9/11 kids marked by historic connection – dailypress.com

9/11 kids marked by historic connection – dailypress.com

If everything had gone as planned, the last place Shari Melillo would have been during the catastrophic attack on the World Trade Center was a hospital maternity ward.

Just 12 days before, she and her husband, Stephen, had checked into Riverside Regional Medical Center for a scheduled Caesarean birth, knowing that her difficult pregnancy and her unborn son’s breech position made it wise to take him early.

But not long after the nurse inserted the IV needle into her arm, the Smithfield woman changed her mind. She’s never regretted heeding the instinctive voice that told her little boy wasn’t ready.

What she didn’t know then — or on the morning she went into labor — was that when Spencer finally came into the world the day of his birth would be both historic and horrific.

Minutes after he arrived on Sept. 11, 2001, Melillo found herself puzzled by the somber note of silence that had descended over a normally raucous morning radio program.

That’s when she began confronting the complex legacy shared by some 10,000 other American families who greeted a new child on that fateful Tuesday.

“There was no laughing. No joking,” she recalls. “We were being attacked.”

By the time Melillo realized what was happening, her husband had already left for the nursery with their son — and he was recording the terror unfolding on the TV screen at the same time as Spencer’s first bath.

Shari wanted to jump up and run out to get them. But she was still paralyzed from the waist down.

“After all we went through with the pregnancy; it was ecstasy to deliver a beautiful, healthy baby boy. But then everything changed,” she recalls.

“It was hard not to get caught up in the gruesomeness of it — the horror of it. I felt guilty about bringing him into the world. And it took me a while to recognize that it was a positive thing — a message of life — and that he had been born on a day of heroes.”

Tears of joy but tears for the world

Across the Peninsula, at Mary Immaculate Hospital, Angie and Ron Evans were facing their own delivery room struggle.

Worried by a troubled pregnancy that had required 6 months of bed rest, the Hampton couple had rushed in early that morning. But Angie was still in labor — waiting for her husband to return from canceling the day’s business appointments — when the first tower was attacked.

Watching the riveting drama play out on TV, she fretted over the fate of a photographer friend who lived near Ground Zero. She worried about her husband, who was stranded outside in the long line that had formed at a hastily organized checkpoint.

In the end, Evans asked to have the tragic spectacle turned off so she could try to focus on her labor. But she was still feeling overwhelmed when her anxious husband rushed in just minutes before their youngest son, Seth, was delivered.

“We thought the world was coming to an end — and there was my wife, having a baby,” Ron recalls.

“The world was in tears — and we were in tears for the world. But there were also tears of joy for our son being born.”

A long, long time

In the months that followed, also Shari Melillo often found herself grappling with the conflicting emotions raised by her son’s star-crossed arrival.

But her husband, Stephen, decided right away that the calendar had given them a gift rather than stealing away with Spencer’s birthday.

That very morning he had strained to document the unexpected intersection of personal and global events, panning with his new camera from the scenes in the delivery room to his ticking watch — and then to the wrenching sight of the second plane slamming into the World Trade Center. Later that day, he made the first entry in a journal for his son, trying to give his seemingly inauspicious birth an explanation.

“The attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the foiled attack on the nation’s capitol has been on the news all day and probably will be for a long, long Time,” he wrote.

“It’s on right now as You take your first meal and wear your first hat and take your first bath. It plays on the TV as I change your first diaper (yep, it was my honour!), and You open Your eyes and, as at least it seems to me, You smile.

“You, a miracle of God’s handiwork, come into a harsh, Evil-filled world. What happened today, the Miracle of You and the destruction of the World Trade Center and the HORRIBLE Wasting of LIFE is a reminder of the constant Battle Between Good and Evil.”

Born on a day of heroes

As Spencer’s first year wore on, the issue of his birth date became a sort of litmus test for the Melillos’ acquaintances and friends, dividing them into those who thought — “Oh! Isn’t that too bad!” — and those who shared his parents’ increasingly strong belief that their little boy had been blessed by being born on “a day of heroes.”

That’s what they told everyone when — in a gesture of both defiance and love— they refused to budge when picking the day to celebrate their son’s first birthday.

The Evans felt the same way, too, and — though Sept, 11, 2002 rolled around in the middle of the week — they welcomed an unusually large number of relatives and friends into their home for an unequivocally patriotic observance.

Red, white and blue decorations embellished the walls and doors. “God Bless America!” stretched across the picture window. Images of American flags and the Twin Towers vied for attention on the fronts of the revelers’ T-shirts while the birthday cake itself looked just like Old Glory.

Though the intensity of those first celebrations has diminished over time, it’s a formula that both families have used again and again to connect their sons to the importance of their singular birthdays.

“We celebrate his birthday with some sort of red, white and blue every year — and Seth loves it. So do all his friends,” his mom says.

“We don’t look at it as a disaster. We look at it as a gift.”

Seth’s first years

Still, not until Seth was a couple of years old did his mom sit down with him for the first time to leaf through the pages of a 9/11 book written by kids for kids.

And not until he was 5 or 6 — and had seen the newspaper pages saved among his baby pictures — did the little boy nicknamed “Nine-Eleven” begin to realize the nature of his historic connection.

“Bad guys were crashing planes into the Twin Towers on the day I was born,” Seth says.

“It was shocking — and it wasn’t until I got older that I started to think that it was interesting and cool.”

Spencer Melillo is much more tight-lipped about his link to 9/11. But he’s had plenty of help from his parents to arrive at a similar perspective.

For most of his life, they’ve taken him to monthly breakfasts honoring local survivors of the World War II Bataan Death March, who adopted him and his younger brother, Shafer, as mascots.

And when he starts to talk shyly about the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 — who gave their lives to stop their hijacked plane from attacking Washington, D.C. — among the first words out of his mouth is “heroes.”

That’s why he sees things so differently from the schoolyard bigmouth who recently came up and starting taunting him about his birthday.

“He told me that being born on Sept. 11 made me a devil kid. But it’s not true,” Spencer says.

“I just walked away and said nothing.”

September 10, 2011|Mark St. John Erickson, merickson@dailypress.com

– Spencer Melillo and his brother practice Wing Chun at Sifu Gorden’s school –