A funeral 15 years after 9/11: Vial of FDNY chief’s blood gives family closure
ST. JAMES, New York (CNN) — New York firefighter Michael Stack was angry for years after he lost his father on September 11, 2001.
He was angry that his dad, an FDNY battalion chief whose remains were never found, had missed so much of his life. He was angry every time one of his four children was christened and his father wasn’t there to witness it. And he remained angry when his brother Brian, also an FDNY firefighter, got married and had children of his own who would never meet their grandfather.
But on Friday — a beautiful late spring morning on Long Island — Stack announced to a crowd of family and colleagues: “I’m not mad anymore.” Because 15 years after Battalion Chief Lawrence “Larry” Stack died in the World Trade Center attacks, his family finally had recovered a part of him that once flowed through his heart, a part of Larry Stack that finally could be laid to rest: a vial of blood.
Helping ‘even the smallest’
Larry Stack was a man who, by all accounts, was kind, selfless, and brave. Prior to his 33 years of service with the FDNY, he served in the United States Navy for six years, including a tour of duty in Vietnam.
Among his efforts to help others, he donated blood, according to Father Thomas J. Haggerty, a pastor who presided over Stack’s funeral.
He was “reaching out to even the smallest and least among us,” Haggerty said.
That was just one of many acts of kindness Larry Stack was known for. So on that clear September morning when he witnessed a plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center from the rooftop of his ladder company in Brooklyn, it was no surprise to anyone when Larry Stack headed straight to the scene.
‘Holding out hope’
A few months after September 11, 2001, the loss of his father still fresh, Michael Stack remembers helping his great-aunt put together a computer desk.
“When I was done, I saw an email that she printed in the garbage. I guess she was testing her printer out. Anyway, the email she sent to a friend read, ‘I don’t think we’re going to get back my nephew Larry.'”
Michael Stack, then only 31 years old, was still holding out hope. And then a few more months passed. The months became years. The years became a decade.
And then after 15 years, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to find some part of their father that still remained, the family remembered the blood donations Larry Stack had given prior to September 11.
They contacted the New York Blood Center “in hopes that blood the Chief had donated several years ago would still be saved in their bank,” according to a post on FDNY’s Facebook.
To the family’s elation, the New York Blood Center confirmed that some of his blood was still in their possession. Finally, Michael Stack and his family had found their father, a vital part of him that once flowed through his veins, that once supplied oxygen to his lungs.
“There are not words for what this means to us. It is our honor to help and we honor you all,” the blood center wrote back in response on Facebook.
For Michael Stack that small vial of blood meant his father could finally get the long-deserved respect and service fitting a man of his stature.
“We waited long enough, and we know it was done right today,” Michael Stack said. “Everyone in the Catholic faith deserves a massive Catholic burial. Well … we got it.”
‘I think they’re gonna need us’
Larry Stack was putting the finishing touches on a fire investigation report when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. He and others ran to the roof of their ladder company in Brooklyn to see what was going on, according to his son, Michael.
“While on the roof, my father was watching the burning North Tower though a pair of binoculars, when all of a sudden, a second plane crashed into the South Tower,” Michael Stack said, having heard accounts from his father’s co-workers.
Larry Stack turned to everybody on the roof, and said, “I think they’re gonna need us over there,” according to Michael.
“My dad called my mom as they headed over the Brooklyn Bridge, to tell her that he loved her, and to not make dinner that night,” Michael said.
Once at the scene, Larry Stack narrowly escaped the collapse of the South Tower. His firefighter’s coat became stuck, and he wiggled his way out of it, leaving the coat behind. He also helped free a lieutenant who was pinned under debris and helped him and another lieutenant through a stairwell to an exit. He told the two lieutenants to run as fast as they could, and keep running.
By the stairwell exit, Larry Stack then came across an injured man, who he feared had a severed Achilles tendon and couldn’t move. The two lieutenants came back and offered to help, but the battalion chief again told them to run.
“My father stayed with the man, probably telling him all the while, everything was going to be all right,” Michael said, his steady voice breaking as he remembered his father’s sacrifice.
“The North Tower collapsed. He never left that man,” Michael Stack told funeral-goers.
‘Loud and clear’
In the 15 years since 9/11, New York City has seen two new mayors. One World Trade Center, built near the site of ground zero, has added a new beacon to the city’s iconic skyline. Two memorial fountains now sit where the twin towers once stood.
Michael Stack, then a young FDNY upstart, is now a lieutenant with a wife and four children.
Of the 343 FDNY members who lost their lives on September 11, remains of 127 have never been recovered.
On Friday, funeral services for Larry Stack at a church on Long Island provided some closure for a family that has been grieving for 15 years. Burial at a military cemetery also on Long Island will take place later.
“He’s finally being laid to rest, in a place he rightfully earned,” Michael said. “The dead can’t speak, but when you go to a place like Arlington National, Cypress Hills, or Calverton (Cemetery), where my dad’s going, those headstones speak loud and clear to me.”
Larry’s widow, Terri, wept quietly as she followed a casket draped with an American flag out of the funeral service Friday. She was surrounded by her family, and members of the FDNY. She wore a white dress.
Friday would have been Larry and Terri’s 49th wedding anniversary.