The names of 163 first responders were added to the long list of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Saturday in Nesconset.
The Nesconset 9/11 Responders Remembered Park hosted its 14th annual ceremony Sept. 15 where a bell tolled for each name added to the memorial wall. Crystal Gajewski-Borella, the vice president of the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park Foundation that maintains the site, said it’s painful to see the number of names increasing every year.
“We added 163 names this year – this is the most amount of names we’ve added since we started,” Gajewski-Borella said.
“We added 163 names this year – this is the most amount of names we’ve added since we started.”
— Crystal Borella
Families members from across the U.S. came to the small corner park in the Town of Smithtown hamlet to honor those listed on the ever-growing wall first unveiled in 2011. Many used thin sheets of receipt paper to trace the names of their loved ones. Patrick Franklin flew in from California to honor his father, Detective Sean Franklin of the New York City Police Department, who died from 9/11-related respiratory issues in 2017.
“It’s a really beautiful memorial, and I’m happy they put in everyone who died from sickness after,” Franklin said.
The 11 members of the Pilcher family came from as far away as Utah to honor Robin Pilcher, Captain of Utah Task Force One who died of pancreatic cancer in 2017.
“Being here today is exciting because we get to remember our dad,” Pilcher’s daughter, Brandie Paterakis, said. “If he could have died in any way, this is the way he would have wanted to go, in honor and as a hero, sacrificing his life for others.”
Many 9/11 first responders and volunteers who helped dig through the rubble looking for survivors and clearing the area now suffer from a number of diseases tied to their service from respiratory infections to cancers.
“9/11 was the longest day in the history of days, but it’s not over – people are still dying.”
— John Feal
The September 11th Victims Compensation Fund was created following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to provide compensation for any individual who was injured or the family of those killed as result of the attack. It was renewed by President Barack Obama (D) in 2011 and again in 2015, extending benefits through 2020. Many 9/11 responder advocates fear the fund will not be renewed in 2020.
Nesconset resident John Feal, president of the FealGood Foundation that advocates for health care benefits for first responders, said the impetus is on elected officials to see these people receive the proper support. Feal regularly travels up to Washington D.C. to advocate for 9/11 responder’s health care.
“9/11 was the longest day in the history of days, but it’s not over – people are still dying,” Feal said. “We have to keep fighting so we don’t have to keep adding names to this wall.”
The park foundation is looking for donations to help maintain and add to the park grounds. For more information on how to donate or volunteer, visit www.respondersremembered.com.