Veteran serves country in Vietnam and community on Sept. 11

Photo Courtesy of FDNY

We remember September 11, 2001. We remember the nearly 3,000 people who died as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, including more than 300 New York firefighters. *Salvatore Cassano helped rebuild the FDNY department following that fateful day. But his devoted service to country, community and fellow man began when he was an apprehensive 21 year-old arriving in Vietnam.

Cassano served a year in the U.S. Army in 1966. Upon his return to Brooklyn, New York, Cassano was looked upon as someone who answered his country's call to serve, which would later carry on in his own backyard.

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Cassano became a firefighter in November of 1969. And in 2010 he went on to serve as the 32nd New York City Fire Commissioner. Before that, he had helped rebuild the FDNY department following the September 11th attacks. The day brought back memories of his tumultuous time being under attack while in Vietnam. He recalls, "I gave so many orders that day to so many people who never came home." And on September 11, he saw the greatest display of bravery, sacrifice, dedication and service from not only emergency workers, but everyday citizens. While it was a tough day, there was not a single firefighter that Cassano encountered who said, “I can’t do this.” He remembers everybody going about their business, being unbelievably professional, and unbelievably committed to their job.

The commitment to serve others for the betterment of our society comes from all aspects of life. 

"We as members of the FDNY appreciate what our service members did for us. We saw devastation, fathers looking for their sons, sons looking for their fathers.We saw the military and what they have done for us. The months and weeks that followed, seeing these young men and women, I visited Walter Reed—so terribly injured, both physically and psychologically, but they all said without hesitation, I want to go back and do it again," Cassano adds. Moments like these made Cassano recall how lucky he was and still is for those who serve as sacrifice for one another.

Everyone can become unified - whether it be as a country, as two young soldiers fighting in war or in moments of pure distress. When people come together to stand for something bigger than themselves, you get the heroes, the people who choose to help, to risk their lives for the greater good. From the battlefield of Vietnam, to the utmost terror experienced on September 11, 2001 - you see ordinary people doing extraordinary things for a value we cherish as a society - service.

Cassano recalls , "What I’ve done my whole life is tried to help people. It's a healing effort. It's a noble mission, let me tell you...so many people doing so many different things. We’re doing a lot, but you can always do more. You can always do something to help out."

*Cassano began as a firefighter in 1969, and was instrumental in rebuilding the department after 343 firefighters died as a result of the September 11 attacks, after which he was named Chief of Operations. He was appointed Chief of Department, the highest uniformed position in the department, in 2006, and his appointment as Fire Commissioner was announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on 21 December 2009. In 2011, in recognition of his service to the city of New York, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.