SWFL woman remembers her father’s bravery on 9/11
As we prepare to mark 20 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, family members of the fallen brace for another tough day.
“It’s every single year it’s replayed, and I’m literally watching my parent being murdered every single year, and that’s just something that will never get easier,” Francesca DeVito said.
DeVito lost her father on 9/11 when she was 13 years old. He was a lieutenant with the New Jersey Port Authority and went to ground zero that day to help.
We sat down with DeVito to reflect on that fateful day and her father’s memory.
A gentle giant. A hero. A friend. And to Francesca DeVito, Robert Cirri was a loving dad.
“He just lived to help people,” DeVito said. “His voice kind of sounded like Sylvester Stallone. That deep, raspy, ‘Come here; do your homework.’ That’s exactly what he sounded like.”
In her Golden Gate Estates home, DeVito’s father keeps watch over them. His oil painting is on the wall and memorabilia in a cabinet at home.
Devito wants to remember how her father lived. But as 9/11 approaches, it’s impossible not to think about how he died at ground zero.
“And he went in because his transcripts said he was supposed to leave,” DeVito explained. “They were in the north tower, and they made it to like the 30-something floor, and there was still one lady that they had to get out.”
“But I guess something happened with her legs being injured, so he had a stair chair that firefighters use,” DeVito said. “He wouldn’t leave her, and his transcripts were like ‘No, I’m not leaving her.’”
“I was in English class when the first tower was hit,” DeVito said.
“And you just saw the twin towers burning, and I saw the second plane hit on TV,” DeVito said. “And my cousin was in my classroom, and I turned around; I said, ‘He’s there,’ and he’s like, ‘What do you mean he’s there?’ I was like, ‘He’s there. I know he’s there. Like, I’m really scared.’”
“I remember doing the rosary, and I just said, like, out loud, like, ‘God, why would you let something so bad happened?’” DeVito said. “And by 10 p.m.-ish, Port Authority contacted my mom. He’s missing in action, and I’ll never forget that.”
Adding to the pain and grief was Devito’s last conversation with her father.
“I was grounded the night before 9/11, and my last words to my dad, were, ‘I hate you for grounding me,’” DeVito said.
But I have to come to peace with that. Because if I don’t, I’m going to torture my soul, and that’s no way to live, and he wouldn’t want that for me either.”
“People forget with 9/11 that there was kids that lost their parents, and those kids are adults,” DeVito said. “I’m 33. I had to walk myself down an aisle for my wedding, which is not fair. My mom is a widow. She was supposed to grow old with him.”
Now, she never takes love for granted and makes sure her father’s memory lives on.
“I got married on his birthday, so we get a happier day. I think that’s the big thing,” DeVito said.
“What kind of grandfather do you think he’d be? Oh, goodness, stressed out with my kids,” DeVito said. “He would be fun. He would be the grandpa that jacks them up on sugar and then sends them home.”
“I tell them everything, everything that I can. We still talk like he’s still here. My kids, you know, they’re, they never got to meet him. But they talk to me like they go over to his house every Sunday for dinner,” DeVito said. “And you know, they said something to me last year. You know, they said that, ‘It’s sad that he died. But he died because he went back in to save someone. And like that’s like super brave mommy.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah … he was very brave that day.’”