By David Weingrad Long Island Herald
Hanging below the traditional green street sign on Corey Lane in East Meadow is another one, a blue commemorative sign reading “Officer Francis T. Pitone Ln,” in honor of a 20-year New York Police Department officer, a first responder after the September 11 attacks, who died last August.
Frank Pitone, who was 55, spent more than a year at ground zero and at the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, where debris from the World Trade Center was dumped. He later developed cancer as a result of time spent at the two sites, and his death was declared a 9/11-related illness by government officials.
Last Saturday, the Town of Hempstead officially dedicated the street, which intersects with Newbridge Road just north of Hempstead Turnpike, at a ceremony in front of more than 100 community members that included Pitone’s family, friends and dozens of NYPD officers.
Pitone was born in Brooklyn in 1958 to Anthony and Joyce Pitone, and graduated from South Side High School in Rockville Centre before settling on Corey Lane in East Meadow. He had four children: Shannon, 16, and Kyle, 15, with his widow, Linda, a retired NYPD officer, and Erik, 26, and Nicole, 22, from a previous marriage. Shannon and Kyle are students at W.T. Clarke High School.
An NYPD officer from 1985 to 2005, Pitone was stationed primarily in the Bronx with his partner, Mike Turtiano. A popular figure in the police force, Pitone was elected a delegate to New York’s Police Benevolent Association a number of times.
Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who led the proceedings, reflected on Pitone’s work on September 11 and in its aftermath. “He worked 12-hour shifts, sometimes more,” she said. “Sorting through the debris and remains. This was his duty. Frank was not only a heroic first responder, he was also known as a superhero dad.”
Nicole, who spoke on the family’s behalf, said her father always put others before himself. “My dad truly was a determined man,” she said. “Not even a month after starting radiation and chemotherapy, he wanted to so badly make it to my college graduation. He did.”
A devoted Mets fan, Pitone coached Little League baseball in East Meadow, as well as his own children’s sports teams, for more than 20 years. Even when his cancer was taking its toll, Murray said, he drove with his family to South Carolina — a 13-hour trip — for one of Kyle’s baseball tournaments.
Among the crowd at the ceremony were the members of Clarke’s varsity and junior varsity baseball teams, a show of support for Kyle, a JV player. “Clarke baseball is a program,” said Chris Ramkissoon, a senior. “We all support each other as a family.”
Justin Luces, who played Little League baseball for Pitone, recalled how he always encouraged him to do his best. “He taught me more than just baseball,” said Justin, 15. “He taught me how to be a person. I can’t forget him.”
Pitone was an avid fisherman, according to his family, loved spending time with his two dogs, Ozzie and Coco, and enjoyed keeping up with his favorite television shows, especially HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Linda’s cousin Pat McKeon said that Frank spent as much time as he could with family during his retirement. “He’s just an amazing guy,” said McKeon, who lives in West Islip. “He’d help anybody.”
New York Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch reminded the gathering that while the memory of September 11 has faded for some, it never will for NYPD officers and their families, who, like the Pitones, still feel the effects of that fateful day. “For the New York City police officer,” Lynch said, “it will never fade into memory. For those that were there, it lives on forever.”
According to a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of March 5, 2,234 people who are enrolled in the CDC’s World Trade Center Health Program have contracted cancer. That total, the spokeswoman said, included first responders and survivors.
Town Councilman Gary Hudes said that the new street sign would keep Pitone’s memory alive, even for those who never knew him. “This street naming will always inspire questions,” Hudes said. “People driving through this neighborhood will notice this street sign and will ask, ‘Who is Frank Pitone?’
“Frank Pitone,” Hudes concluded, “was a true American hero deserving of this honor.”