Cantor Fitzgerald survivor tormented by the loss of his colleagues
Ex-Cantor Fitzgerald official: 9/11 changed his life
Peter DaPuzzo gave them their start.
But for dozens of bond traders and computer programmers who DaPuzzo helped get a foot in the door at Cantor Fitzgerald, the promise of a bright future proved to be fleeting.
And that start exacted an unspeakable toll.
DaPuzzo lost 658 colleagues at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, many of whom reported to him as the then-head of the institutional equities division at the bond trading firm.
"It was a guilty feeling that I had, having hired them," DaPuzzo said.
"The other thing was, why wasn't I there? Some of these boys were like children to me."
DaPuzzo took off the morning of Sept. 11 to meet with a home-refinancing appraiser in Greenwich.
The married father of three wound up with a new lease on life, one that he said has caused him to re-evaluate everyday trials and tribulations and to lean on his Roman Catholic faith.
"So the market's down five days in row," said DaPuzzo, now retired. "These guys are gone. Really, everything is small stuff when you compare it to life."
DaPuzzo was recently asked by his estate planner how long he expects to live.
Five years seemed like a reasonable estimate to the Riverside resident, who celebrated his 70th birthday this year and his 50th wedding anniversary to his high school sweetheart, Mary Jane DaPuzzo.
He is living on borrowed time, the reminders ever-present.
Like the framed photo from a 1996 company party at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which DaPuzzo plastered with tiny stickers after the attacks.
His is the only face without a star next to it.
"Look at all the stars. Look at all these dead people," DaPuzzo said. "Everybody that's from Cantor here is dead."
Nine out of 134 people in DaPuzzo's division cheated death. They owe their lives to oversleeping, a timely business trip or vacation.
"We were saved for a reason," DaPuzzo said. "God must have saved us for a reason so we could do something more than we were doing."
Cantor Fitzgerald occupied the 101st through the 105th floors of the iconic north tower. No one above the impact zone of American Airlines Flight 11, which tore a gaping hole from the 93rd to the 99th floors, survived.
"He had gotten married and had two kids," DaPuzzo said of Candela. "And we went to his funeral."
"Ed was to retire on Friday, Sept. 8," DaPuzzo said. "But he offered to keep working until Sept. 14, as his co-worker was on vacation until then."
Another one of the lost was Charles Zion, 54, an equities trader and a senior vice president of the firm from Greenwich.
"He was the No. 1 salesman in the firm," DaPuzzo said of Zion.
Without the moral support of his family and the spiritual guidance of the Rev. Michael Moynihan, then-pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church on North Street, DaPuzzo said he doesn't know how he would have been able to overcome the psychological toll of Sept. 11.
He attended 33 memorial services and funerals after the attacks, and delivered eulogies at several.
"The same God that created us, and if you think God is so good, can take us away," said DaPuzzo, who lived in Wilton for 11 years before moving to Greenwich in 1996.
Cantor Fitzgerald maintains a suburban office in Darien, as it did before the attacks, though in a different location. It was there that DaPuzzo said that the final words of his fallen colleagues could be heard over an intercom system the morning of the attacks.
"They had live mikes open and people were yelling through them," DaPuzzo said. "The stories you were hearing were just horrible."
DaPuzzo couldn't help but think back to Feb. 26, 1993, when a truck bomb was detonated beneath the north tower, killing seven people and injuring more than 1,000. He had joined the firm one month earlier.
"We walked down to 86, tried to get off and take the elevators down," DaPuzzo said. "The lights went out. We all had handkerchiefs in front of our faces. It was so dark you were afraid someone was going to fall."
The scenes inside the stairwell of a pregnant woman struggling to make the descent and several volunteers carrying a man in a wheelchair remain vivid.
"What else can bring you closer?" DaPuzzo said. "What other bonding is there when you think might die?"
Some of his colleagues were so spooked by the experience that they lobbied for the firm to break its lease, according to DaPuzzo, who said that his bosses ultimately balked because of the favorable lease terms.
"I said, `Well, all right, let's have more fire drills,' " DaPuzzo said.
DaPuzzo's office in the north tower faced southwest toward the Statue of Liberty. From 1985 to 1993, he worked on the 106th floor of the south tower for what was then Shearson Loeb Rhoades, an investment banking and retail brokerage firm run by fellow Greenwich resident Sandy Weill.
While he never could have envisioned what happened on Sept. 11, some aspects of the towers' design were cause for concern, from the opening of desk drawers to the swaying of the building during a hurricane.
"This is like being on a ship," DaPuzzo said. "They had elasticity because of the wind. We used to tease, God forbid if the building falls, you could walk across the Hudson River to New Jersey."
DaPuzzo will join his former colleagues on the 10th anniversary at a Cantor Fitzgerald memorial service in Central Park. Later, he will attend a Mass and luncheon at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y., where he is scheduled to deliver a speech at an event sponsored by the school and the Security Traders Association of New York.
Ground zero isn't on his itinerary, at least not on the anniversary. While he has donated money to the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, DaPuzzo still hasn't set foot in the chasm where the towers once stood.
"I didn't want to see a hole in the ground," DaPuzzo said. "I didn't want to see where all my friends died. It was good people, hard-working people who just wanted to succeed."
Staff writer Neil Vigdor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 203-625-4436.