Andrew Desperito, 43, spent three years as a New York City police officer before becoming a firefighter 14 years ago. He stayed behind helping victims in One World Trade Center, even after Two World Trade Center had collapsed.
"I always knew he was a hero," said his wife, Laura, who would have celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary this month. "He was incredible, and I'm drawing my strength from him."
Desperito was a father of three and enjoyed coaching his 10-year-old son's soccer team in the East Patchogue, N.Y., area where they lived.
Laura Desperito said she has learned her husband was on the 23rd floor of One World Trade Center when he and the men he was with heard a roar and were told over their radios that the other building had come down.
The men headed outside, but Desperito said she has been told by her husband's team that he stopped and ordered them ahead after coming across a woman having trouble making her escape. He had just exited when the building collapsed.
"He was too close," his wife said.
Desperito's body was among the first recovered last week, Laura Desperito said, and a wake was held for him Sunday.
Desperito said she had been planning the family's future, including renovations to their home. Now she is deciding where to bury her husband.
"There's a cemetery here, where through the trees you can see where the children play soccer," she said. "He can hear them and he'll be happy."
Dedication to a Hero
A 2,000-pound boulder behind a middle school soccer field on Long Island reads: "In memory of a hero, a husband, a father, a coach, a board member and a friend."
It was dedicated to Lt. Andrew Desperito, 43, of the New York Fire Department, who coached neighborhood children at a nearby soccer club. Bellport High School seniors who were on the varsity soccer team are eligible to receive scholarship awards in his name.
Lieutenant Desperito, who lived in East Patchogue, also coached the soccer teams of his two sons, Anthony, 11, and David, 7. He was known around the house for his cooking.
"Do you know how to make Dad's Chicken McGuinness?" his wife, Laura Desperito, said their sons and daughter, Nicole, 14, ask. The dish is named for McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he used to be stationed. "I tell them that he knew all the recipes by heart," Mrs. Desperito said. The couple would have celebrated their 20th anniversary on Sept. 25, 2002.
"He was such a romantic," Mrs. Desperito said. "He proposed to me on Rockaway Beach, where we always used to take long walks on the jetties. He didn't let me open the box near the water because he was afraid it would fall in the water."
During his final hours, Lieutenant Desperito escorted a woman to safety from the north tower of the World Trade Center, and then ran back inside to search for others.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on March 8, 2003.