In Memoriam


Tears, prayers and a special song
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Billy Joel's "Goodnight My Angel" was intended for happier times: Each of Steven Vitale's three daughters planned to dance with her father to the song at her wedding.   Instead, the sisters listened to it as their father's funeral drew to a close.  The young women held each other, their faces painted with anguish, as church singer Nick Williams crooned over a violin and piano.   "Goodnight, my angel, time to close your eyes.   I promised I would never leave you/ And you should always know/ Wherever you may go, no matter where you are/ I never will be far away." 

Hundreds of mourners filled Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in Huguenot for the last rites for the New Springville man who saved people from a burning PATH train in 1982 and found the last victim of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings during his career with the Port Authority Police Department. He also served in the U.S. Army, spending a year in Vietnam during the war.   As each of the three adult daughters recited her own letter penned as a eulogy, many in the standing-room-only press of mourners in the T-shaped church wept unashamedly.   Children, grown men and uniformed cops dabbed their eyes as Vitale's daughters spoke about his unconditional support during tough times, the love he bestowed upon them and their happy childhood memories.  

"I don't want you to look at me with pity," Michelle Vitale, who is 24, told the mourners. "Some people live their whole lives without knowing unconditional love. No matter how ugly I behaved, he always saw my beauty."   In her letter, she described how she lit up when he would pick her up from her mother's house on weekends. She also said that as a kid, she dreamed of being a cop like her dad, whose house is filled with plaques and newspaper clippings from his career.   "All I wanted to do was to be you," she said from the altar, which was adorned with Easter flowers and white candles.   The sisters spoke after close to an hour of prayer and song. Monsignor Jeffrey Conway, who officiated, tried to console the mourners by emphasizing Vitale's eternal life in Christ and playing down his violent death.

The 55-year-old retired cop was fatally shot outside a Chinese restaurant on Richmond Hill Road on April 10 as he picked up dinner with his wife, Karen. The couple was returning home from Atlantic City, where they had celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary.   Tears, prayers and a special song.   With Vitale's life being commemorated yesterday, scores of police officers from the Port Authority and other departments throughout New York and New Jersey turned out in uniform to honor him.   Six Port Authority police officers clad in dress blue carried in his wooden coffin, which was covered with a white, embroidered cloth to symbolize his baptism. They processed to the altar to the strains of "On Eagles' Wings."   At the end of the service, the coffin, now draped in an American flag, was saluted by officers from the Port Authority Police Department's Honor Guard. Rows of uniformed police officers lined the church lawn, and members of the Blue Knights -- a motorcycle club to which Vitale belonged in New Jersey -- filled the cordoned-off block of Amboy Road on their bikes.

About an hour later, at Resurrection Cemetery in Pleasant Plains, two Army soldiers folded the flag from his coffin and handed it to his widow, while bagpipers from the Port Authority played "God Bless America."   One by one, each mourner placed a flower beside the plot of earth where Vitale was buried.   "It was everything that I would've wanted for my husband," Karen Vitale said at the end of the day. "And everything that he deserved."  

 Copyright 2006 Staten Island Advance


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