He Lit Up a Room Like a Beam of Sunlight

February 27, 2002

There will be no best man at probationary firefighter Joseph Cammarata's wedding on April 5. Cammarata's first and only choice for the job was his brother, Michael, 15 months his junior.

But since Michael Cammarata, 22, who was in his final days as a "probie," is presumed dead in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the position will remain vacant. "No one's taking his spot," Cammarata's brother said. "No one can replace him."

He was last seen that morning at his parents' home in Staten Island, where he gave his mother a hug and left for work after his mother wished him a safe return.

Born in Staten Island in 1978, Cammarata graduated from Tottenville High School there in 1996. He attended Wagner College in Staten Island before he got the call to join the Fire Department of New York last May.

"Once he got into the firehouse, it was like family," Cammarata's mother, Linda, said. "He loved what he did."

Both sons showed an early dedication to the FDNY, she said. "We always talked about how we wanted to become firefighters," Cammarata's brother said. When the two took the FDNY test several years ago, Michael received a perfect score, and Joseph came close to it. Cammarata mother said her son was "always enthusiastic about learning new things" and would discuss whatever he learned with the family.

"He used to always talk about his days in probie school with me," his brother said. "He told me my time is coming soon." He said that his brother is watching over him, and "that's the greatest inspiration you could have."

Cammarata, along with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, were inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence in January, his mother said. She recounted her son's zest for athletics throughout his life. "Michael was the type of kid that always gave things 100 percent," she said.

Sifting through various documents in her son's night table, two weeks before the attacks, she found a letter written by him entitled "In case anything happens to me," she said. "I thought it was something the academy asked him to write, but he did it on his own."

She said that in the letter, Cammarata asked that his girlfriend be taken care of, and that his survivors not mourn him because he was working in his career of choice, and that they let his spirit move on. He also asked his loved ones to remember that he loved them and that he'd be waiting for them "upstairs." It was signed "Michael Cammarata, shield 1138." She kept the letter a secret from her family until Sept. 11, when she read it aloud to them in her living room.

She said her son could "brighten up any room." He could make "a dull situation into a fun one," she said. "He was like sunshine."

-- Nick Iyer (Newsday)