Son remembers firefighter father who died on 9/11

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Kemberly Richardson has the story. (WABC)

More than 400 first responders were killed on September 11th, 2001 -- 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 NYPD officers and 37 Port Authority police officers.

They left behind hundreds of children, some too young to remember their parents.

One family, with 10 children, spoke about what they've gone through, and what's helped them since September 11, 2001.

"I directly go back to when I was 12 years old," said Joe Palombo, son of a 9/11 victim. "In my mind, and probably in all of our minds, is our dad was invincible; nothing ever is going to happen to him."

But on Sept. 11, 2001, Joe's father, Frank Palombo, went into the south tower with others from Ladder 105 and he did not make it out.

PHOTOS: 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center

"All you can think about is my dad died. And people were so moved by it because the way he died, because he was a firefighter and he died as a hero, but to me he was my hero before he died. I didn't lose a firefighter on September 11th, I lost my father," Joe Palombo said.

Frank Palombo was a man who adored his family, which eventually expanded to two girls and eight boys -- quite a handful for Joe's mom Jean. When Frank passed, the oldest was just 15 and the youngest was 11 months old.

Facing an uncertain future, Joe Palombo says he clearly remembers spiraling into a tail spin.

"As a 12-year-old boy, my dad's my hero -- I want to be just like him, I want to make him happy," he said.

Joe Palombo knew his oldest brother would be heading to college but like other families, they were struggling financially.

But six days after the attacks, the Freedom Scholarship Fund was established. It makes it possible for those who lost loved ones to pursue post-secondary study and pays for everything.

Joe and his sisters and brothers will all receive funding.

"The families are tremendously inspirational, they're resilient, they are strong, and notwithstanding the heartache they've been through," said Rhianna Quinn Roddy, the fund's executive director.

Joe Palombo graduated with honors from Pace University last May. It was a bitter sweet time as three months later this mother Jean died from colon cancer.

So much loss, but Joe is thankful that the kindness of strangers made it possible for him to finish school.

"Something was taken away but also something was given to me, and it's an absolutely blessing," Joe Palombo said.

PHOTOS: 9/11 ceremony at ground zero

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september 11thworld trade centerterrorismfdnynypdu.s. & worldNew York
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