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FiOS1 News exclusive: 9/11 firefighter gets wish to lay wreath at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Ray Pfeifer, who is battling cancer, pushed for passage of Zadroga Act

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FiOS1 News brought you the story of Ray Pfeifer, a firefighter who's been suffering from 911-related stage 4 cancer for years.

The firefighter, who lives in Hicksville, fought tirelessly for the passage of the Zadroga Act, ensuring health care for sick 911 first responders.

Pfeifer always wanted to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and on Friday, that wish was fulfilled.

“This is one of the things I always wanted to do. I always wanted to come down to Arlignton pay tribute to the veterans,” Pfeifer said.

And what a tribute it was. Ray, with his wife Caryn by his side, placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This is a story of one man's love for his country.

A brotherhood with a love that knows no bounds and the strength of a family whose love has never wavered despite being confronted with the worst of challenges following Sept. 11.

“He was down there probably for at least three months straight, and I just, you know, worked every day, took care of the kids and I'd go down and just check on him and helped out at the firehouse and be with the wives..”, Caryn recalled. “But it took a toll… Our lives changed forever.” Caryn said.

The trip to Arlington was a rare night away for the couple, and likely not what the doctor ordered, but there was no stopping Pfeifer.

“This is good, we haven't been away in a long time and it's been a lot of pressure on her. Me being sick and now being on hospice care, it’s tough. She's doing double duty now… She’s not only a wife but a nurse,” Ray said.

“He's always there for everybody else, and whether he doesn't feel well, he still does it,” Caryn said.

Despite being cancer-ridden, Pfeifer has always said he is the lucky one

“He lost all his friends on 911 and he was one of the lucky guys to be able to see his children grow up and see what they're going to become,” Caryn said.

Pfeifer, ever optimistic, is also realistic

“I knew it was going to come to this point. I am slowing down. My body is, I can feel it, you know. So the doctor says there's nothing they can do for me,” Ray said.

Pfeifer made the trip South with other first responders from our area. He said the most difficult thing about his cancer is not being able to walk and having to depend on people.

The irony, though, so many people depend on him finding comfort in his strength.
Pfeifer's Good friend John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation helped facilitate the trip to Arlington.

“Just to get a tour takes four to six weeks, but to lay the wreath takes nine months. They waived that. I think they, after speaking to several individuals who could help facilitate this, everyone understood importance, magnitude of this,” Feald said.

It seemed even Mother Nature understood the magnitude of this. When entering Arlington National Cemetery, the skies were overcast, but when Pfeifer arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the sun came out.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Jon Stewart were there to witness the moving ceremony.

The two successfully fought with Pfeifer and Feal to ensure sick 911 responders are ensured healthcare.

Pfeifer says the experience at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was heart-wrenching.

“It’s a good story to be told. People gotta know about this place too, you know. So, t's a good story to be told, you know.”

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