Orio Palmer's accidental memorial.

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Orio Palmer grew up in the Bronx and was killed in Manhattan. Growing up in the Bronx can be hard enough, but to be stuck with the first name Orio doesn't make it any easier. Palmer never let it bother him. He even gave himself the nickname "Cookie," so when kids would mock his name he'd just join in and steal their thunder. If you can laugh at yourself, there isn't much anyone can do to you.

I knew Palmer as a teenager. He was a year ahead of me at Cardinal Spellman High, and we hung out in the P.S. 19 schoolyard. We were never close, but had a mutual respect for each other that was cemented through playing sports. When I found out that Orio Palmer was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, two memories of him kept running through my mind. One was how he had turned me on to the song "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. The other was how he had written his name in concrete in the schoolyard. I could see his face beaming as a 17-year-old as he looked up at the "Orio" he had scrawled in the fresh cement on the wall.

In the 1980s, I lost touch with most of what I knew from the Bronx. I moved on to Brooklyn, Queens, then Manhattan. When I hooked up with the old Bronx crew again in the 1990s, everything had changed. Some guys were dead, others were stockbrokers or carpenters, a bunch of others, of course, had gone into the police and fire departments. I had heard Orio Palmer was a rising star in the FDNY and had stayed in remarkable shape. He was running marathons and was married to a Bronx girl and living out on Long Island with his three kids.

Palmer made Battalion Chief in lower Manhattan and was assigned to Battalion 7 on W. 19th St. When the planes hit, I knew he must have been in the thick of it. His name was listed as one of the missing, and then the dead, firemen. As tales of courage came out about 9/11, I couldn't find one story about Orio Palmer. It was like he went up into the South Tower and just disappeared.

Anyone who had met Orio Palmer knew that he must have been where the fire was. He was in remarkable shape and was a brave and caring man. But there was no word on what happened to him. Along with Palmer, Battalion 7 lost 16 men that day. The firehouse's proximity was their doom.

There was a memorial service for Orio out in Valley Stream in October 2001. At the service, his wife Debbie read a letter that their teenage daughter, Dana, had written. When she finished there wasn't a dry eye in the church.

Dear Dad,

A friend gave me the idea of writing to you... Oh, how I wish you could write back, or I could hear your voice again, or see you?even if it's just a quick glimpse...

You will never know how proud I am of you and I can't even imagine what you must have gone through in the very end... I will love you forever and always know that you're my hero...

I now am able to fully understand the expression, "Only the good die young." For, it is so true. Knowing you, you didn't have any idea how many lives you touched... You never took anything for granted...any sunset we saw you taught us to appreciate it because we'd never see anything like it ever again...

Palmer was given a "Portrait of Grief" in the Times and then forgotten by the media. But the Bronx remembered their fallen son, and last fall the borough named 234th St. and Verio Ave. after him. He grew up down the block; when I think of 234th and Vireo I always think of Orio. Now I would get to see his name on the street pole.

Before the November 2002 street-naming ceremony at Vireo Ave., the courage and poise of Orio Palmer finally came out. Port Authority released a tape of 9/11 that showed Orio Palmer had reached the 78th floor?a height reached only by him and a few other firefighters. He calmly called in a bunch of 10-45s?dead bodies?and then said he needed two hoses for the raging fire.

"We should be able to knock it down with two lines," Palmer says on the tape. He didn't know how soon he would go down in the rubble.

I recently drove up to the Bronx to see the Orio Palmer Memorial, circa 1974?his name in that cement. I walked through the fence of the P.S. 19 schoolyard on a warm Saturday afternoon. The yard was deserted. Back in the 70s and 80s, it would have been teeming with kids playing basketball, softball or just hanging out on the steps. Today's Bronx kids seem to have better things to do.

On the brown cement wall above the back door of the school, in the left corner, there it was: ORIO. A 29-year-old tag done as a lark by a Bronx hero. I just stood and stared at it, trying to remember the day he wrote it. All I saw was his smiling face. I turned and thought about a saying on the back of a memorial text that was given out at his funeral:

"Dance like nobody's watching."

Palmer loved to do goony dances. And he loved music. Loved it so much his three kids called him the Music Man. I walked through the empty schoolyard and did a little dance in honor of my fallen friend. No one was watching, but it wouldn't have mattered either way.

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