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A loving look back as life marches on

Published September 10, 2006

SPRING HILL - The pain is still there.

And it doesn't have to be Sept. 11 for the Holland family to feel lost without son and older brother Joey around.

Five years ago Monday, Joey, 32, was killed while attending a meeting of commodities brokers on the 92nd floor of Tower 1 at the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. It was the second of the twin towers to collapse that morning. A week later, rescue workers found his wedding band and his wallet in the rubble.

The Hollands had driven to their old hometown of New York, hoping to find their son wandering the streets in a daze.

What they did find a year later, while in the city for the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was Joey's small picture - one of many put together to make up a larger poster of the twin towers. Their daughter, 21-year-old Michele, immediately spotted her brother's tiny face among other Sept. 11 victims when she saw the poster in an art shop window.

Now framed, it hangs on a wall in the family's Spring Hill home.

The Hollands are one of at least three Spring Hill families who will remember loved ones on Monday's fifth anniversary of the attacks.

They talked last week about how life has been as they prepared for another trip to the city. A street was to be named this weekend after Joey - Joe Holland Way - in their old Upper Manhattan neighborhood.

Like the Hollands, the lives of the Mojicas and Rudzianis continue to be altered.

Manny Mojica Sr. still dearly misses his son, Manny Mojica Jr., a New York City firefighter. Steve and Mary Rudzianis will never forget their son-in-law, Martin De Meo, a firefighter with a hazardous materials unit.

"I can still see his face," Mojica said of his son.

* * *

Mojica has been to the grave of his only son once.

He went to New York to pay respects a year after Manny died at age 37. That was all he could bear.

During that visit, the former New York police officer went to ground zero. He also stopped by the firehouse of his son's unit - Squad 18 - which was among the first to respond on the scene.

Manny was a well-built, motorcycle-loving Marine who tried to follow in the footsteps of his father by becoming a police officer. But not long after joining, he realized what his true calling was.

"He loved being a firefighter," Mojica said.

The elder Mojica makes sure to keep in touch with his grandchildren - Stephanie, 13, and Manny, 10 - through his son's wife, Anna, who has more or less devoted most of her time to the children.

"I call them up and see how they're doing," he said. "She's got her hands full with them, but they're good. This time of year brings back memories, and they do their thing up there while I do mine down here."

Today and Monday, Mojica plans to attend services in Hernando County recognizing his son. Two days after that will mark the second anniversary of the sudden death of his wife, Gladys.

Mojica said the two family tragedies have caused him to be more reflective and question what is going on in the world.

He has opinions on the war in Iraq and the U.S. government's efforts to stamp out the threat of al-Qaida.

"I hate to get involved in politics, but why do we see all these videos of Osama bin Laden here and there, and they still can't find him?" Mojica asked. "Does this make sense?"

To keep sane, Mojica tries to stay away from the TV, where the footage of the Sept. 11 disaster really bothers him. But he did go to see the movie World Trade Center, which he said he got through without too much emotion because it focused on New York Port Authority police officers - not firefighters.

Someday he plans on going back to Manny's grave.

"The first place I'll go when I go back to New York is the cemetery," he said. "But I don't give myself dates. I don't know when that visit will happen."

* * *

Steve Rudzianis saw World Trade Center and United 93. His wife, Mary, stays away from things like that.

Both movies disappointed him - neither showed much about the New York firefighters involved in the rescue efforts. That's something he would have appreciated.

The youngest of their two daughters, Joan De Meo, lost her husband of more than 20 years on 9/11. Like Manny Mojica Jr., 47-year-old Martin De Meo entered Tower 1 and walked up the stairs as workers came down. He served with a hazardous team unit in Queens.

"They went up there to save people even though they were ordered to come back out," Steve Rudzianis said. "That's why they lost their lives."

On Monday, the couple will attend a service in Spring Hill honoring their son-in-law.

A picture of Joan and Martin on their wedding day sits on a table near the Rudzianis' front door. The beaming couple embrace tightly. Joan holds a bouquet of red roses.

She has since met a new, retired firefighter. They've been dating for a few years. He tapped her on the shoulder in a Costco store when he noticed her wearing a Sept. 11 T-shirt.

"On the back, it said she had lost her husband," Steve Rudzianis explained. "The irony of that is that his brother was the battalion chief of Martin's fire department."

The Rudzianis' grandchildren, Kristin and Nicholas, are both now in college. Though she didn't show much emotion over the death of her father at first, Kristin seems to be healing. She's almost done with her degree in criminal justice, and has a serious boyfriend.

Nicholas has continued to follow his love of baseball - a love cultivated by his father from a young age. He is a pitcher on his college team in New Jersey.

"His father always had him out there like Tiger Woods, practicing all the time," Steve Rudzianis said. "He's great."

A longtime Republican, Rudzianis said that he's disgusted with "idiots" in the Democratic and Republican parties. He believes the United States should have never invaded Iraq, especially when Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I hate Bush's guts, to tell you the truth," he said. "And with this stuff coming out about Clinton, I'm peeved with him, too. Clinton had the chance to get bin Laden, and Bush, he missed the warning that there was going to be an attack."

* * *

The timing of the five-year anniversary has been especially hard for the Hollands. A family friend died suddenly this past week at the age of 46. Three more children in the world without a father, they said.

"Most days we're okay," Terry Holland said, sitting on a sofa in her living room next to her son Brian. Husband Joe Jr. sat across from them on another couch.

"But then something will happen," Terry said. "You'll see a picture or something that will stop you in your tracks."

Ten days before the attacks, Joey and his wife, Kathy, had a son. Joseph Francis Holland IV just turned 5 this month.

Kathy also remarried last year. The family thinks that's been good for her and their grandson.

"He looks just like his dad," the elder Holland said, smiling.

"I think they all look alike, my dad, Joey and little Joe," said Brian.

The youngest Holland child, now 15, misses talking about the Yankees with his big brother. Joey was a big fan, and so is he.

Since Joey died, Brian has grown up feeling like there's something he has to do to help.

"I'd probably join the Marines or something, but I don't think my mom would let me," he said, looking over at his mother.

"No she would not," Terry said.

Michele, Joey's sister, has kept busy with her studies at the University of Central Florida. She wants to be a doctor.

"She's doing all right," Terry said. "She gets emotional ... ."

She paused to rub her eyes to try and stop the tears.

"It's like it happened yesterday," Joe said.

Watching the news on TV that night, full of scenes of the airplanes crashing into buildings, he said that the American people forget too easily.

Last year, instead of going to New York, the family stayed home and went to a sparsely attended service sponsored by Spring Hill Fire Rescue. They appreciated it, but they wish more in the community would have, too.

Joe Holland firmly believes that if then-President Clinton had reacted to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, his son would be alive today.

The nation needs to never underestimate the threat of terrorism, he said.

"People have to wake up. It's going to happen again, no matter if we're Democrats or Republicans," he said. "People just don't realize this."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at or (352) 848-1432.

[Last modified September 10, 2006, 07:16:55]

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