Lee Amaitis Comments: Memorial Stone At Red Rock Eases Weight of 9/11 Memories
September 10, 2011, Las Vegas Review Journal Online
After the 300-pound memorial stone settled in the sand Friday at Red Rock Canyon's 9/11 walkway, Lee Amaitis felt the release of much of the mental weight he has carried from 10 years of helping families of co-workers he lost at the World Trade Center.
"It puts a good sense out there that people don't forget and never should forget," said Amaitis, president and CEO of the Las Vegas-based Cantor Gaming. "It's just a very, very great feeling for me to be able to say I'm part of the support of the families."
The 3-foot-square metaquartzite sandstone slab is etched with the words, "In Honor of those we lost on 9/11 at Cantor Fitzgerald -- Never Forget."
It is the 10th such stone at Red Rock's memorial, and it was installed for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked-jetliner attacks on the twin towers in New York, and later the Pentagon.
At the time, Amaitis was working in London as chief executive officer of international operations for Cantor Fitzgerald, a global financial services company that lost 658 employees when the first jet, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the north tower at 8:46 a.m. between the 93rd and 99th floors. Cantor Fitzgerald's corporate headquarters occupied the 101st to 105th floors.
"One of my administrative people came flyin' around the corner and came into my office and said a plane just hit the trade center," he recalled. "My reaction was, 'Was it our building?' Nobody was sure."
Some of his London staff members were listening to what was happening until communication was cut off.
"One would try to hope for the best," he said. "We realized that we weren't going to have anybody that was going to live through that."
He has lived with that thought every day since. Amaitis lost his best friends, Vincent Amate and Michael Uliano. He had recruited Amate's brother to the company, and he also was killed. Amaitis had to call their mother with the bad news. "What do you say? ... I didn't cause that to happen, but I wear that every day of my life."
It was even tougher for Cantor Chairman Howard Lutnick, whose brother died in the attacks.
"I don't know if I could have done what Howard did," Amaitis said. "I don't know if I could have gone to 658 funerals."
Amaitis had a different role to play. He had to be strong and keep the company afloat because it was their only hope to help the families deal not only with their personal losses but their financial setbacks as well.
Suddenly, there were many fatherless and motherless young families. More than 50 babies of Cantor Fitzgerald workers were born without fathers after 9/11.
"Did I cry? Yeah. I cried when I heard we had no survivors. Did I cry when I got inquiries from relatives of people that worked for us? Yeah. In the private moments I was torn apart," he said.
In the five years that followed, the company pledged 25 percent of its profits to the families -- $180 million -- plus 10 years of health care.
Amaitis, 61, who moved to Las Vegas two years ago, assumed the responsibility of "making sure we made money so those people could have a better life."
"We all mourn in different ways," he said during a recent interview at his office on Highland Drive.
Despite the catastrophe, the two best things in his life happened after 9/11, the birth of his son and daughter. His 8-year-old son, Vincent Michael, is named after his two best friends.
"I remember them every day when I see him or talk to him. It sort of brings back reality."
While putting Cantor Fitzgerald back on its feet, he dedicated an annual charity day in which all revenue is given to organizations around the world. Last year, the company raised $12 million.
"Everybody works for free that day, and everything gets donated to a charity," he said. "People like Prince Charles, Boomer Esiason, the (New York) Giants and the Yankees come in. They all come to the trading floor and sit at desks and talk to customers. It's really upbeat."
After 9/11, Amaitis said his respect for the military "escalated to another level." He became an honorary commander of the 505th Test Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base after he moved to Las Vegas.
He believes everyone "should take 9/11 as a day to remember whether you were connected to it or not personally."
"It happened in your country if you're an American," he said. "And you should understand ... what it actually meant to be attacked and survive, because we did. And we're better and stronger. I think that's what 9/11 should mean for all of us."