10 years later: Town remembers Michael Uliano, 9/11

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“In the end, no one will ever be the same.”

Those were the words that appeared on the front page of the Canton Citizen on September 13, 2001 — just two days after the worst terrorist attack in American history.

Even then, in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented tragedy and with the country still “reeling with unbearable grief,” it was already clear that America, on that fateful Tuesday morning, had been permanently altered — that the nation’s collective innocence, or at least whatever was left of it after two world wars and the assassination of President Kennedy, had just been lost forever.

It was also in that September 13 edition of the Citizen that the devastating loss of the terrorist attacks began to hit home across Canton, as residents learned that one of their own, 42-year-old Michael Uliano, a local sports legend with a larger than life personality, was among the missing.

Michael Uliano had a larger than life personality.

Uliano, an employee at Cantor Fitzgerald, had gone to work that Tuesday morning just like millions of other Americans and was in his office on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower when a Boeing 767, which had been hijacked out of Logan Airport in Boston, crashed into the building’s north facade between the 93rd and 99th floors, killing all 92 passengers aboard and an unconfirmed number of WTC employees in the impact zone.

Over 1,400 people lost their lives in the North Tower that day, including Uliano, a beloved husband, son, brother and friend. Uliano’s close friend and co-worker Vinny Abate also perished, along with 656 other Cantor Fitzgerald employees — roughly two-thirds of its entire workforce.

In Canton in the weeks that followed, residents gathered on several occasions as a show of support for the victims and also as a stand of solidarity and national pride. On one occasion, as many as 5,000 residents held “hands across Canton,” lining the entire length of Washington Street to cheer on a procession of public safety workers and town vehicles.

A few weeks later, hundreds turned out to pay tribute to Uliano in a memorial service at the United Church of Christ, where the man known as “Uli” to friends was remembered for his kindness, integrity, and passion for life.

***

It has now been ten years — a full decade — since Uliano and nearly 3,000 others lost their lives in this inexplicable tragedy. Uliano, whose birthday is September 2, would have turned 52 last Friday.

Those who knew him remember a man who was spontaneous and charismatic — a man who had been voted “most spirited” by the Canton High Class of 1978, and someone who, according to former classmate and teammate John Connolly, “could talk a cat off a can of tuna fish.”

“He was just so intense about life and loving and giving,” recalled his mother, Gail Callahan. “He was intense. That’s the way he was.”

Of course, Uliano is also widely remembered throughout Canton for his exploits on the gridiron, a star quarterback who led the Bulldogs to their first Hockomock League title in 1977, highlighted by a 27-2 win over Stoughton in the Thanksgiving Day finale.

But Uliano was so much more than just a gifted athlete; he was a talented poet, actor and singer, performing in various plays and musicals in both high school and college. He was also an avid fisherman and spent much of his life — including every summer — with his family on Cape Cod.

“He was really all about love. That’s probably the best way I can put it,” said Callahan, who noted her son’s fierce loyalty to his family, including his wife, Linda, his eight siblings — Michele, Marianne, Melissa, Mark, Matthew, Martha, E.J. and Nathan — and his beloved cat, Crevice.

It is this remarkable legacy, along with the legacies of all of those who perished in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, that the town of Canton will pay tribute to as part of a special remembrance ceremony on Sunday, September 11, at Veterans Memorial Park.

The ceremony, which starts at 8:46 a.m., will be led by Connolly and will include brief remarks by Representative Bill Galvin, Fire Chief Charlie Doody, Police Chief Ken Berkowitz, Veterans Agent Tony Andreotti, and any member of the Uliano family who would like to share their thoughts about Michael.

During the ceremony, the town will also dedicate a memorial in Uliano’s honor, which was designed by architect Greg Pando with input from a small committee of town officials.

Connolly, who spearheaded the effort, could not say enough about the work done by Pando and the other members of the committee. He also thanked his fellow selectmen for approving the project and for providing the necessary funding to get it completed in time for the 10th anniversary.

In addition, Connolly thanked Chief Doody for preparing the monument’s inscription, which concludes with the following lines: “Your spirit has touched and inspired all who knew you. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

Callahan thought the inscription was “absolutely beautiful” and described it as “very simply put and just very nicely done.”

On Sunday, Callahan will continue her own personal tradition when she visits Hemenway Landing in Eastham, where the family has installed a memorial bench and flag in Michael’s honor. She had previously visited Ground Zero in New York and one day hopes to return to the site — after the National September 11 Museum has opened — but it is at the beach where she still feels closest to her son.

As for the ceremony in Canton, the hope is that the memorial to Uliano remains both personal and transcendent — a lasting tribute to a beloved native son, and a living reminder that we will never be the same.

“And shame on us if we ever forget this day,” said Connolly. “We can’t forget. It’s just too important.”

Following the remembrance ceremony and dedication, the public is invited back to the Canton Police Station on Washington Street for an open house reception in the lobby, where a piece of the World Trade Center will be on display for viewing.

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