Prior to Aug. 4 of this year, I did not know that a Vito Joseph DeLeo existed. That’s all changed now. And it’s all because I, along with a few other slow-moving tourists, missed the ferry back from Staten Island to New York City that recent hot afternoon.
For once in my life, arriving late turned out to be a good thing. Because there was some time to kill before the next boat was to arrive at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, our tour guide suggested we walk to the nearby September 11 Memorial. It is located along the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade, adjacent to the ferry terminal and the Richmond County Ballpark at St. George.
Never mind that the site provides panoramic views of New York Harbor, Lower Manhattan, and the Statue of Liberty. On this same site, Staten Island constructed a place for the loved ones of the victims of September 11 to mourn and reflect, and a place for all visitors to remember those who lost their lives on that tragic day. Staten Island was one of the hardest hit communities on 9/11, losing nearly 270 people in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The solemn, yet uplifting, creation of architect Masayuki Sono features two thin structures resembling postcards - perhaps postcards sent to lost loved ones. Embedded into these two “postcards” are 9-inch by 11-inch granite plaques, each bearing the name, birth date, and place of work of each Staten Island victim, as well as their profile in silhouette. One of these plaques jumped right out at me.
I took a picture, mainly not to forget the name. At the same time, I wanted to find out more about the man who had worked in the HVACR industry, yet passed away far too early.
A LOOK AT A HEROCome to find out DeLeo was a stationary engineer at the World Trade Center. He worked for ABM Industries, among the largest facility services contractors listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They say DeLeo could troubleshoot everything, be it boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment, diesel engines, turbines, generators, pumps, condensers, and compressors. ABM provides janitorial, parking, security, engineering, lighting, and mechanical services for thousands of commercial, industrial, institutional, and retail facilities in hundreds of cities across the United States and British Columbia, Canada.
DeLeo was also partially deafened from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He was 150 feet from the explosion that fateful day. According to family members, he still managed to help people escape from that building.
According to a New York Times account, DeLeo was in court in March 1994 when the four defendants were convicted in that horrible bombing.
“I had chills coming down my body when I heard it,” DeLeo told the newspaper. “For my colleagues who are deceased: We can’t bring you back, but I hope now that your souls will rest in peace. Never surrender.”
Amazingly, DeLeo was back at it again on 9/11, helping people escape from the burning World Trade Center. Unfortunately, facing death a second time, he did not come out alive.
“He was a hero twice,” is how his cousin Helen Potenzano put it.
Through more exploration, I found out that DeLeo was an excellent worker, a good family man, and a lover of hockey. One can get a glimpse of the man by reading the heartfelt testimonies placed at: http://obits.nj.com.
I know that DeLeo was not the only person, linked somehow to the HVACR world, who perished that dreadful day. There were others in this field that did not survive the terrorists’ attacks. As the sixth anniversary of 9/11 passes through this week, let’s not forget DeLeo and all those who died that dreadful day.
Publication date: 09/10/2007