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Lee Ielpi Keeps Memory of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Alive

Retired firefighter devotes energy to sharing stories

Hope for tomorrow

Ielpi never uses the words "killed" or "died" or "lost their lives." He insists on "murdered." He often pauses; even now composure seems difficult.

"Of the 2,749 people who were murdered here, there are only 174 whole bodies; 19,979 body parts were found. Ten thousand are still unidentified; 1,122 are missing and unaccounted for."

What does he hope to accomplish by his commitment to the association? "You have to make tomorrow a better day. I can't bring my son back, but we can do it better for the children of the world."

Ielpi says he lost 80 to 100 friends, but there are people who lost their mothers and fathers. "There is no way to explain what they went through," he says. "A good friend of mine also lost his son here. The very first notification was that they found his heart, just his heart. What about the person that found that heart? What about the people at the medical examiner's office? You think they're used to this? There have been suicides, alcohol is a major problem, drugs. In 2006 I developed lung cancer, not curable but treatable.

"Still, you have to leave with a positive thought," he says. "What's important that we can give?"

Keeping the faith

Jonathan's body was found three months after the attack. Ielpi received a phone call at home with the news.

"In the tradition of the fire department, we carry out our own. Jonathan was in a basket, something like a stretcher, with a flag over him. Myself and Brendan, we carried him to the ambulance."

Despite the tragedy suffered by him and his family, as well as countless others, Ielpi still has faith.

"The easiest thing is to lose faith, to have hate in your body and your mind," Ielpi continues. "What good is that to me? I could hate God, I could hate terrorists, I could hate Islam, but there are so many beautiful Muslim people there … so then, how do you lose your faith in God? You can't."

Also of interest: Ways to volunteer, make a difference. >>

Marlene Fanta Shyer is a writer in New York.

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