The Last Day at Ground Zero



NEW YORK -- They were there when fires burned, days after the attacks. They were there when bodies were carried out with honors.

Now, a handful of fathers who have taken comfort in gathering together at the site each day, must say goodbye to their daily ritual as the recovery effort shifts away from the World Trade Center site.

Some have recovered their sons; others have not. Now, as the site of the twin towers closes, the fathers move on, each in their own way.

"There's no closure," said retired firefighter Bill Butler, who lost his 37-year-old son, Thomas, and who has spent six to seven days a week working at the World Trade Center site. "At this point, I doubt very much we're going to bring my son home. There's going to be a lot of us that are not going to bring our boys home and there's a lot of people we're not going to recover and a lot of people are going to be left here."

"I want it over," said retired firefighter John Vigiano, who lost two sons, John and Joseph. "I hope they recover everybody they can. I hope these families can get some semblance of life back to their existence. I'll come here when there's a monument built but I won't come here after that."

But other fathers plan to come back on a daily basis.

Lee Lelpi recovered his son, Jonathan, in December and vows to stay on the front lines in the city's rebuilding effort.

"What I want to do is probably going to benefit everybody that lost loved ones here," Lelpi said. "Make sure that this site is handled with respect, which it will be, and nobody said it wasn’t. Make sure we're going to have a fitting memorial built here. So, if I can be a part of that, well, I'm going to go for it and it will help me, keep me going."

For fathers like Dennis Oberg, who still waits for his son's remains to be identified, the end of recovery work at the site does not signify the end.

"If my son isn't found here, we're going to have to wait for the medical examiner to call," Oberg said. "There's not going to be any closure for me or my family because it just broke out hearts."

As time moves on after Thursday, when the city will hold a ceremony to mark the shift from recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site to further efforts at Fresh Kills Landfill, each father will find his own way to cope with the days ahead.

"Our lives will, as nature has it, go on," said retired fire Chief Albert Petrocelli, whose son, Mike, worked for Carr Futures in tower 1. "And it's only through nature because we don't feel we can go on, but yet the morning comes, and we wake up."

"I have to try to keep my faith and just go on," added retired firefighter George Reilly, who lost his son, Kevin. "That's what we can do."