CLIFTON, N.J. -- A walk to work inspired Tim Oliver, an art director at Golf Digest Magazine to write " Finding Fifteen ," a tribute to 15 9/11 victims.
The Huntington, Long Island resident said he found himself walking past the pools of the 9/11 Memorial on his way to his office at One World Trade Center.
"It's peaceful," he said -- and would always pause to look at a name -- or two -- and think about the person who had passed.
Reading those random names and reflecting on those lives -- he would do some rudimentary research once back inside -- became a story he told his youngest kids, then 16 and 17, when he got home. "It's history to them," he said.
And, in fact, they told him they were learning so much, he should write a book.
The result is a homage to 15 in honor of the 15th anniversary of the tragedy -- and the families left behind.
Among them is a Clifton Port Authority Police Officer John P. Scala, then 31, a first generation Ukrainian American who left his Lincoln Tunnel post to head into the South Tower. He used his seniority to tell his fellow officer he would go in since only one of them had a Scott Pack, a breathing apparatus used by first responders when they venture into smoke-filled buildings. Because Scala was a paramedic as well as police officer -- a rare combination - his partner, Bobby Greff acquiesced. Greff remembers kissing Scala on the forehead, then watching him head into the belly of the building.
Another story revolves around Yonkers, N.Y. resident Joanna Vidal, 26, an Events Coordinator for Risk Waters Group who had set up for a breakfast meeting at Windows of the World on the 106th floor of the North Tower. She had been told by her bosses not to come in that morning because she had done such a great job setting up for the conference.
Needless to say, the hard worker, who graduated from Iona and got her masters at the College of New Rochelle, went in anyway.
Oliver said he chose names by chance though, knowing where those from the Pentagon were and those from United Airlines Flight 175, he tried to offer a cross-section to honor every aspect of that fateful day.
He then wrote letters to the families -- a complicated task considering many had moved - asking if they would share their recollections and also talk about how they were doing.
"Many of them told me they couldn't have talked five or even 10 years ago," he said. "But now, they were ready."
The overall theme of the book, said Oliver, is that these 9/11 families have persevered and rely on their loved one's memories to help cope with the pain. "They all say there is a big void in their lives but, for the most part, are at a point where they don’t sweat the small stuff. They honor their relatives; they go for their dreams and they really cherish their lives," he said. "They look at life differently than we do."
Oliver hopes his book inspires readers to realize we can't be afraid of living. "New York will always be a target," he said. "And the best we can do is try to be vigilant and smart."
His plans for where he'll be on Sunday, Sept. 11 were up in the air at presstime. The goal, he said, is to be with his family or with one of the family members he interviewed.
Oliver admits he's been caught in a bit of a whirlwind since the book's release last week, especially considering the fast turn-around it took him to complete it. His Golf Digest office moved from Wilton, Conn. to the Financial District in December 2015 and he didn't start writing until February 2016. And though he's now intimately involved with the 15 families he found by walking around the pools, he continues to look at names daily and contemplate all that was lost.
For more information, go to www.findingfifteen.com/ .
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