As Brothers Before Others member and retired NYPD Sgt Delia Cuebas put it, “We all deserve to know how much we are loved and appreciated while we are still here.” So it was, yesterday, for NYPD Police Officer Manuel Vargas.
Manny, affectionately known as “Monsta” by his friends a family, a reference to his tremendous power lifting size and strength, is currently battling 9/11 related brain cancer at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. As such, in response to Manny’s years of loyalty and friendship, Delia wanted to make sure that he knew how much he meant to those he touched over his 24 year NYPD career. She bought together many of Manny’s friends and family from both the 24th and 49th Precincts for an informal gathering yesterday at the hospital. Members of Manny’s command staff and union leadership attended, including NYPD PBA President Pat Lynch. In the presence of those who raised him and those he raised, Manny was able to hear and feel, first person, just how much he was loved.
When BBO partner, Philadelphia Police Officer and forensic sketch artist Jonny Castro was contacted about Manny’s circumstances, he responded by doing what he does best: honoring valor through art. Jonny, who has been creating portraits of American heroes on his own time and at his own expense since 2016, did so for Manny and his family. That portrait, depicting Manny with his NYPD “Cop of the Year” Award, was then hand delivered.
One of the most emotional moments came when BBO partner, Laurie Tietjen, who heads the Kenneth Tietjen Memorial Foundation run in honor of her brother Port Authority Police Officer Kenneth Tietjen who was killed on 9/11, spoke about what heroes like Manny mean to her and families like hers. When those who spent time working down at “Ground Zero” talk about that period, you often hear them refer to it flatly as “working on the pile”. It’s a typical dumbing down of the heroism displayed by our first responders that they often do when speaking about themselves. Laurie presented a different perspective. In her words, ” You guys are my heroes. You spent endless hours exposing yourself to unknown dangers. The effects you are suffering through now are a direct result of the time you spent working to bring my brother home.” The closure that Manny and those who worked side by side with him during that time afforded families like Laurie’s is a debt that can never be repaid.
In response to that sacrifice, for nearly 17 years through her foundation, Laurie has worked tirelessly to ensure that her brothers sacrifice and the sacrifice of those who survived and continue to suffer is never forgotten. Yesterday, besides coordinating with BBO in providing the shirts and hats for the day, Laurie received a helping hand from another familiar face in the battle against 9/11 related illnesses.
Actor/comedian Jon Stewart has been on the front lines of the fight for first responders and their families as it relates to making sure they are cared for an provided for when battling 9/11-related illnesses. His battles are well documented and continue even today. However, it’s the things that often never make the paper that define just who this man is.
Yesterday, Jon accompanied Laurie and BBO to Calvary Hospital simply to say ‘thank you’ to Manny and his family. Five minutes in the same room with this man, and you will immediately know that his concern is genuine and his appreciation runs deep.
The love and care that Manny is being provided with is deserved because of how he lived his life and who he was to those he cared for. The friends and family standing with him now at this time are exhibiting some of the same bravery that Manny displayed during his career. BBO Founder/President Michael Burke summed the day up perfectly, “I went into the hospital in an somber but respectful mood. I left the hospital inspired by the courage of ‘Monsta’ and the compassion and empathy shown by all who visited. I will never forget what was said about Manny. I will never forget what Manny said or the feelings he conveyed to me.”
All of America owes a debt to the civil servants who are suffering the mental and physical effects stemming from their acts of heroism on 9/11 and their work in the years that followed. The members of Brothers Before Others and our partners stand with Manny, his family and those in similar circumstances. We will continue to do whatever is needed to ensure that they are recognized and cared for in the same manner that they cared for their community.
For More Information on The Kenneth Tietjen Memorial Foundation:
For Information on the 9/11 Victim Fund and Eligibility:
For Information on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act:
*A Full Catalog of Jonny Castro’s Work Can Be Found On Both FB and Instagram By Searching “Jonny Castro Art”