On September 11, 2001, Susan Brannigan, a reading specialist in the Warwick school system, was a permanent sub in the East Greenwich system working at Frenchtown School. Her husband, Matt, now working in Chicago, was in his office at Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Providence. Their 10-year-old daughter Amanda was in school at Eldredge and 7-year-old Ryan was at Frenchtown school.
Susan’s father, 62-year-old Edward Mazzella, Jr., a senior vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald, was at work in his office on the 101st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Fifty miles away, in the bedroom of his home in Monroe, New York, suitcases were packed for the first retirement trip he and his wife would be starting that coming Friday.
Leading into his full retirement, Mazzella had been working only three days a week for six months.
He should have been gone, but his replacement had vacation time coming and Mazzella told him to go ahead and take it, he would work a few more days.
In Matt’s office in Providence, his secretary came in with news of a plane crash at the Twin Towers. She knew his father-in-law worked there.
While Matt was on the internet looking for information, the secretary came back with a picture she had found.
He put in a call to Susan’s mother, hoping to hear that Edward had not gone to work that day. But Susan’s brother Michael, who lived nearby, answered, confirming that his father was in his office. Matt asked him to call immediately with any news.
Later, when his assistant suggested he go home, he told her he couldn’t because he was waiting for a call.
“One of the towers just collapsed,” she said. At that point he knew there probably would not be a good ending and drove to Frenchtown School.
Susan had been hearing a plane had hit the towers, but wasn’t worried. Earlier in her life she worked there during the summers and knew the building. “No big deal,” she thought, “he’ll just go down the steps to safety.”
What was happening was so unimaginable to her she really couldn’t grasp it. Other teachers suggested she go home, but she didn’t see the need. When Matt arrived at the school with the news of the tower collapse, she was still convinced her father had gone down the stairs and was safe. Matt said, “I think we need to pull the kids out of school and need to go now.”
Matt went to Eldredge for Amanda and found the school in somewhat of a shutdown mode. The person in the office asked that he not talk to Amanda about what was happening until they were outside so it wouldn’t upset other children.
“Daddy, why are you here,” said Amanda when she came to the office. He tried to make small talk about why he was picking her up but was stopped short when she said, “Daddy, you’re scaring me.”
Brannigan says that as long as he lives he will never forget her saying that.
When they were outside he told her what happened and said that if Poppa, as the grandchildren called him, was okay, they'd have a big party in New York.
“But he may have been hurt,” he said, “and we have to go to Grandma’s.”
Because there was news that some bridges might be closed, they took a northern route through Connecticut, adding an hour to the drive. Once in Monroe it became a vigil, with hope there would be good news. Everyone was thinking of the ways Edward could have survived.
That night Mazzella’s best friend showed up at the house. Although he knew it was hopeless, he had spent the day searching hospitals. When he saw Sue’s mother he broke down.
As he hugged Matt he told him there had been no survivors on the upper floors. At that point hope vanished and they accepted that Edward was probably gone.
The next morning Matt went down to the Armory on the East Side of Manhattan and scanned lists of people in hospitals, still hoping to see his father-in-law’s name. Mayor Giuliani came in and spoke briefly.
Several days later Susan and her brother went into New York and gave DNA samples in case there were any remains.
No one knew quite what to do as the days dragged by. After several weeks, the family agreed it was time to start the healing process and held a memorial service.
Two weeks later a call came from a mortuary in New York, with news that some remains had been found, which was a great relief to Susan’s mother. Now there could be a funeral Mass and actual closure. A funeral was held in October.
Amazingly, searchers also found the three rings worn by Edward, including his wedding ring.
Susan says her mother misses her father terribly. They had been married 42 years and were looking forward to travel and enjoying retirement. She visits his grave every day when she is home, and is keeping up a recommendation she maintain a log. At the start and end of every day she writes a short note to her husband, telling him what is going on.
The Brannigans say their close friends and relatives don’t forget, and send messages and notes every year on 9/11.
Matt was on his way to Chicago when news of Osama Bin Laden’s death became known. He said his phone was flooded with text messages.
Susan had mixed feelings about Bin Laden. “I know it is a good, it’s good for the country and it’s good that we got him, but it didn’t really make me happy,” she said. “As Mom said, it’s not bringing Dad back.”
“At least we don’t have to see him or his tapes,” said Matt, “and you know that your country did take care of the guy that murdered your father.”
Mazzella had taken up painting in his 50s and was looking forward to painting, golfing and traveling in his retirement. His work decorates the Brannigan home. After his death Susan even framed the work her father had tossed aside as rejects.
The family started a foundation in his name, which endows a yearly scholarship for an art student at Columbia University. They raised the money through a golf tournament at the Orange Country Golf Club, and had enough to fund the award in perpetuity after only six years.
Some time after 9/11, Matt saw a newspaper article about Mercy Bands, small metal bracelets bearing names of victims. When he ordered some for the family he learned that an anonymous donor was paying for any ordered by relatives.
One went to the son of Susan’s cousin, who served in Afghanistan. While he was there, he buried it.
Several years ago Matt was at Fenway Park with his son when a woman behind him taped him on the shoulder and asked to see the band. Then she raised her arm to show him her bracelet, with the name of her husband, one of the pilots of the plane the terrorists flew into the North Tower.
Matt is temporarily without a band. Recently he found himself next to several Navy Seals at an executive development course. “I feel you have to have this,” he said, as he told them about his father-in-law.
The Brannigans will be in New York this weekend. They attended the first memorial in New York and have attended several in Rhode Island. Susan says her mother has attended many more.
The search for bodies was still going on when the first memorial was held at Ground Zero. The smells, smoke and wreckage were all there. Matt says it brought to him memories of pictures he has seen of Pearl Harbor. It was physically and mentally grueling as participants stood for four hours while the names of victims were read.
Brannigan’s birthday is in October. After 9/11, when his mother-in-law asked what he wanted for his birthday he told her he wanted a flag pole for the house.
Under the Stars and Stripes flies the 9/11 memorial flag. The 11 is designed as the Twin Towers, there is an outline of the Pentagon and an outline of Pennsylvania.
The flag never comes down.