THE LAST HERO

By DAN KADISON


December 2, 2002 -- They're the only family of a firefighter killed at the World Trade Center that hasn't buried or memorialized their loved one.

Dee and Vincent Ragusa, of Bergen Beach, Brooklyn, spent this holiday weekend with their grandchildren, enduring the pain of missing their son, Firefighter Michael Ragusa, and holding out hope that his remains will soon be found.

"It's hard to have a happy Thanksgiving for so many of us," said Dee Ragusa, Michael's mom. "There's no such thing as closure; there's no such thing as moving on. It's still there."

The Ragusas decided to wait until 29-year-old Michael's body was found before holding a remembrance service, despite the fact that all 342 other firefighters slain at the trade center received either a funeral or a memorial ceremony.

"What's the rush?" Dee felt at first. "We thought we were going to find some part of Michael."

And with the belief that a funeral would occur, the family made a decision not to plan a memorial. Dee, along with husband Vincent Ragusa, decided their family wouldn't go through the hurt of preparing twice for a ceremony.

"We had to think of everyone's feelings," Dee said. "You have to take everyone into account when making a decision."

Michael, who served with Engine 279 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, left behind three siblings, Vinny, 36, Kenneth, 26, and Christine, 35.

"We're a close family," said Dee. "My daughter named her child after Michael - and he was alive when she did it."

Five weeks ago, Dee, 58, and Vincent, 61, filed for a death certificate. They continue to delay arranging a ceremony.

"Maybe I'm waiting for them to say we've run the gamut, it's over and we can't ID the bodies any more," said Dee, a retired saleswoman.

Last Thanksgiving, Dee and her husband, Vincent Ragusa, spent the holiday alone in their Brooklyn home, where Michael lived until his death. Dee told her other children she didn't feel like cooking that day.

"They understood there was no way I could make a big turkey dinner," Dee said.

In fact, she still hasn't touched the oven since Michael passed away.

"I've developed into the cook," said Vincent, a retired customer service agent.

The memory of Michael, a plumber who became a firefighter in 2000, is felt throughout and around the house, adding to the parents' sadness, said Dee. "Michael was a presence," she said.

Michael's bedroom is still cluttered with car parts he collected for one of his many mechanically minded projects. Pictures of him with his fiancee, Jennifer Trapani, are hung in the living room. The Christmas lights he placed on an outside tree when he was 17 still cling around the upper trunk and a limb.

On the anniversary of the attacks, Dee filled her yard with pictures, flowers and names of the dead as a tribute to all who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I did it for everyone, everywhere," said Dee. "My son died with over 3,000 people."

Hundreds of people stopped by, along with a local funeral director, who said: "You realize you had your memorial for Michael, you had it in your home."

But Dee said she had a simple reason for the tribute. "I didn't want to be alone that day," she said.

For the anniversary, the Ragusas had slogans, fire department logos and Michael's name permanently painted on the outside of their yellow Volkswagen Beetle.

"We're a bit too old for [tattoos] so we did the car instead," said Dee. "That's our way of telling the world we won't forget."

When the Medical Examiner's Office, which still has thousands of body parts stored, say they've exhausted all possible means of identifying the remains, the couple will plan a funeral, Dee said.

A couple of weeks ago, a doctor informed the Ragusas that a sample of Michael's blood is stored in Albany, said Dee.

"We really didn't think about it until he [the doctor] said it," said Vincent.

Michael along with other firefighters participated in a blood marrow donor program for the FDNY and a vial of Michael's blood was left behind, Dee said.

"There's a part of him still here," said Dee. "If nothing else, we can bury that."




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