic conversations from the past two decades and bringing you updates on the participants. Today, a 2007 recording from the StoryCorps September 11th Initiative. It collects the stories of survivors, recovery workers and family members who lost loved ones that day. Retired firefighter John Vigiano Sr. lost two sons in the attack on the World Trade Center. John Vigiano Jr. was a firefighter, like his father. Joe Vigiano was a police detective.

JOHN VIGIANO SR: There were a couple of days each year you were allowed to take your children to work, and Joe loved it. That was his birthday present, that he would come and spend the night in the firehouse. We'd have a cake. And the guys I worked with, they would take a milk container, and they'd cut out the facsimile of a building. And they'd put it on the top of the cake, and then they would light it up. And they would tell Joe to put it out, and he would throw a pot of water on it. The birthday cake was a little soggy, but this is what he wanted. Joe started dating a young lady whose father was a police officer. And he came home one day, and he says, I'm taking the police test. I said, Joe, you're only 17 years old. He said, no big deal.

On the other side of the room, my son John wanted nothing to do with police or fire department. He was going to make $1 million and take care of his mother and father. But in 1984, I came down with throat cancer. He noticed then how my unit, they took care of us. And he says, I'm going to become a fireman. I said, you're kidding me. Firemen don't make millions of dollars. How am I going to live like a king? But I was very happy, very proud.

My father had been on the fire department, and he was the first one to be issued Badge No. 3436. And when John decided he wanted to be a firefighter, they reissued it to my son John, so the badge was only used by two. Both the boys would call me when they were working, talk for a few minutes. And I'd say, all right, be careful. I love you. John would always call around 3:30, 4 o'clock. And that particular night, September 10, I says, look out for your brother tonight. He'll be haunting the city. And he says, OK, I love you. I says, I love you.

Joe called me in the morning and told me to turn on the television, that a plane just hit the Trade Center. He says, I'm heading south on West Street. This is a big one. And I just said, you know, be careful. I love you. He said, I love you, too. That was it. We had the boys for - John for 36 years, Joe for 34 years - ironically, Badge No. 3436. I don't have any could've, should've or would've. I wouldn't have changed anything. There's not many people that the last words they said to their son or daughter was I love you, and the last words that they heard was I love you, so that makes me sleep at night.


JOHN VIGIANO SR: We have five beautiful grandchildren, five little munchkins that I see my sons in, in so many ways - looks, personality. Amazing. They're amazing children, so we feel blessed.


JOSEPH VIGIANO: My name is Joseph Vigiano. I'm Detective Joseph Vigiano's son. And my grandfather was John Vigiano Sr. My grandfather passed five years ago. They were saying that the cancer that eventually took his life was related to the World Trade Center. He was down there for months with the recovery efforts, looked for my dad and uncle. But his legacy, I think he would want to be remembered as a good father. He had a firm understanding of service and sacrifice, and he would pass that onto us. Today, I'm a police officer with the emergency service unit, the same unit that my father was a member of.

Originally, that wasn't the plan. I kind of wanted to grow up and be a paleontologist. (Laughter) Favorite movie was "Jurassic Park" growing up. But after my father's passing - I was 8 years old, and that set me on my course where I am now. When I was in the police academy, I had requested to take my dad's PO shield, 19363. But unfortunately, it was already taken by an officer that was up in the Bronx. And when he found out that I had requested it, he willingly gave up that shield number and let me have it. And then he took on a new one, you know, just a few years before his retirement.

I mean, putting on that uniform and then seeing those numbers is special. My mom also served in the New York City Police Department as a cop for 20 years. That's how she met my father. It's funny because I can drive home and call her on the phone and complain about things at work, and she understands it just as well as the guys I sit with every day. My brother works in the 75th Precinct as well, and he actually has my mom's shield number, so it's heavyweight. People are looking at you to see, like, what is Vig's kid doing, you know, because they have expectations.

Everybody loved my grandfather. They loved my dad, you know, my uncle. And they were heroes. I mean, I wish my grandfather was still around to seek guidance from. I don't think jealousy is the right word, but the members of the fire department, they got to experience his leadership. And that's a special thing. And as I get a little older, become a father - you know, I'm married now, you know, gaining experience through life and at home - I wish I had him to, you know, lean on a little bit.


FADEL: New York City police officer Joe Vigiano remembering his grandfather, retired firefighter John Vigiano Sr. StoryCorps is trying to record one interview for each life lost on September 11, 2001. Those conversations are archived at both the Library of Congress and at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Garofalo