Home > All Posts > 9/11 Father Lee Ielpi: ‘I Don’t Understand All of This Hate’

9/11 Father Lee Ielpi: ‘I Don’t Understand All of This Hate’

Something of a reminder for all of us on this day that will be present in the memory of the American people forever.  Hopefully the hate carried by some will not be part of that memory.

9/11 Father Lee Ielpi: ‘I Don’t Understand All of This Hate’.

9/11 Father: ‘I Don’t Understand All of This Hate’

Updated: 12 hours 26 minutes ago
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Deborah Hastings

(Sept. 9) — Of all the things he carries in his heart — grief, pain, longing and loss — Lee Ielpi refuses to carry hate.

He carried the body of his firefighter son, 29-year-old Jonathan Ielpi, from the choking, twisted rubble of the World Trade Center. That was burden enough for the father of four grown children who gave 26 years of his life to the Fire Department of New York.

Nine years later, he has no time for the rhetoric of a small Florida pastor who said he would burn copies of the “evil” Quran, Islam’s holy book, on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The pastor, Terry Jones, announced Thursday afternoon that he was calling off the plans but later said he might reconsider the cancellation.

Retired New York City firefighter Lee Ielpi World Trade Center 911

Mark Lennihan, AP
Retired New York City firefighter Lee Ielpi, seen here in December 2001 at the site of the World Trade Center in New York, volunteered in the recovery effort and helped carry his son Jonathan’s remains from the site.

“I don’t understand all of this hate,” Ielpi, 66, told AOL News. “I’m not sure where these things come from. What’s it going to do except promote hate?”

He pleads for tolerance. Especially on Saturday.

“It should be a special day to remember these people,” he says. “You know how many people are still missing? Where they’ve found nothing (of them)? One thousand, one hundred and twenty-five.”

Tribute WTC Visitor Center, which Ielpi helped found while city planners argued over a memorial site at ground zero, issued a public statement earlier this week saying it would be “disrespectful” to protest a planned Islamic center two blocks away. Both sides of the project have called for demonstrations Saturday.

Ielpi will be at the 16-acre graveyard where he helped dig his son from the ashes, watching the annual memorial, listening to its somber reading of the names of more than 2,700 — firefighters, paramedics, office workers, busboys, janitors, financial executives, airline pilots, passengers and flight attendants — who perished when two hijacked jetliners slammed into the twin towers.

“People ask constantly, ‘What’s it like?’ And I have a very simple answer: It’s been nine years since I’ve seen my son.”

Jonathan Ielpi was a husband and father of two young sons when he died in the towers. His father rushed to the wreckage and started to dig. So did Jonathan’s brother, Brendan, just four months on the job as a firefighter in Brooklyn.

Days turned into weeks, but the Ielpi men kept digging. They helped carry out many bodies, and pieces of bodies, but none belonged to Jonathan.

The family had a funeral without his remains. Still, father and son kept dragging themselves to the steaming site. Every day, for hours and hours, they shoveled and pulled and heaved. Firefighters have a code: No one is left behind. Every firefighter gets carried out by his comrades.

It was winter when rescuers finally found Ielpi’s first-born. They called Lee Ielpi at home on Long Island. On a cold December morning, Lee and Brendan helped carry the stretcher that bore what was left of Jonathan. By their sides were Jonathan’s colleagues from Engine 288 in Queens.

“We were blessed,” Ielpi says. “We were blessed that we got to carry him out.”

Brendan Ielpi is still fighting fires in Brooklyn. Jonathan’s boys are now 18 and 12. Their mother has remarried.

She has trouble talking about Jonathan’s death, Ielpi says. Andrew, the eldest, has trouble talking about his father’s death. Austin, the youngest, has no real memories of his dad. He was 3 years old on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s hard for all the children who’ve grown up without a mom or dad,” he says. “There is no rest. There is zero rest for the families.”

Asked how he copes with what he carries in his heart, Ielpi breaks down. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’m able to talk about it, every day.”

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At Tribute WTC, next to ground zero, Ielpi gives guided tours of the site, and of the visitor’s center that contains artifacts including Jonathan’s battered yellow “turncoat” with his last name stenciled on the back. He has become an activist for the families left behind.

The organization he helped establish provides education tutorials on its website for teaching children the lessons of 9/11. Lessons that include what it’s like to suffer loss and how to continue living when it may seem easier to succumb to anger or despair.

“Tomorrow can be a better day,” Ielpi says. “I can’t bring my son back. I wish to God that I could. But maybe I can make a better day for my grandkids. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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