Brother of 9/11 victim returns to Ground Zero every year to honor sibling

James Quinn was working for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

By LARRY MCSHANE | New York Daily News | Published: September 10, 2018

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — On Sept. 12, 2001, West Point cadet Joe Quinn boarded a Metro-North train for Lower Manhattan in search of his older brother.

It took him a year to finally reach his destination, on the first anniversary of the attack. His sibling Jimmy, working on the 104th floor for Cantor Fitzgerald, has yet to be found.

The Quinn family returns to Ground Zero for the 17th time this Tuesday — and Joe jokes that the clan has little choice.

“We’re scared of ‘What if there’s a heaven? What would Jimmy say if we didn’t go?’” said Joe Quinn, 38. “We realized with all these people in one area, and all the news cameras — if we weren’t there, we would be in trouble with Jimmy.”

There’s a more serious pull for the Quinns each year as Sept. 11 rolls around, a somber September family reunion on the grounds where 23-year-old Jimmy perished.

“They’ve never found any of his remains, so this is the closest we can get,” explained Joe Quinn. “There’s no public remembrance of him — a tombstone or a gravesite. You see the same people, and share the whole thing all over again.

“It kind of brings you more comfort in a way.”

Quinn, the son of a retired NYPD officer, went on to graduate West Point and serve six years in the U.S. Army with three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The native Brooklynite learned even more about loss and trauma during his military tours, and channeled his experiences into his job as executive director of the Headstrong Project.

“We’ve got your back,” the organization’s website promises.

The group’s mission is providing free PTSD treatment, with veterans seeking aid contacted within 48 hours by experienced clinicians — confidentiality assured. The process is intended to remove the stigma often associated with the illness by those suffering from PTSD.

Quinn’s unique personal experiences allow him to connect the mental health dots, whether the victims are survivors of 9/11 or a firefight in Fallujah.

“It’s interesting — trauma is trauma,” the bearded Quinn explained. “All trauma is the same. The other part, the hard part, is ‘Why was it that person? Why wasn’t it me?’

“And for me, going into combat…I held this kind of deep-seated shame that I wasn’t there for my brother. Now all of these people are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s all because of that day. And how do you rectify that during your time overseas?”

As Sept. 11 looms this year, Quinn said he often hears the same question about Jimmy. Most of the inquirers don’t expect his reply.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Is is hard that your brother died on 9/11?’” Quinn recounted. “I say not that he died — people die. My biggest fear was that (Jimmy) was scared. That’s the only thing I can think of. He was on a high floor in the north tower. Was it instantly? Or for 90 minutes, was he scared?”

When he returns to the 16-acre Lower Manhattan stretch of Ground Zero this year, Quinn — now the father of two — will fondly recall his brother with the family’s next generation.

“I have kids, my brother has a daughter, and it’s to remind them of that day and their uncle,” he said. “We just want our loved one remembered. So many years later, you just want the stories of your loved one to live on.”

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