A Father And A Son, Lost To 2 National Tragedies

Sep 11, 2020
Originally published on September 21, 2020 7:28 am

Albert Petrocelli died from COVID-19 in April, at 73 years old. His death marked the second time the Petrocelli family was touched by unexpected tragedy.

Nearly two decades earlier, Petrocelli, a retired New York City fire chief, and his wife, Ginger, lost their youngest of two sons, Mark, in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

In a 2005 interview with StoryCorps, Albert and Ginger remembered Mark, a commodities broker who was just two days shy of his 29th birthday when he died.

Retired NYPD Chief Albert Petrocelli, in 2002, with a photo of Mark that he carried inside his hat.
Fred Conrad

The last time Albert and Ginger saw their son was at their family's weekly Sunday meal, two days before Sept. 11. They had meatballs that night.

"It was 7:30, 8 o'clock at night when we said goodnight to him, and, actually, it was goodbye," Albert said.

It was an unfathomable goodbye at that.

"He hated fire. He didn't like planes. And he hated height. And it all ended that way for him," Ginger said.

Mark actually worked a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.

"When he left that morning, he told his wife, Nicole, he had a meeting upstairs," he said. "But, as it turned out, his corporate headquarters was on the 92nd floor of World Trade Center Number One. And that was the upstairs that he was talking about."

Ginger and Albert Petrocelli celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
Courtesy of the Petrocelli family

Later that day, Albert, who had retired as an New York Fire Department battalion chief in 2000, arrived at One World Trade Center with his older son Albert Jr., a lieutenant at the FDNY who has since become a battalion chief with the department.

"Once we got there and I was able to walk around the whole scene, I still said, 'Well, we'll find him.' " Albert recalled. "But then on the third day, his birthday, September the 13th, I felt that that was it. Mark wasn't gonna be found."

But eventually, Albert and Ginger were brought evidence of their son's death in the wreckage.

"We were the luckiest of the unlucky, in one sense, because they kept finding pieces of Mark," Albert said. "When we were having his first memorial mass, the cops came to the house and said they identified him. And it was his jaw — it was his smile. So I thank God that he gave us back his smile."

That memory brought them some comfort.

"The smile on his face was the best thing in the world. Things like that, you just — you'll never forget," Ginger said.

The Petrocellis said they miss their son every day.

"Thankfully, Ginger and I have each other," Albert said. "And at night, when we lay down and put our heads on the pillow, it's the two of us. And together we get through it."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted this interview for the Web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, a family is touched by two national tragedies. Retired New York City Fire Chief Albert Petrocelli died from COVID-19 in April. Nineteen years ago, Petrocelli lost his youngest son in the attacks on the World Trade Center. This morning, we'll hear a StoryCorps recording Petrocelli and his wife, Ginger, made to remember their son, Mark. And a note - parts of this story may be difficult to hear.

ALBERT PETROCELLI: Sunday morning, September 9 started out with a phone call from Mark. What's cooking? What do I smell on the other end of that line, you know, the meatballs and - all right. Yeah. What time you want us over? You know, it was 7:30, 8 o'clock at night when we said good night to him, and actually, it was goodbye.

GINGER PETROCELLI: He hated fire. He didn't like planes. And he hated height. And it all ended that way for him.

A PETROCELLI: Mark worked about four blocks away from the World Trade Center. When he left that morning, he told his wife, Nicole, he had a meeting upstairs. But as it turned out, his corporate headquarters was on the 92nd floor of World Trade Center No. 1. And that was the upstairs that he was talking about. I'm a retired chief, and his brother is a lieutenant in the fire department. Once we got there and I was able to walk around the whole scene, I still said, well, we'll find him. But then on the third day, his birthday, September 13, I felt that that was it. Mark wasn't going to be found. But we were the luckiest of the unlucky in one sense because they kept finding pieces of Mark. When we were having his first memorial mass, the cops came to the house and said they identified him. And it was his jaw. It was his smile. So I thank God that he gave us back his smile.

G PETROCELLI: The smile on his face was the best thing in the world. Things like that, you just - you'll never forget.

A PETROCELLI: Every day, we miss Mark. Thankfully, Ginger and I, we have each other. And at night when we lay down, put our heads on the pillow, it's the two of us. And together we get through it.

MARTIN: Retired New York City Fire Chief Albert Petrocelli died from COVID-19 in April. His son, Mark, was killed on this day 19 years ago at the World Trade Center. This recording was made in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. It's part of StoryCorps' effort to collect one recording for each life lost that day. And it's archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.