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9/11 Memory: Keeping alive a family's history

In his Glen Head home on Friday, May

In his Glen Head home on Friday, May 16, 2014, NYPD Officer Joseph Paolillo created a wall of photos in memory of his brother John Paolilo, a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11. Credit: Uli Seit

The oldest of Joseph Paolillo's three sons was 3 ½ and the other two were not yet born when his brother, John, was killed in the north tower on Sept. 11.

But Paolillo, of Glen Head, said all three, Martin, 15, John -- named for his uncle -- 12, and Raymond, 10, have grown up hearing about their uncle so much they feel as though they know him.

"I'm constantly telling them about him," said Paolillo, a detective with the NYPD who works in the Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters in Manhattan.

That's not far from where his brother, John, 51, who was deputy chief of special operations command for the city fire department, was killed. Fifteen years older and a triathlete, John was a mentor and powerful figure in the younger brother's life, he said, and Paolillo wants him to be the same for his sons.

"They come with me to the cemetery; they sit with me," Paolillo said. "I tell them all about what happened. I talk about his family. I talk about things when we were growing up. I guess they feel like they know him."

Last Sept. 11, Martin joined his father to read names of the dead at the National September 11 Memorial.

"It was bittersweet," Paolillo said. "I was very proud of my oldest. He was studying the names and he came out dressed in a suit. It was very respectful, and it showed me he pretty much was understanding the importance of the moment."

This year, he said, the family intends to visit the Sept. 11 museum soon after it opens on Wednesday.

"I want them to know what my brother was all about," he said. "It's more than history; it's family history."

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the name of Paolillo's oldest son.

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