Man who lost father, uncle on 9/11 joining NYPD

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DEER PARK, N.Y. (WPIX) -- John and Jan Vigiano of Deer Park learned the true meaning of profound loss 15 years ago this Sunday.

When the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists flying jets, causing their collapse, the couple's two sons were among the missing in the massive pile of burning steel and concrete.

The body of 34-year-old Joseph, a decorated NYPD Emergency Services detective, was ultimately found. The body of their oldest son, John — a 36-year-old Brooklyn firefighter — was never recovered.

"There's no such thing as healing," Jan Vigiano told PIX11 as another, 9/11 anniversary neared, clutching her husband's hand in their living room. "You learn to live with it. You learn to live around it."

Jan and John, a retired FDNY Captain and former Marine, have met some remarkable people during their 15-year odyssey since September 11, 2001. Actor Gary Sinise, a fundraiser for wounded soldiers, is a close friend.

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A group of firefighters walk amid rubble near the base of the destroyed south tower of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. In the worst terror attack on the U.S. mainland in modern history, two hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and a third plane hit the Pentagon, across the Potomac river from Washington. REUTERS/Peter Morgan

Family members of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center gather around the Circle of Honor at the base of the site of the attacks on the one year anniversary of the attacks, in New York, Wednesday, September 11, 2002. (AP Photo/Mike Segar,pool)
Family members of the victims of the the attacks on the World Trade Center enter Ground Zero to pay their respects, September 11, 2003 in New York. U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday commemorated the attacks with subdued events of remembrance, as his government warned of possible bigger terror attacks. REUTERS/Stephen Chernin/POOL SC/GN
People gather at the World Trade center site in New York City, September 11, 2004 on the third anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers. This year, it is the parents and grandparents of World Trade Center victims who will read aloud the names of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Family members make their way down a ramp to the site of the former World Trade Center during ceremonies marking the fourth anniversary of the attack of the twin towers in New York September 11, 2005. Families of victims of the collapse of the World Trade Center were allowed down to two pools of water placed on the ground where the buildings once stood. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn GMH/VP
People gather around a reflecting pool at the bottom of the Ground Zero site of the World Trade Center on the fifth year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, September 11, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES)
Family members of victims pay their respects at the site of the former twin World Trade Center towers in New York September 11, 2007 on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The first steel beams of the new Freedom Tower being constructed on the site are seen in the foreground. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2008, file photo, cranes at left are set up above the foundation for One World Trade Center in New York on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 will be the 14th anniversary of the attacks. Nearly a decade and a half after hijacked planes hit the World Trade Centerâs twin towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa., the anniversary is still marked with observances around the country. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Family members of victims pay their respects at the site of the former twin towers on the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, September 11, 2009. Families of the victims are gathering at the annual ceremony to remember the attacks that killed more than 2,700 people with the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES DISASTER ANNIVERSARY)
Police and firefighters surround the reflecting pool at the World Trade Center site during 9/11 remembrance ceremonies in New York, September 11, 2010. REUTERS/Don Emmert/Pool 
The North Memorial Pool, with 1 World Trade Center under construction at rear, is pictured during ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York September 11, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Deutsch/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: ANNIVERSARY DISASTER)
Friends and relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center attend a ceremony marking the 11th anniversary of the attacks at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
World Trade Center 1 looms over the north reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Allan Tannenbaum/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ANNIVERSARY)
An American flag marks the name of a loved one at the North Pool Memorial site in front of 1 World Trade Center during memorial observances on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Family and friends of those who died read the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/The Daily News, Robert Sabo, Pool)
The One World Trade Center building on the early morning of the 14th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks, on September 11, 2015 in New York.. AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
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But it's their five grandchildren who have truly given them the will to go on.

"They're all beautiful, they're all good, and they make us proud," John Vigiano said. "That's what keeps us going; seeing them succeed."

Their oldest grandson, Joseph Vigiano Jr. is now a recruit in the NYPD Police Academy, following a path forged by his late dad and his mother, Kathy, who met as young officers in Brooklyn's 75th Precinct.

He's also a Marine reservist, after completing boot camp last December.

"This is something I always wanted to do," Joseph Jr. said of his decision to begin a career in law enforcement. "I always wanted to go military, police....possibly fire department."

Joseph's mom—now retired from the NYPD—wasn't so enthusiastic, at first.

"I said, 'No," Kathy Vigiano told PIX11, laughing softly. "It's too dangerous."

But Joe Jr. took the NYPD test with a friend and passed.

"He said, 'Ma, I did college for you. This is for me," Kathy Vigiano recalled.

Joe Jr. graduated from SUNY Maritime last year and, by the fall, he was in boot camp with the United States Marines on Parris Island.

The former Eagle Scout entered the NYPD Police Academy in July 2016, where he's a squad leader overseeing 25 fellow recruits.

Joseph's grandfather, John, had proudly watched the ceremonies on Parris Island, after Joseph completed boot camp.

The grandfather decided to have a brief conversation with the Marine drill instructor.

"I said 'Did you know that his father was killed on 9/11?" John Vigiano recounted to PIX11. "He said, 'No, I did not.' I said 'His father and his uncle. His father was a police officer and his uncle was a fireman," Vigiano recalled.

"I said, 'Did you know he was an Eagle Scout?" the grandfather continued. "He said, 'No, I didn't."

Vigiano explained to the Marine that his grandson had a chance to get a job with a big shipping company, but that Joseph decided he wanted the military background.

"I said 'I just want you to know the young man you're putting on the parade deck tomorrow."

Kathy Vigiano had three sons with Joe, and the middle boy—Jimmy—is also talking about joining the NYPD and the U.S. Marines.

Her youngest son, John, was born three months before 9/11—on June 10, 2001.

He turned 15 this past June.

"I tell time by John," Kathy Vigiano said, tying John's years to the time that's elapsed since the family's loss.
John Vigiano, a high school sophomore, plays lacrosse, like his dad did, and he cherishes a framed picture of him, as an infant, sleeping on his father's chest.

When PIX11 asked John what his mother and grandparents told him about his dad, he smiled and said, "He was funny."

Both Kathy Vigiano and her father-in-law worry about the current tensions between many communities and members of law enforcement.

"I'm actually more fearful of him being a cop than being a Marine," John Vigiano, Sr. said. "The climate in this country, in the last few years, has been anti-police."

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: People tour the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on August 17, 2016 in New York City. Lower Manhattan, previously dominated by the financial industry, has become one of Manhattan's top tourist destinations with memorials to the victims, shopping malls and historical landmarks. Fifteen years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the area around Ground Zero has gone through significant changes but still carries reminders of that day when over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: A visitor to the 9/11 Memorial Museum looks up at the last foundation pillar that was standing from the World Trde Center site on September 01, 2016 in New York City. Lower Manhattan, previously dominated by the financial industry, has become one of Manhattan's top tourist destinations with memorials to the victims, shopping malls and historical landmarks. Fifteen years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the area around Ground Zero has gone through significant changes but still carries reminders of that day when over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: Messages are attached to the last foundation pillar that was standing from the World Trade Center site at the 9/11 Memorial Museum on September 01, 2016 in New York City. Lower Manhattan, previously dominated by the financial industry, has become one of Manhattan's top tourist destinations with memorials to the victims, shopping malls and historical landmarks. Fifteen years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the area around Ground Zero has gone through significant changes but still carries reminders of that day when over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Visitors walk past an exhibit at the National September 11 Museum in New York on February 10, 2015. The only Al-Qaeda plotter convicted over the 9/11 attacks has told American lawyers that members of the Saudi royal family donated millions of dollars to the terror group in the 1990s. French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, dubbed the '20th hijacker,' made the revelations in court papers filed in a New York federal court by lawyers for victims of the attacks who accuse Saudi Arabia of supporting Al-Qaeda. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira (R) visits the National September 11 Museum in New York on February 10, 2015. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is the principal memorial and museum, respectively, commemorating the September 11 attacks of 2001, which killed 2,977 people, and the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, which killed six. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Visitors look at an exhibit at the National September 11 Museum in New York on February 10, 2015. The only Al-Qaeda plotter convicted over the 9/11 attacks has told American lawyers that members of the Saudi royal family donated millions of dollars to the terror group in the 1990s. French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, dubbed the '20th hijacker,' made the revelations in court papers filed in a New York federal court by lawyers for victims of the attacks who accuse Saudi Arabia of supporting Al-Qaeda. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A visitor looks at an exhibit at the National September 11 Museum in New York on February 10, 2015. The only Al-Qaeda plotter convicted over the 9/11 attacks has told American lawyers that members of the Saudi royal family donated millions of dollars to the terror group in the 1990s. French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, dubbed the '20th hijacker,' made the revelations in court papers filed in a New York federal court by lawyers for victims of the attacks who accuse Saudi Arabia of supporting Al-Qaeda. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 23: Portions of the garage survived both the 1993 bombing and the attacks on September 11, 2001. The soot stains seen on this fragment of the B-2 wall are the result of the fires that burned following 9/11. Recovered from the World Trade Center site after September 11, 2001. Photo taken on January 23, 2015 in new York City, New York. (Photo by Jin Lee/9/11 Memorial & Museum/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge view displays during a visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on December 09, 2014 in New York City. The couple, who are traveling without their son Prince George, are on a three-day US east coast visit. This is the Duke and Duchess' first official visit to New York City. ( Photo by Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: People visit the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, United States on May 25, 2014. The National 9/11 Memorial Museum was opened to the public for the first time on May 21, 2014 and telling the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: People visit the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, United States on May 25, 2014. The National 9/11 Memorial Museum was opened to the public for the first time on May 21, 2014 and telling the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: People visit the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, United States on May 25, 2014. The National 9/11 Memorial Museum was opened to the public for the first time on May 21, 2014 and telling the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: People visit the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, United States on May 25, 2014. The National 9/11 Memorial Museum was opened to the public for the first time on May 21, 2014 and telling the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The September 11 Memorial Museum's glass pavilion, center, overlooks the north reflecting pool, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Pope Francis stops to listen to former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (L) describe a steel cross that once stood over Ground Zero during a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, September 25, 2015. Pope Francis visited the former World Trade Center site as part of his five-day trip to the United States. (Jin Lee/911 Memorial Musuem via AP, Pool)
This Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 photo shows the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, center foreground, surrounded by One World Trade Center, left, the white v-shaped transportation hub, center, and 4 World Trade Center, the tall building at right, in New York. The building under construction at center right is 3 World Trade Center. Friday will mark the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
The salvaged tridents from the World Trade Center are seen in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum during a media preview in New York May 14, 2014. A museum commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington is on the verge of opening, with wrenchingly familiar sights as well as artifacts never before on public display. Among the first visitors to the National September 11 Memorial Museum are victims' family members and others intimately involved in its creation who will attend on Thursday, after a Wednesday media preview. The doors open to the general public on May 21. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER SOCIETY)
A man stands in the historical exhibition section of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum during a press preview in New York May 14, 2014. A museum commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington is on the verge of opening, with wrenchingly familiar sights as well as artifacts never before on public display. Among the first visitors to the National September 11 Memorial Museum are victims' family members and others intimately involved in its creation who will attend on Thursday, after a Wednesday media preview. The doors open to the general public on May 21. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER SOCIETY)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York May 15, 2014. The museum, memorializing the September 11, 2001 attacks, opens this week to victims' family members and next week to the public, displaying artifacts from mangled columns recalling the enormity of that fateful day to shattered eyeglasses recalling its personal pain. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
A child lays on the memorial during a ceremony marking the 14th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center at The National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan in New York, September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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Joseph Junior has talked of possibly working in the precinct where his parents met, as young rookies: the 75 in Brooklyn. It was riddled with crack cocaine shootings in the 1980s, but Kathy Vigiano had good memories of her time in East New York.

"I'm not too worried, because I had the community helping me out when I was a police officer there," Kathy Vigiano said. "Overall, the community is great."

In 2004, John Vigiano tapped his brothers in the FDNY community to start the Vigiano Group, which visits wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He had visited Iraq in 2003.

Now, as the family gets ready for this year's 9/11 anniversary, Vigiano—who has battled cancer before and after the terror attacks—offered us his perspective on surviving the unimaginable.

"We were handed a broken egg," Vigiano said, "We could have thrown it away or we could have made an omelette. We made an omelette."

And when the going gets tough for Jan, who said she sometimes smells smoke and feels the presence of her son, John, the firefighter—her husband takes her to the ocean to give her a sense of peace.

"We could always say 'Poor me, why me?" John Vigiano told us. ""That's all B.S. Life is what you make it."

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