Jeff was a force of nature. He was fearless, brave, and determined so when he put his mind to doing something, he would get it done.
Chris Cassano, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and New York Police Department retired
On September 11, 2001, Coast Guard Reservist Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Palazzo was one of hundreds of New York Fire Department personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice trying to save others. Saving lives was what drew Palazzo to the Coast Guard. According to his mother, Jeff’s first rescue occurred when he was the tender age of eight. In that event, he helped some boaters who had capsized while sailing.
Irene and Anthony Palazzo adopted Jeffrey at the age of five months from the Angel Guardian Orphanage in Brooklyn. “He was adopted May 1st,” Irene recalled, “so that became Jeffrey Day every year his entire life.”
Jeff’s girlfriend and later wife Lisa said, “I saw it. It was clear that college wasn’t his thing. I was writing all his papers for him!”
After their sophomore year, the two attended New York City’s 4th of July celebration and Jeff helped some boaters in distress. “In the process,” Lisa explained, “he met some Coasties and the rest is history.”
Palazzo served in the Coast Guard reserves as a machinery technician aboard the cutter Cape Horn out of Station Rockaway, New York. Palazzo responded to many high-profile incidents and large-scale emergencies. These included the winter 1989 sinking of the Bronx Queen, a charter boat lost off the Rockaways in rough seas. During the event, the Coast Guard saved 17 passengers from the sinking ship. Palazzo was part of the crew that decommissioned the Cape Horn in 1990 and continued to serve at Rockaway.
In June 1993, Palazzo was on the first Coast Guard boat to discover the infamous Golden Venture, a cargo ship carrying more than 200 Chinese immigrants that ran aground in Queens, New York.
“We heard the cries of distress in the dark and we began pulling people out of the water,” said fellow Coast Guard Reservist Chris Cassano, who credited Palazzo for saving dozens of people from the water. “Jeff had a great sense of urgency and that mentality of being ready at a second’s notice. We would sleep in our uniforms in case we got a call in the middle of the night.”
In Rockaway, Palazzo served much of his time under Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bruce Schneider, who described him as “a very ambitious and smart individual. As a Coast Guardsman, Jeff was focused on rescue through and through.” So, it came as no surprise to Bruce, in 1996, when Palazzo decided to become a New York City firefighter. Following eight years of active duty in the Coast Guard, Palazzo joined the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) while continuing to serve in the reserves.
Palazzo spent his first five years with FDNY in Brooklyn at Ladder Company 109. In the spring of 2001, he joined Staten Island’s elite Rescue Squad 5 in Concord. “He was tremendously sincere,” said firefighter John Drury of Rescue 5. “He was not only passionate about his work as a rescue firefighter, but was always quick to tell you a caring story about his own family.”
Like many New York City first responders, Palazzo continued to serve as a member of the Coast Guard reserve. Fellow Reservist Cassano said, “Who are the members of the Coast Guard reserve in New York? Police and firefighters. There’s a lot of crossover.”
Palazzo continued to work alongside his colleagues at Station Rockaway for his weekend shifts, however, when his commanding officer, Schneider, was transferred to Station Chatham, Massachusetts, Palazzo followed. Schneider allowed Palazzo to store up his time and work in Chatham for a week or more at a time. “Jeff qualified on the new 47-foot motor lifeboat In Provincetown,” Schneider remembered, “When he came up, he would get a lot done.”
Like so many stories told by the families of people lost in 9/11, Lisa Palazzo described that tragic morning as ordinary, like any other. “I was at work, so I wasn’t home when he left for his shift. He left me a voicemail, nothing special; you know ‘Headed to work, I love you.’”
That shift would be Palazzo’s last, as he and 10 members of the Rescue 5 squad perished trying to save fellow New Yorkers from the terrorist attack. In all, 343 members of the FDNY were lost in the disaster. That day, Lisa lost her husband and their young daughters, Nicole and Samantha, lost their father. After Palazzo’s passing, Lisa wanted to carry on the family name, adopted a 13-month old baby boy, and named him Matthew, which was Palazzo’s birth name.
On November 12, 2019, the Coast Guard announced that two new “Sentinel”-Class Fast Response Cutters would be named after Palazzo and fellow Coast Guard reservist Vincent Danz, who lost his life on 9/11 as a member of the New York Police Department. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Karl Schultz, made the announcement at Battery Park flanked by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, FDNY Chief John Sudnik and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
Schultz began, “We are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to honor these brave men whose service and sacrifice spanned three great first-responder organizations.” Schultz continued: "Their broad military and public service to both the nation and city of New York demonstrated their incredible dedication and character. When the call came, they answered. We are certain that the men and women who serve aboard Coast Guard Cutter Vincent Danz and Coast Guard Cutter Jeffrey Palazzo in the future will proudly carry on their sense of honor, respect, and devotion to duty."
“Firefighter Jeffrey Palazzo bravely served our city and his country, proudly wearing the uniforms of the FDNY and United States Coast Guard,” said Commissioner Nigro. The commissioner continued: "We will never forget his bravery and the sacrifice he made working to rescue those trapped at the World Trade Center. His legacy will live on through the Sentinel-Class Fast Response Cutter that will bear his name and rescue New Yorkers from danger for years to come."
At the announcement ceremony, Matthew Palazzo spoke to a Coast Guard recruiter. What began with some simple questions turned into a genuine interest to serve. Matthew finished basic training at Cape May on September 4, 2020, just a week shy of the 19th anniversary of 9/11. Today, he carries on Palazzo’s tradition of service aboard the icebreaker Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star.
The “Sentinel”-Class Fast Response Cutter is a key component of the Coast Guard’s offshore fleet and it is capable of deploying independently to conduct missions that include ports, waterways and coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense. It is a fitting cutter to honor the memory of Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Palazzo.
Editor's Note: This article was adapted from the Fall 2020 issue of The Long Blue Line, newsletter of the Coast Guard Retiree Association