An Unsung 9/11 Hero and the Journey of an American Flag
from Ground Zero to Iraq and Afghanistan to The White House
PATCHOGUE, N.Y. — A hero-maker serves heroes.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Donato Panico watched in horror as al-Qaeda hijackers crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center.
He felt he had to do something right away, and as the owner of a Smithtown deli for more than three decades, Panico knew he could provide a needed service.
“(My friend) was telling me that all kinds of commanding officers were killed down there and that they had no food system and it was in total chaos,” said Panico.
He then prepared his catering trucks with sandwiches and drove to Ground Zero the next morning. He got through most of the tight security checkpoints in Manhattan, but he was still far away from the Trade Center when commanding officer Louis Pacheco recognized Panico from his Long Island deli and ushered him into site so he could fill a void serving starving, dehydrated, weary, angry and saddened First Responders.
“A couple months later, (Pacheco) presented me with a flag that they hung in front of the Millennium Hotel,” Panico said. The hotel, which is adjacent to One World Trade Center, suffered significant damage in the terrorist attacks.
“He presented it to me and I presented it to a friend of mine in the store whose son was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. He hung it over his camp,” said Panico, continuing, “He had the flag commissioned by President (George W.) Bush and he returned it to me 4 years later.”
Panico continued to lend the gifted flag to local police, fire and veterans organizations on Long Island.
“You can’t hold onto something if you don’t give it away,” said Panico when asked why he felt so strongly about imparting such a meaningful and emotional souvenir to patriotic organizations. “It’s not my flag, it’s ours.”
His foundation Heros 4 Our Heroes was born from tragedy. Today, Panico aims to keep a “constant awareness” for the need to take care of police officers, firefighters and our veterans who make sacrifices to keep us safe and free. He is currently undertaking a project to re-build the patio at the Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Northport, Long Island.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) was the only local politician to show up at Donato’s fist Heros 4 Heroes Foundation event after 9/11; Panico said his first impression of Zeldin was he’s “special.”
The Republican congressman was deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne Division and is currently in the Army Reserves. In a sit-down interview with him, Donato and this reporter, he praised Donato as a selfless patriot while he engaged in the same type of organic camaraderie he has with fellow soldiers. Zeldin said Panico has the “type of character, values, ethics and beliefs” that guided his selfless actions on 9/11.
“If he was on the first floor of the Trade Center that day, he would have went straight up and started rendering first-aid to people even though he wasn’t NYPD or FDNY,” Congressman Zeldin said. “That’s his character.”
Recently, Panico had one particular person he wanted to lend “our” Old Glory that flew in front of the Millennium Hotel on September 11 to: The President of the United States.
Congressman Zeldin invited Panico to President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union Address in January. Panico brought the flag to Washington with him in hopes to give it to the President. That’s when Rep. Zeldin learned of the sentimental history of that American Flag. Donato did not get to meet Mr. Trump that day, but Mr. Zeldin held onto the flag for the right time, and on June 20, the Congressman received a phone call from The White House for a last minute policy meeting with President Trump and several representatives.
Zeldin recalled, “All I was thinking of was ‘where’s the flag?’”
After the meeting, Congressman Zeldin told President Trump about the flag.
“You could tell the story was impacting him, he was deeply moved by it, he was moved by Donato’s story, the first responders, the journey of that flag from the Trade Center, overseas being flown over a base to back home,” said Mr. Zeldin, adding that the President brought him into the Oval Office where he had an aide write down Panico’s story for a museum, and posed for a picture behind his Resolute Desk to send home to Donato.
Congressman Zeldin says when he meets with the President like he did when he rode in his motorcade with him to a GOP fundraiser in Southampton last month, President Trump asked about Donato.
Donato feels an unspoken bond with the current Commander-In-Chief, a man he has never met, but respects as a patriot, as he does his fellow New Yorkers and Americans who still suffer pain, sorrow, and illness from 9/11.
Panico still shakes when the calendar turns to September. He and we will Never Forget.
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Sofia “Sonya” Kenin is only 19, but has been climbing the ranks to the top in professional tennis.
Kenin won in three sets during her first two matches at this year’s US Open and has reached the third round. The Florida resident will take on Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic Friday night.
Kenin joined WCBS 880 Producer Neil A. Carousso on Thursday evening to talk about her experience. Here are some excerpts from their interview:
Carousso: “What’s your experience like so far?”
Kenin: “It’s amazing, you know. I love playing here. It’s the greatest thing in the world. I have a lot of confidence. I’m playing really well. I feel like my best tennis is right here in New York City.”
Carousso: “You last year gained a lot of notoriety because you played against Maria Sharapova… and so it’s funny, going back to last year and playing that match, what has changed from then to now?”
Kenin: “I feel like the confidence that I have and the fact that I have more experience playing at these high stages…. Last year was kind of like a bit more overwhelming. It’s more yes, I’m really excited, looking forward to it. But I’m just going to try to take it easy, not get too overwhelmed with the crowd and everything.”
Carousso: “And you’re going to play at Louis Armstrong tomorrow. What’s the difference between playing on a big stage versus a smaller court?”
Kenin: “I mean, there, you actually have to play well. But the atmosphere’s just incredible there… I obviously really wanted to try and play in one of those courts, and yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Carousso: “So playing in New York City… do you feel like you have that mojo; do you feel like you go into a match a little differently here in New York?”
Kenin: “Yeah, I feel like I can bring out that energy here and everyone’s going to support me. Some other places where I can’t – if I do that, they’re not really going to be behind me.”
Carousso: “What about other players? You obviously grew up watching Maria Sharapova. You’re 19. You know, what’s it like being in the same locker room as some of those greats?”
Kenin: “It’s amazing. I’ve been watching them – from when I started playing tennis, I’ve been watching them, and I always wanted to get here, and playing against them and being next to them is incredible, but I’ve gotten used to it.”
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The top tennis players in the world have descended on Queens for the 50th US Open.
There’s been a lot of stress and anxiety, but the $500 million rebuilding of the tennis center at Flushing Meadows is finally complete.
From @wcbs880 #Chopper880: The #BillieJeanKing #NationalTennisCenter is ready for you! @bradheller14's live reports from the #USOpen begin this morning on #WCBS880; 08.27.18; #Queens; #NYC; #ArthurAsheStadium; #LouisArmstrongStadium; @USTANTC; @usta; @usopen; @Radiodotcom pic.twitter.com/Kdd5MFsEGp
— Tom Kaminski (@TomKaminskiWCBS) August 27, 2018
“This is our capstone year. We have been under construction essentially for six years, taking a break each year to stage the US Open,” said tournament director David Brewer.
There are now two roofs on two stadia at the center, but they will only close for rain, not heat.
“At the end of the day, this is an athletic contest and we want to make sure that we are fair to our players and that they have a level playing field,” Brewer said.
Ready for action as the 50th @usopen begins in Queens. There’s a new Louis Armstrong Stadium to go with the existing Arthur Ashe. I’m with @bradheller14 and @NeilACarousso. @wcbs880 pic.twitter.com/tckglVNJpz
— Peter Haskell (@peterhaskell880) August 27, 2018
The new 14,000 set Louis Armstrong Stadium has a retractable roof, similar to the one installed at the Arthur Ashes Stadium for the 2016 event.
But that’s the only thing that’s different at the new stadium.
Fans from around the world come to the US Open Tennis Championships. Peter Haskell caught up with Tim from Brooklyn and Amy from Scottsdale, AZ who are soaking in day 1 in Queens. Tune in to WCBS Newsradio 880 on-air and on the Radio.com app for more live from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Read more: https://bit.ly/2Nnz4rx
Posted by WCBS Newsradio 880 on Monday, August 27, 2018
“What you see when you first walk in here is nothing but concession stands and restrooms — the two things that every stadium needs to have and we have those in abundance now at both levels,” Brewer said.
There are also new flowers and more trees to provide extra shade at the grounds.
We are live from the US Open Tennis Championships! Peter Haskell is talking to fans at the USTA Billie Jean King…
On day one of the U.S. Open, there has already been an upset. Simona Halep, who won the French Open in June, was beaten by 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, becoming the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the tournament.
“It was amazing,” said Rebecca Franson of Idaho, who watched as a top seed was knocked out in the opening round for the first time.
Tim Mercado of Brooklyn Heights likes to root for the underdogs.
“These people out there are just really busting it to get it done, and they’re doing it – they’re not making it billions and millions; they don’t have a million sponsors like wanting them to do this, and you know, being able to come and go out on the courts and just go from court to court to support them, I think that’s important,” Mercado said.
Mercado thinks this is the best day of the tournament, when you can see top players on every court.
It was the first match to be held at the newly rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Neil A. Carousso is producing multi-media content from the U.S. Open Grand Slam Tennis Tournament for WCBS Newsradio 880.
By Neil A. Carousso, Special to ConnectingVets.com and WCBS Newsradio 880
NORTHPORT, N.Y. — A humble 6-foot Giant walked into the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island Thursday evening wearing his 1986 Super Bowl ring and a debt of gratitude on his sleeve.
“It really gives me chills to think of what they did and why we’re able to live how we do here to come and see the veterans and talk to them and hear their stories,” retired NFL punter Sean Landeta said.
He won two Super Bowls with the New York Football Giants at the conclusion of the 1986 and 1990 NFL seasons. Landeta is an All-Pro and All-Decade Team punter who played 22 seasons – the longest tenure in league history for his position – in the National Football League, mostly with the Giants. He also played for the Rams, Buccaneers, Packers and Eagles.
Landeta is known for pinning the opposing team inside the 20 yard line; he retired with the league record for doing so, and he is currently number two on the all-time record list for most punts inside the 20, second to retired Giants punter Jeff Feagles, Landeta’s successor.
He recalled an amusing story he told a group of veterans, who surrounded him to talk football, of the moment he thanked legendary G-Men quarterback Phil Simms on the sideline of Super Bowl XXI for throwing a couple incompletions that gave Landeta an opportunity to appear in the big game against the Denver Broncos. He told the vets he wanted his family to get to see him play in the big game in person at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Simms, the Super Bowl MVP, actually set a record for completing 22 of 25 passes, leading Big Blue to victory over the Broncos 39-20.
From the moment Landeta walked in to the building where the veterans live on the Northport VA Medical Center campus, they were fascinated by his playing career, but Landeta was awestruck by the true heroes around him.
“As a player, people are always asking you about you, and you know, I’ve had such good times just asking these guys: ‘tell me about you and where you’ve been and what you’ve done,’” Landeta said, adding, “It really humbles you to see what they’ve done and makes you realize how lucky we are to have heroes like this.”
It was a casual night that will stay with those men forever. They took pictures with Landeta wearing his Super Bowl ring on their fingers, watched preseason football on the television, and sat and talked about their services and their current day-to-day struggles.
At the end of the night, everyone was smiling.
“A lot of them seem like they’re in a pretty good place. I really enjoyed my time with them. I hope I can come back again.”
EDISON, N.J. (WCBS 880) — Recently, WCBS 880’s Mike Sugerman and Neil A. Carousso were in Edison, New Jersey, and they were hungry.
So they went to Harold’s Deli, where Sugerman was in the market for some pastrami. But then he looked at the menu.
The extra-large pastrami sandwich cost $60. That’s right, $60.
That’s a lot for a pastrami sandwich. But it’s not quite that simple.
“If you think of it, we’re cheaper than McDonald’s,” said owner Harold Jaffe.
And then Sugerman saw the sandwich – and it all started to make sense. It’s piled high enough to reach from a man’s belly to his shoulders.
“The triple decker – that will feed 10 to 12 people,” Jaffe said.
It has four pounds of meat.
“Three of us ate, and three wives are going to on $25 worth of pastrami,” said Sal Criscuolo.
“Plenty of leftovers – it’s has some weight,” added Harrison Schwartz.
Criscoulo and Schwartz are regulars here.
“I got engaged over there at table three over there. Harold brought the ring on a plate of orders,” Schwartz said. “I love pastrami. What can I say?”
Harold’s is regularly reviewed as among the top delis in the nation. It opened in 1990, after Jaffe spent years as the general manager of the now defunct Carnegie Deli.
He had bigger ideas involving bigger sandwiches.
“So people talk about it,” Jaffe said. “I haven’t spent 10 cents on advertisement.”
Delis are having a hard time these days. Many are closing. And over the years, people have come to expect large portions.
Jaffe has had no trouble.
“The only complaint is that our stomachs aren’t big enough to eat more. It’s that good,” said Criscuolo, who with Schwartz is a restaurant reviewer for the Facebook blog Breakthrough.
David Sklar doesn’t write about Harold’s, but he’s been coming to the deli for 25 years.
“I had a 29-inch waist. Now I have a 29-inch ankle,” he said.
Sugerman didn’t want that. So he just had a diet cream soda.
Oh who was he kidding? The food was all delicious, and Sugerman and Carousso were not hungry when they left.