9/11 First Responders Honored at White House
Island relatives witness Congressional Medal of Valor posthumously awarded to 442 people
Saturday, September 10, 2005

WASHINGTON -- As Firefighter CHARLES MARGIOTTA of Meiers Corners approached the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he called his mother, Molly, from the rig of Concord-based Rescue Co. 5. "It's bad, Ma," he told her. "I love you."

Yesterday, MARGIOTTA was among the 442 first responders killed in the attacks to be awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Valor -- the nation's highest honor for public safety personnel -- during a White House ceremony hosted by President George W. Bush.

"He was a wonderful husband, father and son. You could go on and on," said MARGIOTTA'S widow, Norma.

"Each day of our lives, we miss him," said Mrs. Margiotta as she sat on the South Lawn behind the White House with her son, Charles Vito II, 15, and her daughter, Norma Jean, 17, who wore one of her father's dress-white uniform shirts.

MARGIOTTA, who was off-duty at the time of the attacks, was among 78 firefighters and three police officers from Staten Island who were killed at the Trade Center.

"We know the sense of loss you feel will not disappear with time," said Bush in a brief speech to the approximately 1,200 guests -- most of whom were victims' relatives who traveled to the nation's capital for the ceremony.

The president praised the fallen first responders for "performing with extraordinary distinction in the face of unspeakable horror." "We honor a group whose bravery and commitment to their fellow citizens showed us the true meaning of Americanism," Bush said.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales opened the event by reading the names of all 442 award recipients. "They risked their lives in the shadow of destruction," he said.

In addition to the MARGIOTTAS, other entire families made the trip here for the ceremony. Each received up to three free plane tickets from the White House.

"I thought it was beautiful," said Madeline Bergin of New Dorp, the widow of Firefighter John Bergin. She was accompanied by daughters Katie, 15, and Shannon, 10, and son John, 13. "Everybody loved him," said Katie of her father. "He would do anything for anybody." "It's still hard," said John Leavy of the loss of his son, Firefighter Neil Leavy of Graniteville. "There will never be any closure, as far as I am concerned." Leavy, a former Staten Islander who now lives in Bayonne, N.J., came with his wife, Anne, and another son, Mark, 35, of Long Island. "He was a regular guy," said Mark Leavy of his firefighter brother. "You could always depend on him."

Capt. Martin Egan of Great Kills was represented by his wife, Diane, and son, Sean, 9, as well as a brother, Michael, his father, Martin Sr., and his grandmother, Margaret McKeever. "He was my buddy," said Mrs. McKeever, who attended in a wheelchair. "Anything I asked him to do, he did."
Also there were Frank and Russell Siller and Janis Hannan, siblings of Firefighter Stephen Siller of West Brighton; Barbara Olsen, the mother of Firefighter Eric Olsen of Eltingville; Al Richichi, the father-in-law of Firefighter Paul Pansini of Tottenville; Gerard and Nancy Chipura, the brother and sister of Firefighter John Chipura of Tottenville, and members of Tottenville Firefighter Scott Davidson's family, including his son, Peter.
Also attending the ceremony were Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Vito Fossella, City Councilman Andrew Lanza and Assemblyman Vincent Ignizio. "I think it's very important that these people not be forgotten," said Fossella (R-Brooklyn/Staten Island) of the first responders, adding that "in many cases they were my friends and neighbors." "I'm glad the president did what he did, and I think it goes a long way for the families," said Lanza (R-South Shore). Ignizio (R-South Shore) called the event "poignant," adding: "Ceremonies like this underline how many people Staten Island lost on 9/11."

"The vivid memory of loved ones lost ... is transmitted to every one of us on days like this," said Schumer.

Bush said the courage of the Sept. 11 first responders was being emulated by the rescuers who have converged on the Gulf Coast areas battered by Hurricane Katrina.
"When America has been challenged, there have always been citizens willing to step forward and risk their lives for the rest of us," he said.

 Terence J Kivlan / Staten Island Advance - Washington Bureau