9/11 Fifteen Years Later: Son Struggles To Remember Firefighter Father

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The death toll from 9/11 goes well beyond those killed on that day. Since then, illness has taken the lives of many others.

Firefighter John McNamara was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer after 9/11, when his wife was four months pregnant.

“He was amazing, he was my soul mate,” John’s widow, Jennifer, said. “My sister-in-law told me at one point that all he ever wanted to be was a husband and a father, and that the greatest day in his life was the day he married me, and the second greatest day of his life was the day that we found out we were pregnant.”

John and his boy, Jack, were inseparable, even in John’s final months when he was too weak to lift his little boy.

“He was an amazing father for the time he was, he changed more diapers than I ever did,” she said.

John McNamara died nearly eights years after the attacks in August 2009 at age 44, leaving behind two legacies — a non-profit in his name and his beautiful, freckle-faced son, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.

Jack was just two years old.

“He was a great man, I loved him very much and I just can’t believe that he’s gone,” said the now 9-year-old Jack.

John's motto when he was sick remains framed in his home (credit: Image via Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

John’s motto when he was sick remains framed in his home (credit: Image via Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

The tenuous strands of memory have been frayed and torn forever, and the task of keeping John alive is left to Jennifer.

“Knowing who his dad was means everything to him. I think there’s some anger because he doesn’t remember,” she said. “Once he said to me that he gets angry because everybody else remembers his dad and he doesn’t and that’s not fair cause it was his dad.”

“It’s important that Jack knows who John was, not just the man as a firefighter because that’s easy, everybody knows that story. That’s a story that’s very much out there, but he needs to know who John was a person, and he needs to know how kind and generous he was and what a good father he was for the little time that he got to be one,” she added.

Now, Jack carries on his dad’s spirit through the work that he does with The Johnny Mac Foundation.

“If you teach your children to give back, if you teach your children to be charitable, generous and kind and selfless I think you’ve taught them a great lesson,” Jennifer McNamara said. “I think my husband was all of those things.”

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