September 10, 2014

Remembering Sal Calabro & Leah Oliver- A 9/11 Remembrance

This is long.
But worth reading.
Because these 2 people were amazing, beautiful and kind souls and it means a lot to me if you'd take the time to read about them.

WTC When I went to New York this past July for my book signing, I visited the WTC Memorial and searched for both Sal and Leah's names. I felt connected to them, having written and remembering them yearly since 2006.

I had to see their names.

I had to touch their etchings.
I had to cry for them.
And I did.

I'd like you to introduce you to Sal Calabro.

Sal was 38 years old and just finishing his shift when the attack began on the WTC in new york city. he cancelled plans he had just made with a friend to work out, turned his car around and headed back to the firehouse. Once there, he jumped on his firetruck heading towards the destruction. That's just the kind of man he was. He didn't run from chaos.. he ran to it... to help ease it. Sal had been part of Ladder 101 for 14 years, since he first started working as a fireman. That firehouse was a second home to him. All of his co-workers, brothers. The entire Ladder Company was lost that day. 7 guys just vanished into the rubble; to never be heard from or seen again. The group of guys from that ladder company are now referred to as the "Seven in Heaven." Sal was one of them.

A proud American, you could often find Sal watching specials about World War II and the Vietnam War on the History Channel. Growing up with his older brother, they would often fight about who would get to go to war (if there was one) and who would stay home with their single mother. It seemed that the only time Sal questioned defending the nation, was when his mom was involved. When she passed away, he got his only tattoo on his left shoulder, in her memory.

Like most firefighters, Sal loved his job. But he loved his family more. His greatest joy in life was watching his 2 young sons grow up. He coached the T-Ball team, and when he couldn't be there, he would call his wife multiple times daily to see how they were doing and what they were up to.
"He was an unbelievable dad," Mrs. Calabro said. "I can't explain it. My kids would always look for him before they would look for me. When they got hurt, they wanted their daddy."Sal and his wife met as teenagers in a grocery store where they both worked. They'd been together ever since and were married on September 16, 1989.

Sal was a beloved firefighter. His catch phrase was "You're the best!" Whenever he would say it, people would respond back with, "No Sal, you're the best!"
"The guys on the job loved him," Mrs. Calabro said. "Since he was there for 14 years, they called the firehouse 'Sal's House.' They said he was the heart and soul of Ladder 101."

Now the "heart and soul" of Ladder 101 only exists in memories, on memorial walls, in framed photographs, and in the hearts and soul of those he touched and loved. The man who once described heroes as "people who knowingly and willingly enter a peril situation and lay down their lives for other people" has become just that. A hero by his own definition. And mine as well.
Rest In Peace Salvatore Calabro. And thank you for letting me get to know a true hero.
this website has a lot of information about the Seven in Heaven and is where i found the majority of my information and pictures about Sal.

A Conversation With Sal
Often I dream of a conversation with you.
I tell you I love you, and wish 9/11 wasn't true.
What the hell did happen?
Do you believe it yourself?
I'm still in shock, and don't know what to do with myself.
You needed to know about history and war,
Did you know you'd be part of such violence and gore?
What would you say? Are you OK where you are?
You remain in my heart, and are never too far.
I hope you have everything you didn't have in this life.
I hope you forgive me for my shortcomings as a wife?
The world has gone crazy. Nothing is the same.
I want to keep you alive -- let everyone know your name!
Sal Calabro -- my husband, a father, a hero he is.
The flag now in vogue was a fashion statement of his.
In my sleep we do visit. No words do I hear.
I understand you are with me -- your smile says don't fear.
People think I am crazy, your signs I do see.
Moths, numbers and birds are messages for me.
Help me and guide me in raising our boys.
They need to remember you and all of the joys.
Their lives are filled with sadness. You were their best friend.
Please protect and guide them 'til the very end.
We have all changed. Life isn't the same any more.
I hope you will meet me when I come through that door.
Until then I'll always love you!
Keep letting me know that you are here.
And I will let you be remembered --my love and my dear.

The father of two is remembered in this letter written by his wife, Francine.

And now i'd like to introduce you to Leah Oliver.

The first thing I noticed about Leah was that we shared the same birthday. September 12th... the day after "the day." I stopped for a moment before I read any further about her to just kind of appreciate the randomness (and not so randomness) of it all. What was the likelihood that the person I would get to write about would share the same birthday as me?

The more I read about Leah, the more I found myself smiling and thinking that we would have totally been friends. Everyone said the same things about her. How warm she was... her amazing smile.. she made everyone feel welcome.. she was always positive and smiling and happy. Everyone who knew her talked about how much they loved her and her laugh. What a great way to be remembered.... always happy. I can only hope to be so lucky.

Leah Oliver

I don't think you'd guess by this gorgeous picture of her, but she loved to go on motorcycle rides with her dad. A passion that they shared with one another. There is a memorial page up for Leah where her father has written the sweetest most heartbreaking letter to his only daughter. the following is part of what he wrote:

"Life is about not knowing. Surely the last few weeks have proved that to all of us. But bringing Leah into this world is one thing I know for certain I’ve done absolutely right in my life. I love all my children equally, and I’m equally proud of each of them. Leah was just that little bit special because she was my first. As oldest children often do, Leah marched through life with a sense of purpose, determined to be successful. And she exceeded my expectations all along the way."

Leah grew up in Dartmouth, Massachusetts and went to college at Columbia university. it seems like Leah's life was just getting started. She had a new boyfriend (in an old friend) and had recently started working at Marsh & McLennan in the world trade center. She couldn't wait to show her mom the view from the 96th floor.
The 96th floor.
I guess you can only imagine how and why she didn't make it out that day. She loved her co-workers and felt like she had the job of her dreams. Things were falling into place for this 24 year old.


Never to turn 25 because the following day would not come for her.

She left behind so many family members who miss her. A boyfriend who has had to move on without her when he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with her. It's hard for me to write about someone who was so young and whose life was just getting started. Because you read about the person they were and you want so much more for them. You know how much they could have had and then you get angry that all of that was taken away. Imagine how I'd feel if I had the pleasure to actually know Leah in real life??

September 11th still hurts. Sometimes I think I'm ready to deal with certain aspects of it. Like a TV special about 9/11 will be on and I'll record it so that I can watch it later at my own pace. But then I'll go to turn it on, and within the first 30 seconds, I'm already in tears and I can't take it. I'm not ready. It's still too raw. And it's been 8 years. and I didn't even know anyone who lost their life that day personally. (i know people who knew people) It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. And it breaks my heart to know how much my life has changed since that day, and I wasn't even directly affected. So many other people have had to live each day since without their loved ones in their life. And all I can say is that I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that Sal's boys have had to grow up with only a memory for a father. I'm so sorry that Leah's family has to go on without her. I'm sorry she never got to have her 25th birthday. but I can promise you that I will forever think of her on our day from here on out.

there is a scholarship set up in her name... there are tributes to her where you can read more about her. I wish I could have known her.. but I'm glad this project introduced me to her. And now to you.


  1. I am sitting at my desk with an overwhelming amount of tears just flowing.. I am trying to pull myself together to write this and to not look like such a hot mess since I am the front desk. This was such a great blurb and made me wish I was lucky enough to know them, you captured them beautifully, and they sound like they are amazing people, I am using the word are instead of were because their memories of their character will always be remembered. Well written Jen <3