PARIS (AP) - Retired firefighter John Vigiano stood silently
Friday as he accepted a French award on behalf of the New York Fire
Department for courage in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
But on his mind was his personal loss: two of his sons were
killed in the assault.
"They were heroes," said Vigiano of Deer Park, N.Y., showing
the photographs of his fallen sons - one a firefighter and one a
detective - that he keeps taped on the inside of his blue cap.
Vigiano, a retired captain with 36 years in the department, and
five other firefighters accepted France's Gold Medal for an Act of
Courage and Devotion in an elaborate ceremony at the Interior
Ministry.
The World Trade Center attacks killed 343 firefighters.
The firefighters stood in formation as French Interior Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy pinned the medal on a red and white NYFD flag and a
marching band played the Star Spangled Banner.
The firefighters and family members of colleagues killed in the
attacks are in France to mark the signing of a cooperation
agreement between the New York and Paris departments and attend
celebrations on Sunday for Bastille Day, France's national holiday.
"This is spectacular," said Adam Vilagos, a firefighter based
in Brooklyn. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime. I think it's a great
honor for the fire department."
Squads of Paris firefighters and the national police also
attended the ceremony.
The Bastille Day parade this year will include a squad of more
than 160 cadets from the West Point military academy. The cadets
are the guests of the French military academy of St. Cyr to
celebrate the two institutions' 200th anniversary. Both were
founded in 1802.
The cadets held a practice march early Friday down the sweeping
Champs-Elysees, site of the Bastille Day parade.
The inclusion this year of the cadets "shows the American
people that the French really appreciate what we've done," said
cadet Olivia Zimmerman.
The families of the fallen firefighters arrived on Monday,
greeted at Charles de Gaulle airport by members of the Paris Fire
Department. Many of the guests brought children.
The cooperation firefighting agreement will be signed in a
ceremony Saturday, and the French firefighters will present a
painting they have commissioned to honor their New York colleagues.
That night, the guests will attend the traditional Firefighters'
Ball, held on the eve of Bastille Day.
On Sunday, the families will watch the parade down the
tree-lined avenue and attend President Jacques Chirac's annual
garden party at the presidential palace.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press