'I'll Always Come Home'
If storybooks are written about the lives lived before Sept. 11, "Michael and Theresa" will make a good one.
Lt. Michael Russo, 44, was a good-looking man assigned to the elite Squad 1 unit in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His wife, Theresa, is a nurse. Their child, Michael Jr., was born on the same day as his father. "A fireman and a nurse, it sounds like a big joke," she said. "But I understood his life and he understood mine."
When asked to think back on their life together, Mrs. Russo talked about the time they sang together in the rain. The sails they took together on their little sailboat in the Long Island Sound. The motorcycle rides along the North Shore when the sun shone in their faces and they were happy and knew God had given them something wonderful. "I remember crab cakes and Corona beer and laughing and talking about the future and how good life was," she said.
She visited the wreckage of the World Trade Center the other evening for the first time. She looked at the smoldering pile and thought about what he once told her: "Don't worry, I'll always come home."
"Even the day after, I thought he would," she explained. "I looked at the pile and I knew he was home."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 20, 2001.
Michael Russo, 44, free spirit of Rescue 5
Michael Russo was a funny, free-spirited fireman -- a "nut," according to his brother, Anthony.
But when Mr. Russo and his wife, Theresa, had their first child, Michael Jr., 15 months ago, the free spirit became the quintessential Mr. Mom.
"He re-arranged all his shifts once they had the baby," recalled Arlene Regan of New Providence, his sister-in-law. "He did much of the child care."
"He made me look miserable when it came to housework," said Anthony Russo. "And he took his son everywhere he went. He just didn't stay at home and play with the baby. He took him to the firehouse, everywhere. He wanted to show him off."
Michael Russo, 44, died heroically on Sept. 11. The firefighter rushed into the World Trade Center to help those trapped inside.
"I am really proud of him," said Allison Russo, his 14-year-old niece. "If I saw him tomorrow, I'd tell him how proud I was of him. I'd tell him, 'I hope my whole life you'll be looking down on me and that you'll be proud of me.' "
"Mike was everybody's," Theresa Russo said. "I feel like I only borrowed him for a short time. Those five years were like heaven on Earth."
A graduate of Manhattan College, Mr. Russo was a natural athlete. A pole vaulter in high school and college, he loved to scuba-dive, ski and play golf and ice hockey. He left school to become a firefighter, and was assigned to Squad 1 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Recently promoted to lieutenant, he had returned to specialized rescue work. He was working with Rescue 5 on Staten Island on Sept. 11.
"When he was off during the week, he visited cousins and aunts," Anthony Russo said. "He was always helping people keep together."
"My kids were almost his kids to him," Arlene Regan, Anthony Russo's wife, said. "He always made them laugh. He took them to shows. He was -- not goofy -- just a very fun-loving guy."
Her 10-year-old daughter, Alexandra, wrote a poem in honor of her uncle, and addressed to his wife and son, that she will read at a memorial service on Tuesday. The poem begins:
Dear Theresa and little Michael
Since you are so blue
A poem just for you
I have so many things to say
About Uncle Michael
I don't know where to start
but I think I'll start
Straight from my heart
I know Uncle Michael is a hero
in many ways
I wish I could go back in time
to other days
The poem ends:
I love you Uncle Michael
with all my heart
so that nothing will keep us apart
I wrote this poem just to say
Don't worry little Michael and Theresa
There will be better days
Other survivors include his parents, Dolores and Anthony Russo. A wake will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at Lloyd Funeral Home, 214-43 39th Ave., Bayside, N.Y. A memorial Mass will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Robert Bellarmine Church, 56-15 213th St., Bayside, N.Y. A trust fund has been established for Michael Russo Jr.; inquiries can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Profile by Peter Genovese published in THE STAR-LEDGER.