After losing a long battle to 9/11-related cancer, Raymond Plakstis Jr. was given a hero’s send-off
Family, friends and firefighters bid farewell to Raymond Plakstis Jr. in a ceremony befitting a true hero on Friday, Dec. 7.
Just north of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church, crossed ladders commanded the closed-off Middle Neck Road, as two fire trucks parked on either side of the street had their ladders extended, suspending an enormous American flag, which served as a striking backdrop for the motorcade.
Motorcycles, flag bearers and the fire truck carrying his body, flanked by fellow firefighters, slowly proceeded up Middle Neck Road as rows of firemen in dress uniforms, standing in formation and at attention in front of the church, awaited his arrival.
A color guard presenting the national and local flags preceded the casket into the church, remained throughout the service and, again, preceded the casket to the awaiting fire truck, while an honor guard attended the casket.
The former Alert Fire Company two-time chief and 33-year volunteer, Village of Great Neck deputy mayor, third-generation owner of Doray Enterprises, loving husband, father, brother and friend, who succumbed to a 9/11-related, line-of-duty illness at only 57, was remembered for his kindness, generosity and humility.
“He did so much for so many people,” said Monsignor Brendan Riordan. “He always did it humbly; he was never looking for praise. Ray made the lives of others better. Keep his memory alive by doing the good things Ray did.”
Toward the end of mass, his sister-in-law Paula Marino-Palumbo shared the same sentiment from the family, “Everyone has a story about how Ray made the day better.”
On the final days leading up to the funeral, hundreds more filled Alert headquarters for the wake on Wednesday evening, Thursday afternoon and Thursday night, culminating with a Firematic service. Eulogies were presented during the service, and a tearful “last call” was made. When the roll, or attendance, was called and Raymond Plakstis Jr. did not respond, the heartbreaking moment verified his demise, prompting many tears.
Plakstis’s brother, Thomas P. McDonough, thanked everyone for coming “to honor Ray and his family,” saying, “Ray’s generosity and willingness to give help to anyone in need, which he always did, eventually cost him his life. But that was Ray.”
Michael Berry, president of the Great Neck Alert Fire Company, explained, “Ray was chief in 2001 when the 9/11 tragedy happened. He answered the call, like so many of us did.”
As assistant chief of the Alerts on 9/11, he responded to Ground Zero.
“Because one of Ray’s closest friends was missing, Ray would go to the pile five days a week until Dec. 11 when he was found,” explained McDonough. “However, he continued to go two days a week for another six months after.”
Years later, Plakstis was diagnosed with a 9/11-related cancer.
“This is why we are honoring this man’s life here tonight, as a line-of-duty death,” said Berry, as attendees nodded their heads in agreement. “He is a hero. This is why we have a sea of blue uniforms here tonight. We will not forget Ray’s sacrifice.”
McDonough said that his brother did not judge people, would always offer to help and never wanted anything in return.
“Ray was an amazing man, and you were a better person if you knew him,” said McDonough. “He helped more people than anyone will ever know. People would come into the shop and sometimes Ray wouldn’t charge them, knowing that they couldn’t afford it.”
During his speech, Rabbi Marim D. Charry, Vigilant Fire Company chaplain, said, “His life is actually a song, a song made up of hopes and dreams, successes and failures, all the things—big and little—that make up a lifetime. When we do the kinds of things Ray did, when we care for each other as he did, when we try to be the kind of person he was, then his song will be kept alive through us, and he will not be forgotten.”
Berry concluded, “Thank you, Ray, for your service. You were a hero in life. You were a hero in death. We love you. We will miss you. Rest in peace, my chief, my friend.”
Read more about Plakstis here.