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Remembering Captain John Vigiano, who helped wounded warriors after losing both sons on 9/11

NEW YORK — Retired FDNY Captain John Vigiano was receiving hospice care at his Deer Park home the last two weeks of his life, but one of his visitors—Congressman Peter King—said the proud military veteran was “very much at peace. He knew he was dying. He was not in pain.”

“He was talking away, giving his opinions on politics. His heart and soul was the FDNY, the Marines, and he was very proud of his grandchildren," King said.

John Vigiano and his wife, Jan, had five of them—two granddaughters and three grandsons—who were a great source of comfort to them over the last 17 years.

John and Jan Vigiano lost the only two children they had, sons John and Joey, on September 11, 2001.

John had followed his father into the Fire Department, and Joey was a detective with the elite Emergency Services Unit. Both sons were killed in the collapse of the Twin Towers, which were brought down by jets piloted by terrorists, that had slammed into Towers One and Two that Tuesday morning.

Just before the first anniversary of 9/11, John and Jan Vigiano had given their first in-depth interview to PIX11, about the pain of losing their only children—and the ways they helped each other get through it.

And we stayed in touch all these years later, as Captain Vigiano turned his anguish into advocacy for the nation’s wounded warriors, who were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq after the terror acts that took his sons’ lives.

One of the critically wounded he helped was Brendan Marrocco of Staten Island.

Captain Vigiano was visiting soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland in 2009 when Marrocco was brought in. He was the first military man serving in the War on Terror to survive a quadruple amputation.

Captain Vigiano went to Marrocco’s room and kissed him on the forehead.

Marrocco said, “I’m all sweaty.”

Vigiano replied simply, “It don’t matter to me.”

The retired Captain didn’t tell Marrocco at the time that he’d lost both sons on 9/11.

Within two years, Captain Vigiano had spearheaded efforts to get a custom-built home ready for Marrocco on Staten Island, constructed by active and retired firefighters.

During one trip to visit service members overseas, Captain Vigiano met actor Gary Sinise, who had started the Gary Sinise Foundation to help the nation’s most severely wounded soldiers.

The two became close friends.

In recent years, PIX11 spoke to Captain Vigiano about his two, oldest grandsons joining the Marines.

The oldest, Joey, also followed his father into the NYPD.

At the time, Captain Vigiano said he worried more about his grandson working in a hostile city environment than a wartime environment.

Captain Vigiano had first battled throat cancer way back in 1984, losing part of his neck tissue in the surgery. He remained with the FDNY until 1998, giving 36 years to the job. He served in Ladder 103, as a Lieutenant in Rescue 2, and then a Captain in Ladder Company 176.

Vigiano traveled around the world post-9/11, receiving the French Government’s highest honor as a representative for the FDNY.

A short documentary about his sons, called Twin Towers, won an Oscar.

Congressman King called Vigiano “one of the strongest, most courageous men I ever met. He never ever looked for any kind of pity.”

Perhaps Captain Vigiano himself wrote the best epitaph for himself.

In his last interview with PIX11, shortly before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, he observed, “Life is what you make of it.”

Captain Vigiano would have turned 80 years old on November 23.