Family’s loss echoes on 9/11 anniversary

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The phone ringing woke me that morning; it was a neighbor telling me the Trade Center towers in New York had collapsed. She knew my son Gary Kavakos was a fireman stationed across the street from the towers. I came fully awake saying “Oh no, I watched the Trade Center being built and it is just not possible that it would fall.” She responded, “Well, you better get up and see for yourself.” I went to the living room, turned on the TV and was stunned to see the rerun of the second plane hitting its target and than the chaos that followed when that building fell. I had spoken to Gary two days before and knew he would be working right in the middle of it all, and was overwhelmed with fear that I had lost him. My phone constantly rang with family and friends from all over the country wanting to know his status. Then, my son-in-law called and without any preamble said, “Mom, he’s all right. He was assigned to drive one of the big engines up to the Bronx for servicing first thing this morning.” My son was safe, but so many others had already died and many more were to die as time passed, including Gary. Christmas of 2002 he came to visit and talked with us about that day: Authorities said the site was safe to work on. But he said none of the men believed them, but they took off their masks anyhow. When his sister asked why he took his off he said, “When you hear a noise and think it could be a buried survivor, the narrow spaces leave no room for clumsy masks. Our job is to save lives and we wanted to do that — save one — even just one. There were so many dead, so many of our own among them. We desperately needed to do our job of saving lives but we were denied. It didn’t happen. They were all dead.” Gary told us on that visit that he wasn’t feeling well but the doctors couldn’t identify the problem. In 2003, he retired long before he had planned. He said he was too weak to do his job and putting his brothers at risk was not an option. He was convinced the illness was caused by all of the hours he had spent working on the “pile.” In 2004 ,he was finally diagnosed with a rare cancer, which was at stage four. He battled and suffered until July 2, 2008 when he died. This strong, vibrant, fun-loving guy was ripped from the fabric of his family and none of us will ever be the same or ever forget. We are only one family among thousands of families who will never be the same and will never forget. No one should ever forget and our nation should be ever vigilant that it never happens again. LOIS CARR, Auburn