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Burden of Steel, Legacy of Honor
by U.S. Army Sgt. Ian Withrow - March 27, 2016

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GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - All give some - some give all. Truer words cannot be said of those who choose a life of service to their fellow countrymen, and the life of one such man touched U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the evening of Feb. 21, 2016. John Vigiano a former Marine, National Guardsman and a retired New York City Fire Department captain was honored at the “9/11 World Trade Center Ceremony,” at the Joint Task force Guantanamo Troopers' Chapel.

Vigiano, like the rest of America, was struck deeply by the events of 9/11, perhaps deeper than most, as that was the day he lost his two sons: John T. Vigiano Jr., an FDNY firefighter, and Joseph V. Vigiano, a New York Police Department detective. Vigiano spoke to both of his sons before the attacks. Both calls ended with “I love yous.” It was the last time he would speak to either of them.

Captain John T. Vigiano, Vice President, Fire Department New York Marine Corps Association, delivers a speech during a Memorial Monument Dedication Ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va., Oct. 5, 2014. The National Museum of the Marine Corps dedicated a monument in honor of 17 New York City firefighters, who died on Sept. 11, 2001 and were also Marines. A total of 343 New York firefighters died that day. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)
Captain John T. Vigiano, Vice President, Fire Department New York Marine Corps Association, delivers a speech during a Memorial Monument Dedication Ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va., Oct. 5, 2014. The National Museum of the Marine Corps dedicated a monument in honor of 17 New York City firefighters, who died on Sept. 11, 2001 and were also Marines. A total of 343 New York firefighters died that day. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)

Nearly 15 years later, Vigiano visited GTMO in part to view the ongoing military commission proceedings, to offer his appreciation for the difficult and important duties carried out here, and to speak to some of the troopers who carry out those duties. Within the beige walls of the JTF Troopers' Chapel, he expressed his thanks for the men and women serving here and brought special gifts.

Vigiano presented Marine Maj. Daniel J. Macsay, commander of the MCSFCO, and Joint Task Force Guantanamo Commander Navy Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke with plaques that held pieces of steel from the World Trade Center towers.

“This piece of steel represents the tremendous strength of 343 firefighters and 23 NYPD officers who died on 9/11 so that thousands of others could live,” said Vigiano. “My wife and I lost our two sons that day, John, a NYPD firefighter, and Joe, a New York City police officer. Not a day goes by that we don't think of them or miss them, they were among the first casualties of this war on terror.”

Vigiano said he did not intend for this gesture to the JTF and the MCSFCO to turn into such a grand affair.

“When we talked about this, it was just ‘can I send them a piece of steel,'” said Vigiano. “Well, you guys got into it big time.”

The service members, who packed the small building, met this comment, among many others, with a thunderous standing ovation.

“You are the guys that nobody hears about,” said Vigiano. “You're the ones that are in the shadows. So I admire you, I am here with my grandson; we are here, to thank you.”

Macsay said the MCSFCO was honored by Vigiano's gift and confirmed it would be displayed proudly where Marines would see it daily.

“It's very humbling,” said Macsay. “I'm really thankful to be a part of it. There's not many people that can say they have had an exchange like this, on a personal level, about an event that's impacted so many people, especially in the military.”

Clarke also spoke gratefully of the plaque given to the JTF, stating it was an honor to meet Vigiano and the other victim families, who are at GTMO this week for the commissions hearings. Clarke said it was important to meet the survivors to honor the memories of the fallen.

“[Vigiano] presented the Marine Corps Security Force Company and the Joint Task Force with a memento, a piece of steel from World Trade Center to honor us, but the honor truly is ours,” said Clarke.

Vigiano's years of service and sacrifice, as well as the brave actions of his sons, now have tangible reminders at GTMO, a place already firmly tied to the events of 9/11. Vigiano, as well as the other family members, are also on the island to observe the commissions proceedings for the “9/11 Five.”

Learn more about the Office of Military Commissions

By U.S. Army Sgt. Ian Withrow
Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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