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Jericho man receives 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor posthumously

Seymour Winuk, father of Glenn Winuk a volunteer

Seymour Winuk, father of Glenn Winuk a volunteer firefighter from Jericho who died trying to rescue people at the World Trade Center, clutches the posthumous 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor award that was finally given eight years later. (Sept. 7, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

For Seymour and Elaine Winuk, having their son posthumously recognized with the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor Monday was bittersweet.

Just four days before the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Winuk family gathered at the Jericho park named after Glenn Winuk to receive the recognition they had long been seeking.

"We're sorry we lost him," said Seymour Winuk, 78, of Jericho. "But he's getting an award that is well deserved for many reasons."

A 19-year volunteer firefighter for the Jericho Fire Department, Glenn Winuk was hailed Monday for his willingness to put himself in harm's way to rescue people. He responded to the crash in 1990 of Avianca Flight 52 in Cove Neck and three years later to the bombing of the World Trade Center.

And on Sept. 11, 2001 when the first plane hit the North Tower, Winuk, an attorney in a law firm nearby, helped evacuate the building he was working in, then rushed toward the chaos.

Winuk, 40, died when the South Tower collapsed. Six months later, his remains were found next to those of other would-be rescuers.

"He was always running to help people," his father said.

Because Winuk had not been an active member of the fire department since 1998, the Department of Justice refused to recognize him as a qualified rescuer who died in the line of duty.

But after a protracted campaign by the Winuk family and local politicians, the Justice Department dropped its objection last January, making the family eligible to receive a $250,000 death benefit and the medal.

Still, the family waited for the award until Monday.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who presented the Winuk family with a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, said the country's recognition of Winuk's sacrifice was long overdue.

"Glenn Winuk was a hero in the truest sense of the word -- an American hero," Schumer said. "Glenn died bravely, selflessly and generously. He was totally deserving of the medal and certificate of valor."

The family will receive the medal itself in several weeks, Schumer's office said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) called the recognition "a great, great reward."

"Glenn personified everything that was good about September 11, as tragic a day as it was," King said.

Glenn's brother, Jay, said he only wanted his brother to be granted what other rescuers who died in the line of duty were given years ago.

"I don't need the validation because I know what he did and everyone else knows what he did. But it's the Department of Justice's responsibility to give the recognition," said Jay Winuk, 51, of Mahopac.

"It took a small army of people to see that this simple but most important honor for a lost firefighter took place."

>>Click to see photos of fire trucks, steel beams, and other relics that survived at Ground Zero

>>Photos of victims and personal items from the WTC Tribute Museum

>>See photos of Ground Zero today

>>Complete guide to September 11: Eight years later


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