9/11 Tribute Center: A Father On A Mission

A father who's son died in the September 11th attacks set up a tribute center across the street that still stands today.

NEW YORK, NY -- Today marks 15 years since the September 11th terror attacks, which killed 2,977 people. Most of the victims were at New York's World Trade Center, where hundreds of first responders rushed into the burning towers and never came out. CBS News' Kenneth Craig speaks with a father who used his grief to create a powerful tribute.

His son was firefighter Jonathan Ielpi. The uniform he wore on 9/11 when he was killed in the collapse of the twin towers. A 29-year old father of two, his memory lives at the 9/11 Tribute Center, along with other victims of the terror attack.

Lee Ielpi is Jonathan's father and a retired firefighter. He spent three months searching ground zero before he found his son's remains - and then continued combing the debris for victims for another six months. He said, "The best that humanity could give us was here, searching. Every day 24 hours a day. Hands and knees."

During that time, the damaged Liberty Deli became a gathering spot for rescue and recovery workers. Ielpi eventually turned the  space into the 9/11 Tribute Center - a kind of interim museum until the official one opened in 2014. Not only did it stay open, it will move to a bigger space next spring, where it will continue to  tell the story of 9/11 in the most personal terms.

Ielpi said, "When I get to talk about my son I cry. I can’t tell you how many times I cried this week." Pouring himself into his work has helped Ielpi move forward, but hasn't relieved the pain. He said, "The only thing 9/11 means to me, is I have not seen my buddy in 15 years and I miss ….. (pauses)… I have not seen my buddy in 15 years, and I miss my buddy."

The Tribute Center gave Ielpi a mission: to educate, enlighten and to understand how 9/11 changed the world.


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