Louis Neil Mariani - Project 2996

September 12, 2009   1:12 am       War on Terror    

Note – This tribute is part of Project 2996, a blogosphere-wide effort to ensure that none of the Americans whose lives were taken on September 11, 2001 are forgotten. See the entire list at their site, linked in the previous sentence.

A picture of a smiling Neil It is a crisp late summer morning. A couple is parting ways at an airport. While that’s not an altogether uncommon sight, for Neil and Ellen Mariani, it would be the last time they would see one another. Neil was 59 years old; 4 of those years he had spent serving his country in the United States Air Force, and many more years working for HP Hood Dairy, from where he had retired. An avid photographer, he was known for his ever-present Minolta camera – he even developed his own film!

His step-daughter was engaged to be married on September 15, 2001, and he had decided to go out to California to attend the wedding. He made this decision at the last minute, so he and Ellen had different flights; Ellen had a layover in Chicago, while Neil had the cross-country UA 175 flight. Ellen wrote a letter to her husband after the wedding, and rather than put it in my words, I’ll put in hers.

DEAR NEIL…

I, as your wife, have searched for sane answers to what happened on that beautiful, sunny, warm Tuesday, September 11, 2001. You, Neil, were so tanned and fit, happy to be leaving with me before dawn for Boston’s Logan Airport. You and I were traveling on separate planes to the California wedding of my daughter, Gina, your step-daughter. You decided to go out for the wedding at the very last minute, and to help pay for the ticket, we held garage sales together.

Neil, I will never forget when we said goodbye at Boston Airport. Neil, you as a gentleman were always carrying heavy items for me, and that morning, you carried inside the terminal two large boxes full of toys for our grand-kids that were to be there for the wedding as flower girl and ring bearer.

You kissed me at the curb and said goodbye. Then you kissed me again inside and said “See you, Ellen. I’ll arrive three minutes after your plane lands,” and walked away. But suddenly, you came back, gave me a third kiss and a big hug. It was then I noticed you seemed nervous. I thought it was because you were not used to flying. You then said goodbye for the third time, then left. I looked back to catch a last glance at you, Neil, but you were gone and out of sight.

Neil, you never made it to California for Gina’s wedding that September 15, 2001. I left two hours before you and had a scheduled layover in Chicago. It was there that I found out what had happened to you. Your plane, United Airlines Flight 175, had crashed into the second tower of the World Trade Center. You, my husband, were gone in a ball of fire. The September 15th wedding of Gina’s went on in defiance of what had happened on September 11th.

Now as I stood as a new widow of four days, Gina asked me to give her away to be married. I wore two yellow roses, and made a toast in remembrance of you.

Neil, you are the perfect example of the type of American that makes this country great. Thank you for being the man that you were – America is a poorer place without you here.