Francis Joseph Trombino
Occupation:Brinks | Security GuardReflections:The New York Times Portraits of Grief
Francis Joseph Trombino knew danger, and he knew tragedy.
In 1981, while driving a Brink's armored car, he had an arm almost blown off in a shootout with members of the Weather Underground and Black Liberation Army during a robbery attempt at a mall in Rockland County, N.Y.
It was the second holdup of his career with Brink's, but the first one that turned bloody. His partner and two local policemen were killed in the botched heist of $1.6 million.
Twelve years later, while still employed by Brink's but no longer a driver, Mr. Trombino barely escaped the first bombing of the World Trade Center.
On Sept. 11, 2001, however, Mr. Trombino was in a Brink's truck that was trapped in a parking garage under the World Trade Center when planes commandeered by terrorists slammed into the buildings. He never made it out.
Known to everyone as "Joe," Mr. Trombino was 68 and had lived most of his life in Clifton. Before signing on with Brink's in the late 1960s, he'd been a truck driver.
Though it forced him to change his job assignment, the infamous Brink's robbery did not measurably change Mr. Trombino's outlook, those who knew him noted.
"He was a very strong guy and recovered pretty well," said Jack Walter, a friend from boyhood. "He never cried or moaned, even though he was patched with nuts and bolts and his fingers were bent the wrong way after that. His feeling was, 'This is part of life.'"
According to Walter, Mr. Trombino came close to dying from a loss of blood in the bungled holdup. Though he recuperated well enough over the next two years to return to work, he was also left with an impaired left hand that resulted in his switch to guard and messenger duties.
Mr. Trombino's wife of 42 years, Jean, said her husband had no problem adapting to his new duties, making deliveries around New York from a base in Brooklyn in a job that began at 5 a.m. each day.
After a regular stop at the World Trade Center, Mr. Trombino would leave his armored truck and deliver millions of dollars in securities on foot to numerous stops around Wall Street, getting picked up several hours later.
On the morning of the terrorist attack, Mr. Trombino stayed behind to guard the truck in the parking garage while three colleagues made a delivery to a bank on the 11th floor of the North Tower. Though separated in the chaos, the others fled with their lives.
"They couldn't go down and he couldn't come up" was the way Mrs. Trombino characterized the dilemma that confronted her husband and his crew.
"He was a devoted worker," added Walter. "He wasn't supposed to leave the truck, and it cost him his life."
Walter said his friend placed several calls to a Brink's office that last morning, one expressing concern for the welfare of those upstairs and another to say the walls around him were starting to crumble and water was seeping into the garage.
He was never heard from again, and Mrs. Trombino said she still doesn't know where her husband's body was discovered. Mr. Trombino's body and the armored car were recovered, but the body was not in the truck. "We've asked, but I guess we haven't gotten the right person yet," she added.
He was planning to retire in another year, she said.
Beside his family, Mr. Trombino took his greatest joy in keeping up with old friends, particularly those he grew up with in the Delawanna section of Clifton. "If you met Joe, you had to like him," Walter recalled. "In all the years I knew him, I never got angry at him once. That says a lot about a person."
Mr. Trombino served with the Army during the Korean War and was a communicant at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Clifton.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Trombino is survived by two daughters, Lisa of Clifton and Bovita Kirby of Verona; a brother, Anthony of Montvale; a sister, Antoinette Barcellona of Cedar Grove, and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Intelisano- Scarpa Funeral Home in Clifton. A Mass will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul's. Interment will follow in St. Nicholas Cemetery in Lodi.
Profile by Guy Sterling published in THE STAR-LEDGER.