This originally appeared on my blog on September 11, 2006.
Kathy Kuveikis Kurtz September 9, 2011 at 8:05 am
James Schaus September 11, 2011 at 7:36 am
I remember Tom “Las Vegas” Kuveikis as the coolest guy in our class, and a very good friend. Tom had a magnetic personality, and of course had the starring role in our high school movie project “Born to Be Wild…Starring Wheatley’s Wildest Cats”. He was also in our Sha La La music group, and was the only one of us who actually looked good in gold lame. I guess you can take the boy outta Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn outta the boy. He returned to Brooklyn to do what he loved, helping others, and he left this world what he always was, a hero. We are forever grateful for his courage, kindness, and heroism.
* * *
I am participating in the 2,996 Project, for which 2,996 bloggers volunteered to write a memorial for one person who perished in the attacks on 9/11.
Today, on the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the United States, I remember Thomas Kuveikis. He was forty-eight when he died, the same age I am now.
Thomas Kuveikis was known to his family and friends as Tommy. He grew up in Brooklyn, attending Blessed Sacrament Elementary School. He graduated from Wheatley High School in 1971 after his family moved to East Williston.
Tommy studied architecture at both SUNY Farmingdale and the Pratt Institute, though he never completed a degree. He dabbled in carpentry, a skill learned from his father. He joined the New York Fire Department (FDNY) in August of 1977 when he was twenty-four years old.
Within a year, Tommy made a name for himself as an aggressive, brave and tough firefighter. His younger brother, Tim, once said, “If I could be half the fireman he was, I’ll have a really good career.” (Newsday.com) He loved the action of firefighting in Bushwick, a Brooklyn neighborhood. (His father was a legendary firefighter who died in November 2001.)
But Tommy wasn’t just a tough guy. He came up with an idea to help a poor family at Christmas. Starting in 1987, members of his squad visited a priest at St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church and ask for the name of the poorest family in the parish. Then they would contact the family, set up a Christmas tree and provide presents.
Tommy was married twice and was about to be engaged to Jennifer Auerhahn, who described him as “sweet, funny, kind gentle and unselfish.” His brother Jimmy wrote about him on September11victims.com website saying,
“It was really tough to lose Tommy as he became such a kind, considerate guy over time. He was not always this way, especially in his twenties, but ‘life’s difficulties’ made him become a great human being. He was a vegetarian, he gave money and time to Putnam County Land Trust to preserve ’special’ land . . . he loved animals, kids and good people. Tommy was already a tremendous fireman, working in a poor area of Brooklyn, where he could experience many more fires than the average fireman, just like his father did.”
Kathy Gelman said her brother, Tommy, was “honorable, honest, humorous, humble, humane, and hero.”
In his spare time, Tommy worked as a carpenter. In fact, he built a steam room in Squad 252’s firehouse. He had a reputation for not charging enough for his carpentry work. One day a year, he would donate a day of carpentry to the Putnam County Land Trust.
Tommy had one daughter, Kristen. He had five siblings, sisters Christine, Karen and Kathleen and brothers, James and Timothy.
Tommy had been a firefighter for twenty-four years and a member of Squad 252 (“In Squad We Trust” was their motto) for five years when his squad answered the fifth alarm at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, at 9:00 a.m. He was forty-eight years old that day. CNN footage shows his squad pulling up to the east side of the Trade Center around 9:28 a.m. The six members of the squad entered the north tower, rescued a man from an elevator.
Two of the firefighters’ bodies were found in the C stairwell 18 days later. The other four men of Squad 252, including Tommy, were never found.
Today, I remember Thomas Kuveikis. Thomas Kuveikis is one of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died on September 11, 2001. He is a hero. We will never forget.
We will never, ever, ever forget.