Vietnam War veteran and Sept. 11 hero honored with Woodside street co-naming

Vietnam War veteran and Sept. 11 hero honored with Woodside street co-naming
American Legion Post 1836 honors the pride of Woodside. (Photo by Bill Parry)
By Bill Parry

Lifelong Woodside resident Jimmy Lanza was remembered Saturday as a real American hero and larger-than-life figure, despite standing just 5-foot-4 inches tall, as the corner of 31st Avenue and 54th Street was co-named in his honor.

Hundreds of residents of the Boulevard Gardens Apartments, where he served as the longtime co-op president, joined community leaders and elected officials and members of the FDNY to honor the 28-year veteran and hero of the Sept. 11 attacks, who died in April at age 71 after a brutal battle with 9/11-related brain cancer.

“He loved Woodside,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “He grew up here and became a true American hero who defined personal service. On 9/11 he reported to the World Trade Center and was part of the team that rescued 16 people trapped in the North Tower’s Miracle Stairwell B, and then he spent many months and hundreds of hours on the pile.”

It was there that Lanza, a Vietnam War veteran, breathed in the toxic air as he searched for survivors and remains. His name was added to the list of 159 FDNY members who have fallen with 9/11-related illnesses since the Sept. 11th attacks at the Fire Department headquarters in downtown Brooklyn last Sept. 7.

“Jimmy was alwaysinterested in how you were doing than about himself,” FDNY Chief Tom McCavanaugh said. “Here he was sick and struggling, and he wanted to know how you were doing. We were blessed to have known a guy like this in our lives. He had the heart of a lion.”

State Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth), who grew up in and still lives at the Boulevard Gardens Apartments, remembered a true community leader who volunteered with the Wounded Warrior Project and served as the commander of American Legion Post 1836.

“I knew him since I was a kid. He was always kicking me off the grass playing sports. Jimmy was a real stickler for the rules,” Barnwell said. “He was always taking the kids of fallen firefighters to amusement parks and ball games, but he always told you what he thought. He cared so much for this community and he held you accountable. This crowd here today is a testament to his character.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) called Lanza a “pillar of the Woodside community” who left behind a legacy of selflessness, service to the country, and goodwill for his fellow neighbors.

“He had that hero gene in him,” Crowley said. “He saw the worst that humankind can do on his Earth, but he also saw the best and the beauty of the men and women of the FDNY doing all they could to save human life.”

Retired FDNY Lt. Kirk Lester served with Lanza for much of his career at Ladder 43/Engine 53 in Harlem and remembered his friend of nearly 35-years. The two took part in nearly a dozen rescue missions to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina and Lester believes his death leaves a void in the Woodside community.

“I think it’s extremely appropriate that this street is now Jimmy Lanza Way, but it should really be called ‘The Jimmy Lanza Way,’” Lester said. “That’s how he lived — the way he did things. It’s up to all of us now to do things the Jimmy Lanza way.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.