Las Vegans with ties to 9/11 victims rejoice


The Sunday announcement of Osama bin Laden's death brought joy and cautious relief to Las Vegans with close ties to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ed Bergen, a New York City firefighter who retired to Las Vegas after the attacks, said: "I think it's great. It's about time."

Bergen was a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department's Battalion 6 and responded to the World Trade Center catastrophe though it was his first day of retirement. Thirty-three members of his battalion died on Sept. 11, 2001.

But Bergen believes justice has "probably not" been served because the war on terrorism "is never-ending. There's no time limit on it."

Nevada Army National Guard Lt. Col. Scott Cunningham, who commanded 700 Nevada soldiers in Afghanistan and brought them all safely home last year, weighed in on bin Laden's death, calling President Barack Obama's announcement, "the best news in the war on terror in a long time."

"This man was responsible for the death of thousands. He personifies evil and the insanity of radical Islam," Cunningham wrote in an email." It is a good thing to be rid of this murderer."

Cunningham, who commanded the Las Vegas-based 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry, during a yearlong deployment in remote areas of Afghanistan, said the covert operation that felled bin Laden "shows these terrorists that once they go on our radar screen, we will get them. It might take awhile, but we will get them. It's inevitable."

Sully de Fontaine, a longtime Las Vegan and veteran special operations soldier, predicted in a 2001 interview that eventually U.S. and allied forces probably would kill but not capture bin Laden.

"I don't think we're going to get him alive," de Fontaine told the Review-Journal in November 2001. "Right now he's afraid for his life, and he's going to try to get out. He may be gone already. But if he tries to escape, someone will blot him out."

Reached at his home Sunday night, de Fontaine, a former CIA contractor, said that his prediction came true.

"It took awhile, but we always had confidence we would get him," he said. "You have to be patient. It takes years and years in that kind of environment."

De Fontaine, 83, spoke from his experience as a United Kingdom special operations executive during World War II and a U.S. Army Special Forces unconventional warfare instructor in the Vietnam War.

"We have good people on the ground in special operations," he said. "Those guys are really well-trained, but this guy was protected."

He noted that hurdles had to be overcome in working with the Muslim community to obtain information about one of their own, even someone as radical as bin Laden was.

"You have to work with what you call a friendly operation that is not really friendly," de Fontaine said. "They are supposed to be allied, but they give us what they want to give us, not always what we want."

Las Vegas resident Lee Amaitis said learning that bin Laden had been killed helps bring closure to the terrible events of that day.

At the time, Amaitis was based in London as chief executive officer of international operations for Cantor Fitzgerald, a global financial services company that lost 658 employees in the attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers.

Amaitis said he lost many friends, including two best friends Vincent Amate and Michael Uliano, in the catastrophe. "My son was named Vincent Michael. He was born after 9/11; he's 8 now. Every time I look at him, I think about my two best friends."

Cantor Fitzgerald's corporate headquarters occupied the 101st to 105th floors of One World Trade Center, and, "Everybody (Cantor employees) who was in that building that day was killed."

Amaitis reported to Cantor Chairman Howard Lutnick, who lost his brother in the attacks, and was part of the team that dealt with the aftermath. "We were dealing with, first of all, all the uncertainty and the grief, but at the same time holding the company together."

Keeping the decimated company together was a priority, partly for Cantor to help the survivors of those killed in the attacks. "We worked to make sure we (as a company) were able to survive and take care of the people," he said.

Cantor Fitzgerald has raised  "a couple hundred million"  for victims of 9/11 and donated 25 percent of its profits during its first five years after 9/11 to the families of employees who lost their lives.

"This is a good day for America. At the end of the day, it's a credit for our intelligence, our military, the people who put their lives in harm's way for us every day. I thank God it happened, and that I was around to see it," said Amaitis, now president and chief executive officer of Cantor Gaming, which provides mobile gaming and in-running betting solutions to several Las Vegas casinos.

Since moving to Las Vegas several years ago, Amaitis said he has taken a keen interest in the military here and is an honorary commander at Nellis Air Force Base. 

He said he realizes bin Laden's death doesn't mean the death of terrorism.

"September 11th proved that we were vulnerable to terrorism," he said. "At the end of the day, we still have to be vigilant about terrorism. Terrorism will never go away."

Freelancer Marian Green contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.