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9/11

NEVER FORGET

John Dielman snapped this solemn photo of Ward Melville High School on Old Town Road in East Setauket at sunset on September 11. “Ward Melville honors 9/11 every year with American flags as a school tradition,” writes Dielman, who graduated from the school in 2015.

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Social studies teacher Rich Acritelli (far right) welcomes students and guests to Rocky Point’s annual 9/11 memorial ceremony. Photo from RPUFSD

Students, teachers and administrators filled the Rocky Point High School auditorium for its annual program commemorating the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. 

The event, spearheaded by social studies teacher Rich Acritelli, brought in members of the Rocky Point VFW and Suffolk County Police Department. Speakers this year included representatives from the FealGood Foundation, first responders and survivors of the attacks. 

All of the students in attendance were not even alive during the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Anthony Flammia, the director of community outreach for the FealGood Foundation, spoke about his experiences serving on the New York Police Department’s highway patrol on 9/11 as well as working with the organization that supports and advocates for the first responders when the towers fell. 

“In 2005, the foundation was founded by construction worker John Feal who because of his time working at Ground Zero caused him to lose part of his foot,” the Miller Place resident said. “He had to advocate for himself as no one in government believed that these illnesses were due to his work at Ground Zero.”

The foundation advocates for first responders rights and has assisted in the passage of 13 9/11-related health bills at both the state and federal level. It has also donated $6.5 million to both uniform and nonuniform first responders who are in need of financial help. 

He also spoke about the foundation working with Jon Stewart, comedian and former host of “The Daily Show” and how he walked the halls of Congress with them to advocate for first responders rights. 

To help give students an idea of what it was like 18 years ago from a student’s perspective, the district asked Lila Nordstrom, who was a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, speak about how she had witnessed the attacks from her classroom. 

“My teacher taught through the collapse of the first tower, he taught for a good hour as a crisis was happening outside our windows,” she said. “We didn’t know what else to do and when we finally evacuated, we were just told to run North.”

She also spoke about when she and her classmates returned to the school, cleanup at Ground Zero was in full swing. Many were unaware at the time that due to the close proximity to the cleanup the school was contaminated. 

In 2006, Nordstrom became a 9/11 activist. She has worked to bring awareness to the school children who were exposed to toxic fumes during the cleanup and has worked with the FealGood Foundation in advocating for 9/11 health bills. 

“It gave something positive to move forward out of that trauma,” she said.

At the conclusion of the program, Acritelli spoke on the importance of this event. 

“It is just very important, some of these students weren’t even born yet,” he said. “[Today] was very powerful, it is important that they know what emergency personnel and residents in this area did on that day.”

Mark Gajewski a union operating engineer worked six months straight on clearing Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks.

Out of the twisted wreckage of two collapsed New York City skyscrapers, Mark Gajewski helped erect one of the most significant 9/11 artifacts: the steel Ground Zero cross.

The symbol touched people beyond the many emergency responders who found it a source of comfort and divine inspiration. For Gajewski’s only daughter, Crystal, the 17-foot cross is one small part of her father’s legacy. As an operating engineer, he helped clear away the World Trade Center debris. He died 10 years later from a rare form of lung cancer at the age of 52.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it isn’t an artifact or special memento that makes a person a hero, but their innate intent to help others,” Crystal Gajewski said. “My father may not have received a medal and he will not appear in any textbooks, but to me and those that knew him best, he was one of the great unsung heroes.”

Gajewski rushed to the scene four hours after the towers fell, his daughter said, and was one of the first people to assess the situation.

“He worked six months straight without coming home at Ground Zero, nine months total,” she said.

At Ground Zero, Gajewski endured unthinkable trauma, both emotional and physical. He found human body parts in the rubble at the site, his daughter said, including the hands, bound at the wrist, of a flight attendant. And when he came down with strange ailments and coughing, his daughter said that doctors initially were perplexed. Because of his untimely death, the 9/11 cleanup worker never saw his son Sean graduate law school and become an attorney for the U.S. Coast Guard. He never got to meet his first grandchild, Mia.  

Father Brian Jordan, from St. Francis Assisi church in New York City wants people to know that Mark Gajewski represents the thousands of union construction workers who completed the remarkable task of demolishing and removing the fallen building from the site. 

“You hear about the dedication and the sacrifice of the fire fighters and police officers, but not the talented union construction workers: the operating engineers, the electricians, the welders, and others who performed an incredible task on time and under budget,” Jordan said. He also calls them unsung heroes.

Mark Gajewski’s name and the names of more than 1,200 other responders are engraved on a shiny, black granite wall in the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park on Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset. This year, 206 more responders’ names were inscribed. Last year 163 names were added. So, the effects of 9/11 are still mounting. All of them, uniformed and nonuniformed have died of a 9/11-related illness. As the list grows, so does the crowd that attends the annual 9/11 Responders Remembered tribute. More than 500 people gathered on Sept. 14 for this year’s event.

Crystal Gajewski points out her father’s name at the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park.

Nesconset resident John Feal, a 9/11 responder, served as demolition supervisor for the cleanup and had part of his foot amputated after a steel beam fell on it. The tireless advocate built the park with the help of others. He has said that he has been to more than 180 funerals for responders and wants to ensure that all the people who fell ill and lost their lives as a consequence of responding to the disaster are remembered for their sacrifices. “No Responder Left Behind” is his motto. The Nesconset park, he said, is unique because it’s inclusive. The names of responders who died are not excluded because of where they lived or what job title they held, or whether or not they wore uniforms. 

So, as the tragedy continues to take its toll, Crystal Gajewski and her family and the many other volunteers remain dedicated to preserving the honor and dignity of her father and all the other people who ultimately sacrificed their lives as a result of cleaning up the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. She serves as volunteer vice president of the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park with John Feal and has created a separate foundation Ski’s Open Heart in her father’s honor.

Crystal said she hopes that her father’s story and the foundation she created for him inspires others to look within themselves and find time and the desire to help others.

Feature Photo by Crystal Gajewski

  The Ground Zero Cross plaque welded by Gajewski.
The Ground Zero Cross Photos by Timothy M. Moore.

Fire departments from Wading River to Mount Sinai came to the 9/11 Community Memorial in Shoreham Sept. 11, 2019 to commemorate that fateful day. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

Sitting down to write this story about 9/11, there is the constant reminder of how beautiful this day was with brilliant sunshine, warm weather and the buzz in the air of people going about their daily responsibilities.  It seems like yesterday that this same sort of memory that was some 18 years ago completely changed the course of American history. As people were handling their daily routines of putting their children on the bus and going to work, people in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., endured harrowing terrorism that shook the foundations of those cities. In the rural area of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the wreckage and the remains of Flight 93 were found.

Fire departments from Wading River to Mount Sinai came to the 9/11 Community Memorial in Shoreham Sept. 11, 2019 to commemorate that fateful day. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some 18 years later, families and friends still struggle with getting through this particular day. While there are students in our local schools who were not yet born when these attacks occurred, this terrible moment is still with us. As many of our students did not see the constant news coverage about the attacks waged on our nation by Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, 9/11 essentially became one of the longest days ever in our country. It remained with us for months and years, as our mind flashed images of the two planes that destroyed the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and Flight 93 that would have been used to target the Capitol or the White House.  

Americans were shocked at the news reports of the failed attempts of the shoe and underwear bombers to destroy other commercial airlines and anthrax that was sent to noted journalist Tom Brokaw. Today, young adults that like to attend popular concerts at Jones Beach do not remember the military presence in the Atlantic Ocean near the venue. The federal government ordered aircraft carriers that were in view of the amphitheater to fly fighter missions over major cities, including New York, to guard against the potential use of civilian aircraft that could possibly target major buildings and landmarks. In a total sense of shock, Americans were reeling from the earliest moments of terrorism that had clearly impacted our way of life.

Never before had Americans repeatedly watched the news coverage of citizens on American soil desperately running for their lives away from buildings that were collapsing around them. In many cases, they did not stop moving until they were across the Brooklyn Bridge, covered in dust and debris, with looks of despair on their faces. For months, North Shore rescue and demolition workers sifted through the wreckage of lower Manhattan to search for survivors and the remains of lost ones. In the tristate area there were daily reminders of 9/11 through the numerous funerals that were held for many of the 2,977 people that were killed.  And it was almost 19 days after the terrorists hit the U.S. that the military struck the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan. Just this week alone, as peace talks continued between America and the Taliban, a car bomb derailed the negotiations and our soldiers are still operating to guard against terrorism in Afghanistan. While many local people are concerned that other parts of this country have forgotten about this date, 18 years ago showed the iron spirit of American resolve and willingness to help each other.

The Sound Beach Fire Department held its annual 9/11 ceremony Sept. 11. Photo by Greg Catalano

This was an attack that had never been waged against the U.S. before, but the American people presented an immense amount of comradery; caring for fellow citizens who were struggling from the attacks. At once, there was an outpouring of patriotism. Walmart was unable to keep up with the demand of its customers who wanted to purchase American flags.  People wrapped yellow ribbons around porches and trees and patriotic signs hung in businesses, schools and churches honoring the rescue workers at ground zero. Fire and emergency crews from every corner of this nation and Canada descended on Manhattan to help the New York City Fire Department. Both the New York Yankees and Mets participated in raising the spirits of the recovery workers by having their players meet with them in Lower Manhattan and honoring their tremendous sacrifices when baseball came back to America at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. Huge flags were presented by the military that covered the length of Giants Stadium during the national anthem. When motorists crossed over the George Washington Bridge, it was done under a flag that could be seen for miles.   

President George W. Bush, through a heightened security presence, was at the World Series that had been pushed back due to the 9/11 attacks. He attended the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks game where he stood on the pitcher’s mound, presented a thumbs up to the crowd and threw a strike to the catcher. At this time, former New York Jet’s coach Herm Edwards was asked football questions about an upcoming game and he told the reporters with tears in his eyes that sports is not everything. As the Meadowlands is within sight of the city, the Jets could see the smoke rise from the wreckage. He stated his team’s thoughts and prayers were with the rescue workers at ground zero.  Today, you can visit the National 9/11 Memorial in New York City and see a powerful sports exhibit that is connected to these attacks and how our local teams used athletics to help provide a sense of comfort and distraction during this tragic time.

Fire departments from Wading River to Mount Sinai came to the 9/11 Community Memorial in Shoreham Sept. 11, 2019 to commemorate that fateful day. Photo by Kyle Barr

Just recently, local leaders from the FEAL Good Foundation were in Washington, D.C., to lobby the government to prevent the discontinuation of the Zadroga Bill.  Retired New York City Police Officer Anthony Flammia strenuously worked with other rescue workers to promote the importance of this legislation to congressional members from every part of the U.S. The organization was determined to pass legislation that continued to help rescue workers suffering from 9/11-related health conditions. Longtime comedian Jon Stewart stood next to men and women from the FEAL Good Foundation to place pressure on congressional leaders to put their differences aside and pass this vital bill. Stewart openly wondered how our government was prepared to turn its back on survivors that unflinchingly answered the call on this date. Shortly after speaking to a congressional committee, NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez passed away from the poor health condition that he had gained as a result of his time at and near ground zero.

Over the course of American history, there have been many serious events that our nation has had to rebound from through the will of its citizens. 18 years ago, this dynamic character of our country rose out of the darkest moments of terrorism to show the world that Americans will always stand together. May we always remember our rescue workers, War on Terror veterans and those Americans that are currently struggling with 9/11-related illnesses. 

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

The night of Sept. 11, 2019 was one of solemn remembrance. Community members, Boy Scouts and firefighters gathered in ceremony in both Shoreham and Sound Beach to show that fateful day would not be forgotten.

The event was attended by members of the Wading River, Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai fire departments, as well as Boy Scout Troops 161 and 244, as well as several county, town and state officials.

Many of those younger people who gathered at the 9/11 Community Memorial site in Shoreham with their families were not even alive on that day in 2001. Yet those from the Rocky Point Fire Department and 9/11 Memorial Committee who spoke asked all to remember those several local residents and rescue workers who died 18 years ago. They also spoke of the hundreds who have died after the 9/11 attacks from health issues gained while at the site of the towers and in the weeks afterwards working in the rubble.

In Sound Beach, local residents gathered with the Sound Beach Fire Department gathered community members together in recognition of the historic date. The ceremony was led with opening remarks by Chief of Department Michael Rosasco and Chaplain McKay, who also led with closing prayers.

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A test run of the rebuilt waterfall at the Setauket Fire Department’s memorial park. Photo by Bob O'Rourk

The Setauket Fire District will hold its annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 7:45 p.m. The event will take place at the district’s 9/11 Memorial Park, adjacent to the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road in Stony Brook.

According to the fire department’s public information officer Bob O’Rourk, one of the features this year is the rebuilt waterfall portion of the memorial park’s pond. The original waterfall has been repaired often, and the owners of Sound Shore Pond offered their services to rebuild it for free. A double waterfall from the pond surrounds a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.

The 9/11 Memorial Park also includes two trees planted in 2016 that were seeded from the 9/11 survivor tree located at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center and a stone monument inscribed with the names of those lost on 9/11.

Among those who will be remembered are Thomas Dennis of Setauket, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald; New York City firefighters Frank Bonomo and John Tipping, both from Port Jefferson; Patrick Lyons of Setauket; and New York City firefighter Captain Thomas Moody of Stony Brook.

All are welcome to join the members of the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments, local legislators and Boy Scout troops at the event. The ceremony lasts approximately 30 minutes and will be followed by refreshments in the firehouse.

17-foot long World Trade Center steel beam is focal point of monument remembering 9/11 victims

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A 17-foot World Trade Center steel beam stand in Cold Spring Harbor, more than 35 miles from New York City, as a solemn reminder of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

The Cold Spring Harbor Volunteer Fire Department officially dedicated its 9/11 memorial in Fireman’s Park, directly across from its headquarters at 2 Main Street, in a June 16 ceremony. More than 2,750 people were killed in the terrorist attacks, which includes 42 residents from the Town of Huntington.

“We will never forget those who perished on 9/11,” said Thomas Buchta, chairman of the fire department’s 9/11 Committee. “We will remember the sacrifices of those who rushed into the building to fight the fires, to rescue those who were trapped, and the thousands of people who simple went to work that morning and never returned home.”

“[Peter Martin] left behind his wife and two young sons, but he also left behind a legacy. ”
– Chad Lupinacci

Two fire department members, brothers Dan and John Martin, are following in the footsteps of their father, Peter Martin, who died on 9/11. Peter Martin served as a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York’s Rescue 2 in Brooklyn. He was 43.

“He left behind his wife and two young sons, but he also left behind a legacy,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “He loved his occupation and left a record of how many fires he fought over the years and many stories to tell.”

Martin also served as a volunteer firefighter in the Miller Place Fire Department, where he lived with his family at the time.

“While our grief recedes with time and our lives move on in different ways and directions, our resolve and the memories of love friends, co-workers and family will never wane,” said Cold Spring Harbor Fire Chief of Department Daniel Froehlich.

The brothers both served as members of the 9/11 Committee which has worked for more than two years to erect the monument. In May 2016, the 17-foot by 4-foot artifact from World Trade Center Tower One’s 62nd floor was transported from where it was stored at John F. Kennedy Airport out to the Town of Huntington Recycling Center for safekeeping while plans for the memorial were finalized.

“Now 17 years later, think about whether we’ve slipped back into everydayness.”
– Tom Suozzi

Volunteers started constructing the memorial in the fall of 2017, featuring the nearly 18,000-pound beam in a shape reminiscent of a cross being lowered into the ground Sept. 9. Three saplings grown from offshoots of the Callery pear tree that endured the 9/11 attacks, called the “Survivor Tree,” were planted around the memorial with a plaque to explain their significance.

“When you look at it don’t forget the anguish and loss, but don’t forget about the other things this symbolizes, the strength and resilience of spirit,” said Greg Cergol, husband of Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) and master of ceremonies. “Those are the things that unite and define us as Americans.”

The keynote address was given by U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) who recalled his own desire to help in response to 9/11 in his position as mayor of Glen Gove and visit to ground zero. He questioned if Americans were losing the focus and sense of community that united them in the days that followed.

“Now 17 years later, think about whether we’ve slipped back into everydayness,” Suozzi said. “Love matters. Forgiveness matters. Our friends, our families and our communities matter.”

After a moment of silence was held for the 9/11 victims, the Martin family rang the bell of Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department five times each in four intervals. It’s part of a long-held tradition in the fire department that signals the last alarm of a firefighter who has answered his or her last call.

New one-stop clinic opens in Commack to provide care for 9/11 first responders

First responder John Feal gets a checkup at the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program center, which opened a new facility in Commack, Nov. 28. Photo from Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program website

Accessing medical treatment on Long Island has become easier for 9/11 first responders.

Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program celebrated the official opening of its new one-stop health clinic in Commack Nov. 28. The program relocated from Islandia to the Stony Brook Medicine Advanced Specialty Care building, located at 500 Commack Road. The move allowed the program to expand from a monitoring facility into a 20,000-square-foot, integrative clinic where World Trade Center responders can receive more comprehensive medical treatment under one roof.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, program director and principal investigator, said the clinic is dedicated to caring for approximately 10,000 patients suffering from illnesses after volunteering at Ground Zero after 9/11. He said the responders suffer from a wide variety of conditions and the new location will provide the medical staff more resources. Among the new services available will be blood testing and imaging, which weren’t available in Islandia and caused patients to have to go elsewhere.

“This is ideal for the World Trade responder patient population, and the reason why is these patients who have been so severely affected by the World Trade Center disaster have a compendium of various abnormalities and disorders which are directly related to 9/11,” Luft said. “These included diseases ranging from psychiatry diseases to respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, to cancer.”

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility.”

— John Feal

The doctor said the program has a research team dedicated to studying neurocognitive problems, autoimmune issues and cancer-related illness. The new Commack location has an in-house laboratory that will make accessing patients’ samples and processing them easier. He said many of the illnesses related to the disaster were not initially recognized, and the number of patients has grown approximately 8 to 10 percent each year since the monitoring clinic first opened on the Stony Brook University campus shortly after 9/11.

The day of the Commack grand opening, the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program honored John Feal, a first responder and founder of the Fealgood Foundation. A Nesconset resident and Commack native, he said having the clinic where he grew up is special to him. Feal and members of his organization worked tirelessly to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in Dec. 2010 and again in 2015. The act enables first responders, volunteers and survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks to receive health monitoring and financial aid.

Luft said at first the program treated many patients who lacked medical insurance coverage. “So when they got sick, they didn’t have health insurance or have someone to take care of their acute problems,” he said. “We established our clinic to do that at no additional costs to the patients.”

Feal, who was a patient at the Islandia clinic and recently had his physical in Commack, said he was impressed with the new location.

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility,” Feal said.

He said having a one-stop clinic is important to many, especially for those who have become too frail to travel. Aging is an issue as many are now in their mid-50s or older.

“As we get further away from 9/11, the illnesses are getting worse,” Feal said. “One, because of age and, two, because with these illnesses, some latency periods and manifestations in the body take this long.”

The first responder said it was humbling to be honored for his work Nov. 28.

“We’re talking about human life, and I’m never going to apologize for anything I ever said or did, because at the end of the day I only care about helping those who are sick from 9/11,” Feal said. “And so many people are getting sick. It’s not ending anytime soon.”

The Setauket Fire District’s 9/11 Memorial Park includes a monument with all the victims’ names.

The Setauket Fire District will hold its annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony Monday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. The event will take place at the district’s 9/11 Memorial Park, adjacent to the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road in Stony Brook.

All are welcome to join the members of the Setauket and Stony Brook fire districts, local legislators and Boy Scout troops at the event.

The park was described as a “solemn park made by mortals to remember angels” during a speech given by Department Chief William Rohr last year. It features two trees planted in 2016 that were seeded from the 9/11 survivor tree located at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. The park also includes a stone monument inscribed with the names of those lost on 9/11 and a patriotic water display.

Among those who will be remembered are Thomas Dennis of Setauket, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald; New York City firefighters Frank Bonomo and John Tipping both from Port Jefferson; Patrick Lyons of Setauket; and New York City firefighter Captain Thomas Moody of Stony Brook.

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File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad and Arson Section detectives are investigating a house fire that killed a Selden woman on the morning of Sept. 19.

Sixth Precinct officers and members of the Selden Fire Department responded to 76 Ferndale Ave. at approximately 6:30 a.m. after a neighbor called 911 to report a fire at the location. The lone resident of the home, Eufemia Smith, 85, was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be non-criminal, but the investigation is ongoing.