Whether walking, running or watching, Staten Islanders took the time at
the 2002 Memorial Day Run to reconnect with the true spirit of the holiday

As the first notes of the "Star-Spangled Banner" reached us, a choked sob escaped the throat of a man near me, who seemed surprised to hear the sound of his own sorrow. It was as if he'd been holding onto that small measure of grief for all these weeks and months, and couldn't wait any longer to let it go.

Across the way, where the parents of a dead firefighter placed a wreath at the monument to Father Vincent Capodonno, a Marine Corps chaplain killed in Vietnam, a young woman used the back of her arm to wipe her tears.
Then the song was over, and the runners and walkers - 1,845 participants, the largest number in quite some time - started up the street named for the hero priest, a little quieter than usual, for the start of the Memorial Day

If it was an extraordinary start to a race, maybe that's how it had to be on the first Memorial Day after the terrorists drove the airplanes into the World Trade Center, with so many runners wearing buttons honoring the memory
of the Staten Islanders who died Sept. 11, and the names of all 247 on the back of every shirt.

A day earlier in the Advance, doctors wondered why Islanders experienced such a high incidence of post-traumatic stress following the attacks; as if there's any mystery on an island where every family and every block felt the
loss of a friend, relative or neighbor in the first battle of America's war on terrorism.

Now, by honoring the heroes and victims of Sept. 11, they were remembering to honor all those others who died fighting to preserve a way of life. "I look at Staten Island," Mike Brennan, part of an honor guard of Vietnam
veterans, was saying before the race. "We lost 84 in Vietnam. This time we lost 247 ... 84 firemen ... in one day.
"It's like the Staten Island regiment was at Gettysburg, and got wiped out in one day."

Pat Hannafin, one of the hundreds of new competitors who swelled the field, was struck by the number of familiar faces lining the finish. "Staten Island's so small," he said, wearing a button with the likeness of his brother Tommy, a former CSI basketball player and one of the firemen who rushed to the Twin Towers in time to die.
"You see the faces," Hannafin said, "and it gives you strength." On a day like that, when the shared experience was bigger than the difference in finishing times, it made perfect sense that the two guys who dominated the race would be friends and college roommates, drawn more by the chance to run together than for the opportunity to compete.

The night before the race, George Weiner slept at Dan Treglia's house. "He dragged me here," said Weiner, a Brooklynite. The two Penn freshmen broke from a lead pack of eight, pushing and pulling each other along the South Beach boardwalk toward the finish, before Treglia held on to win by a step. It was another minute before the next runners showed up, chased by an hour-long trail of runners, walkers, and powerful emotions.

Eighteen-year-old SARAH MARGIOTTA saw her family waiting at the finish; she thought of her uncle, the dead fire lieutenant - she was wearing number 85, same as CHUCK MARGIOTTA’S old company - and she lost it, right there in front of everyone. "Everything just came out," she said. "I'm not really a runner. But they weren't going to play a softball game in his name, so I had to run."

John Curatolo, one of a family of public servants who lost a brother Sept. 11, missed the pre-race ceremonies. He came straight from a 24-hour shift at Engine 8 in Manhattan - in the hours after midnight, when he might've been
sleeping, they made seven runs - got to the start as the last of the walkers were disappearing down Capodanno Boulevard, and was towed to the finish by Samantha Sanchez, a pitcher on the softball team he coaches.
"They weren't going to start without me," he said. "I wanted to run for my brother." And for his brothers. Engine 8 lost 10 men Sept. 11. Their names were scrolled down the back of Curatolo's shirt. "In the arms of angels," the inscription said.

Who knows, maybe we would've come to a Memorial Day like this on our own, without the events of Sept. 11. Maybe we would've paused to honor the dead, and reflect on the obligations that pass to the living, before we rushed off to the beach.

Anything's possible.

But for one day, at least, we remembered why we used to celebrate Memorial Day before it became another excuse for backyard parties and department store sales.

The instant he crossed the finish line, at the head of his own parade, Dan Treglia turned, and looked back, waiting for his friend to catch up. Then he reached back, his hand reaching for Weiner's, the perfect gesture on the
Memorial Day when Staten Islanders remembered to remember.


 Jay Price / Staten Island Advance