Gay Talese had met my dad when he was working on the Verazano Bridge in the early 1960’s and he wanted to write a book about the building of the bridge and tell the stories of the men and women who helped in its construction. My dad was a very humble man and he led a simple life in the sense that his life centered around 4 things. His family, his work, his faith and his interests. He was a very loving father and husband and a very dedicated ironworker. When Mr. Talese met my dad he liked him from the start as my dad was a very down to earth, kind and respectful person. Mr Talese sat down and interviewed my dad about a difficult subject in documenting his experiences on the bridge. The story is not easy for my dad to relate because he was so deeply affected by it and because it meant he had to go back and relive the tragedy which hurt him and stayed with him the rest of his life. In the story Mr Talese introduces us to both my dad and Gerard McKee who were both working on the bridge together one fateful day in 1963. My dad had lost 2 fingers on his left hand in a work related accident about a year before so he did not have the same grip that he once had in that hand. As he recalls it he and Gerard were talking as they were preparing for the work day and they went about their business doing their assigned tasks. About 5 or so minutes into starting his work routine my dad heard Gerard apparently calling out his name but he did not see him when he turned in his direction. As he moved closer to his voice he heard his distress and saw Gerard dangling and my dad reacted quickly to try and reach for his co-worker and friend and help pull him up but the position my dad was in and the weight difference and loss of grip in my dad’s left hand played a role as my father tried desparately to grab a hold of him to pull him up. He felt Gerard slipping from his grip as he summoned all his strength and shouted to God but it was all he could do as he felt he also would go over if he held on and as he saw visions of his wife and me, a 2 year old and my sister a new born he felt his friend slip and he saw him fall to his death. It is a very painful story for my dad and his life was shaped in that moment in time as he never truly got over the loss.
After that tragedy the ironworkers gathered at the ground level to pay their last respects for a fellow ironworker who died in the line of duty and they said their prayers and went home as the work day was halted in respect for their fallen ironworker, Gerard McKee. My dad tried to console himself and he was feeling troubled and in pain that he stopped at a local bar to ease his pain with a few drinks. It was a very difficult experience for my dad and when he related it to us many years later you could see how visibly upset he was about it.
Mr. Talese did a wonderful job in writing his story and the story of the other ironworkers on the bridge and the bridge itself. The title of the book was simply called ‘The Bridge” and I have read the chapter devoted to my dad and Gerard many times and I feel my dad’s pain. Another story Mr. Talese wrote about in the book was when my dad went back to the bridge in the early 1990’s to do refurbishing work. It was within a year of mom’s death so dad was feeling sad and depressed at times but felt good when he was working and to be back on the bridge was bittersweet for him. My dad was assigned the task of spraying the red lead paint on the surface of the main towers of the bridge and he went up in a basket that brought him up to the very top where he related a breathtaking view. He was caught up in the moment and he remembered a better time and thought about his wife Catherine and in tribute to her he wrote out her name on the top of the towers with the words to follow “forever in my heart.” He was a very loving husband and was very devoted to mom through the good times and the bad times.
My dad was such a loving father to my 2 sisters and I and we were very fortunate to have such wonderful parents. I always looked up to my dad and respected him. Dad was a very quiet and humble person and one who was admired and loved. He was simple and led an exemplary life. He always encouraged my sisters and I and he was always there for us. When I think back to my dad I remember his dedication and his drive. He was in bed by 9:00 pm and up by 4:00 am to start the workday. I remember as a kid on certain occasions when dad was working overtime and did not call home my mom would worry and I would stay up with her until we knew he arrived safely. I am so very proud of my dad and remember fondly all the different jobs he worked on growing up. My dad played a role in building bridges, hospitals, skycrapers, courthouses, schools, churches, arenas, train stations among so much more. He helped build the Verazano bridge. He worked on the Manhattan bridge, the Queensborough bridge, the Citibank building in Long Island City. In addition he worked on the World Trade Center, the Marriott-Marquis Hotel in Manhattan, the Grace building. He worked on building the courthouse buildings on Court street in Brooklyn. He even worked on John F. Kennedy High school in Bellmore in 1966 where I graduated in 1979 and my sister in 1981.
We have many fond memories of dad. I remember when I was in little league my dad would drive me to my practices and my games and he was always there to give me a pep talk and a boost of confidence. He would always tell me to work hard and never get discouraged and always try my best at everything I tried. He and mom came to my track meets in high school and was very proud of me. I am very fortunate and so very proud of my dad.
I always heard stories where in a baseball game a player would be revered and considered a hero when he gets the game winning home run. Although I love the game of baseball I do not look at a ball player as a hero as I know what a real hero is. I am priveledged to say that my dad is a real hero and my role model.
We lost dad on April 16th 2009 which was a very sad day for our family as we never could have imagined this. I have thought back to all the good times and the sad times and no matter what pain and sadness we experienced at times we were so lucky to have dad in our life as we knew how much he loved mom and how much he loved Kathy, Joan Marie and myself. Dad was special and he had so much love and compassion and he was always putting us and our families ahead of himself. He lived for us and our children. He was so proud of all of us and he was especially proud of all his grandchildren. Dad was my hero and he will always be my hero.
I am so proud of my Dad and I will try to raise my son and give him all my love and support that you and mom gave us.
Thank you Dad! I love you and miss you very much!
You are my inspiration and I will devote my life to my son as you always let me know how special he is.
My Dad, My Hero!