Watch CBS News

Long Island Father's Tribute Center Puts 9/11 In Most Personal Terms

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The memory of the 9/11 attacks for one Long Island father is fresh every single day.

CBS2's Kenneth Craig reported Lee Ielpi's son, who was a firefighter, was killed in the attacks.

For the past 15 years, Ielpi has dedicated himself to honoring everyone who died that day.

He still has the uniform his son, Jonathan Ielpi, was wearing when he was killed in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

A 29-year-old father of two, his memory lives at the 9/11 Tribute Center, along with other victims of the terror attack.

"It's a very difficult space," Ielpi said.

Ielpi, a retired firefighter, spent three months searching Ground Zero before he found his son's remains, and then continued combing the debris for victims for another six months.

"The best that humanity could give us was here, searching every day, 24 hours a day, hands and knees," he said.

During that time, the damaged Liberty Deli became a gathering spot for rescue and recovery workers. Ielpi eventually turned the space into the 9/11 Tribute Center – a kind of interim museum until the official one opened in 2014.

Not only did it stay open, it will move to a bigger space next spring, where it will continue to tell the story of 9/11 in the most personal terms.

"When I get to talk about my son I cry. I can't tell you how many times I cried this week," Ielpi said.

Pouring himself into his work has helped him move forward, but hasn't relieved the pain.

"The only thing 9/11 means to me is I have not seen my buddy in 15 years and I miss … I have not seen my buddy in 15 years and I miss my buddy," he said.

The Tribute Center gave Ielpi a mission – to educate, enlighten and to understand how 9/11 changed the world.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.