Tags Posts tagged with "9/11"

9/11

Firefighters place caps over hearts in memory of those lost during the Setauket Fire District's 9/11 Memorial Commemoration Sept. 11th. Photo by Greg Catalano,

On the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, we reminisce about how on that day, and for so many days that followed, we felt united as a country. A persistent theme when discussing the events is that the aftermath of the attacks brought us closer together as a nation. Our editorial staff would argue that 15 years removed means we still reside in the aftermath, and the legacy of 9/11 is still being written.

If we continue to splinter along party and racial lines, ties that bound us together in a time of horrible tragedy will simply be forgotten.

There was evidence that immediately following the events, we grew closer as a nation. Stories proliferated about long lines of blood donors, American flags flew everywhere — on front porches and cars — people took the time to help one another and civility ruled the day. And as we observed memorial events throughout the past weekend, communities still came together in harmony and with pride.

The initial feelings of solidarity as a reaction to the horrific events were real. However, we would hope that 15 years later, this feeling of unity would continue to apply to more issues.

After visiting classrooms and speaking with teachers, some of whom are now educating children who were born after that day in 2001 or are too young to remember it, the theme of unity struck a chord with them as well.

Our editorial staff wonders how America right now must look to those same students. They can turn on the news and witness divisiveness in an unfathomably ugly election season or see an NFL player being both heavily criticized and highly praised for kneeling during the national anthem. Do we still seem united?

While we feel a sense of togetherness on the anniversary of that day, as we recall the tremendous loss of innocents, or remember those who risked their lives to save others and think of those out there fighting to protect this country, there is still an overwhelming sense that we are growing further and further apart.

Fire departments, town and village governments, and schools all participated in memorial events to commemorate the lives lost during Sept. 11, 2001. Residents came to show support, as well as help read off the names of those who perished, lay wreaths and take a moment to honor the American lives lost, and all the first responders and civilians who helped save lives at Ground Zero.

 

A man touches the wall to pay respect to someone he lost on Sept. 11, 2001 at Rocky Point Fire Department’s 9/11 memorial service. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Residents throughout Suffolk County will have their choice of memorial ceremonies to attend this Sept. 11.

Huntington

The East Northport Fire Department will be hosting its annual memorial service this Sunday, with two separate events, both being held at the Ninth Avenue side of the firehouse at the 9/11 Memorial Monument on Sept. 11. The morning ceremony will begin at 9:45 a.m., and the evening candlelight vigil will begin at 8 p.m. Both ceremonies are set around an eight-foot, 8,000-pound steel beam from Ground Zero that the department received from the Port Authority. During the ceremony, firefighters will read victim’s names, and sirens will sound to commemorate the collapse of the twin towers. The Northport High School Tights will sing the national anthem and “America the Beautiful,” with “Amazing Grace” played by the Northport Pipe & Drum Band. There will be a 21-gun salute from the Marine Corps League and the release of memorial doves.  A memorial banner will be displayed on a fire engine that lists all of the victim’s names. A Suffolk County Police Department helicopter will be doing a flyover during the ceremony. 

Huntington Town will also be holding a small ceremony at Heckscher Park at noon this Friday, Sept. 9.

Smithtown

Members of the East Northport Fire Department participate in the annual 9/11 memorial service on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Members of the East Northport Fire Department participate in the annual 9/11 memorial service on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Commack School District will be presenting a candlelight ceremony of remembrance. It will be held at the Commack High School football field at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11. The 9/11 Memorial Players, Mimi Juliano, Mark Newman and Joe Zogbi, will perform music, and honorary guest speakers will attend.

The St. James Fire Department will also be hosting a service at 6 p.m. Sunday at the 9/11 memorial at the firehouse. Local legislators will speak, the Smithtown High School band and choir will perform, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9486 will perform a gun salute. The names of Smithtown residents and community members who lost their lives on Sept. 11 will be read including New York Police Officer Glenn Pettit, New York Fire Department Chief Lawrence Stack, New York Fire Department Chief Donald Burns, Port Authority Officer Jean Andrucki and New York Fireman Doug Oelschlager.

Brookhaven

The Order Sons of Italy in America will host its seventh annual 9/11 tribute. The candlelight remembrance is at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at Harborfront Park at Port Jefferson Village Center located at 101A East Broadway. The event will feature guest speakers and refreshments. All are welcome. For more information contact Anthony Rotoli Jr. at 631-928-7489.

The Sons of Italy Lodge was renamed the Vigiano Brothers Lodge to honor Port Jefferson residents. John Vigiano Jr. was a firefighter and Joseph Vigiano was a police detective.  On Sept. 11, 2001, both Vigiano brothers responded to the call to the World Trade Center, and both were killed while saving others. John Vigiano Sr. is a retired NYC firefighter whose two sons followed him into service.  The attacks of 9/11 inflicted a tremendous loss on his family and also on our country. Therefore, we honored these two heroes and their family by naming the Sons of Italy Lodge after them in Port Jefferson.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department will host its annual 9/11 memorial ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 9:30 a.m. At the Maple Place firehouse, firefighters and residents will gather to pay their respects to those who died in the terrorist attacks in 2001, including first responders from the Town of Brookhaven who perished while answering the call of duty at the World Trade Center. The ceremony includes a memorial service in which the names of the town firefighters who died that day will be read aloud.

An official plays the bugle at Port Jefferson Fire Department's 13th annual 9/11 memorial ceremony. Photo by Giselle Barkley
An official plays the bugle at Port Jefferson Fire Department’s 13th annual 9/11 memorial ceremony. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 Memorial Committee invites the communities of Rocky Point and Shoreham to its 15th Annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. This ceremony will take place at the 9/11 Community Memorial site which is located on the corner of Route 25A and Tesla Street in Shoreham, next to the Shoreham Firehouse. Light refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

In honor of the 15th anniversary of the events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, the Setauket Fire District will host a community 9/11 remembrance ceremony Sunday, Sept. 11, beginning at 10 a.m. The program will take place at the district’s 9/11 Memorial Park, located at 394 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook. The ceremony will include brief remarks from department representatives, a moment of silence and the official dedication of the two “survivor trees” recently planted in the fire district’s 9/11 Memorial Park. These trees were seeded from the 9/11 survivor tree located at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. Light refreshments will follow the ceremony, and attendees will be invited to visit the different sections of the expanded Setauket 9/11 Memorial Park, which also includes a stone monument inscribed with the names of those lost on 9/11 and a patriotic water display.

The Alumni Association of Stony Brook University will sponsor a commemoration of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, throughout Monday, Sept. 12, with a field of pinwheels on the Academic Mall. This is the third year that the event will be held. Students and faculty are invited to take a moment to remember those lost.

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When we need each other, we come together. That, as much as anything else, is the legacy of 9/11. Its 15th anniversary falls this Sunday.

Every year, we in the news business and, indeed, in society, struggle to know how to remember that terrible day in 2001. Years ago, the editor in chief at the New York Daily News, where I was working, asked me when we should stop running the names of the people who died that day, when 9/11 should no longer be on the front page, and when we should respect the day but give it less coverage. I told him I couldn’t imagine that day.

Those of us who knew people that died think about those people regularly, not just on an anniversary or at a memorial. They travel with us, the way others we’ve lost over the years do, in our hearts and in our minds.

Those first few days and months after the attacks, people in New York stopped taking things for granted and saw the things we share with each other as a source of strength.

This year, in particular, seems a good time not only to remember what makes us and this country great, but also a time to reflect on who we want to be and how we want to interact.

We have two candidates for the White House who seem intent on acting like impetuous Greek gods, shooting weapons at each other and describing each other’s faults and weaknesses to us.

Debate and disagreement are part of this country, just as they were in 1858, when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas famously debated across Illinois. And yet, despite their disagreements and their passion for office, they held each other in considerably higher esteem than the two unpopular candidates who now want to be president.

How can the two parties that seem so intent on running in opposite directions today, and the two candidates who genuinely loathe each other, work together, come together, and inspire us when they are so obsessed with their animosity?

This Sunday, and maybe even this week, we should remind them — and ourselves — about all the things we Americans felt and did on those days after 9/11. Certainly, we mourned those we’d lost and we wondered aloud about our enemies.

But we also visited with each other, made calls to friends and family, checked on our neighbors, and offered support wherever and however we felt able. Some people donated to charities, while others gave blood, time or energy to helping the survivors and the families of those who lost loved ones.

Yes, we looked to protect ourselves and to understand who and what we were fighting, but we the people — the ones our government is supposed to protect, represent and reflect — became more patient in lines and became less upset over the little things. We looked out for each other.

It’s easy to imagine a boogeyman everywhere we go. Generations of Americans have pictured and envisioned monsters from within and without our borders, intent on destroying our way of life.

We can’t let fear and hatred dictate our actions. I don’t want to hear Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump shout about how unqualified each of them is for office. I want them to reflect a respect for all Americans, their opponents included, on this solemn day and during this solemn week. I don’t doubt that each of them loves America. Instead of telling us how they’ll be great leaders, demonstrate it to us by coming together.

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One hundred years ago this week, The New York Times has reported, the worst terrorist attack on the United States until 9/11 occurred in New York Harbor. Black Tom Island, supposedly named after an early African-American resident and owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, lay next to Liberty Island and was the site of three-quarters of the American-made ammunitions readied for shipment to Allied forces in World War I. Stored in warehouses, in railroad cars and on barges on the small island, the munitions were targeted with small fires shortly after midnight on July 30, 1916, and the first explosion had the force of about a 5.5 earthquake on the Richter scale. It blew out windows of buildings in lower Manhattan and Jersey City, damaged the skirt and torch of the Statue of Liberty, shattered the stained glass windows in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and windows in Times Square, shook and possibly damaged the Brooklyn Bridge, threw people out of their beds and was heard as far away as Philadelphia and Maryland.

On that fateful night, some 2 million pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition were on the island, along with 100,000 pounds of TNT on Johnson Barge No. 17. Initially small fires broke out along the mile-long pier, and while some of the guards fled, fearing explosions, others attempted to fight the fires and called the Jersey City Fire Department for help. The first and largest explosion, at 2:08 a.m, produced a rain of bullets and fragments, followed by mists of ash that made fighting the fires impossible; and the smaller fires burned for hours, causing explosions throughout the night.

While hundreds were hurt, surprisingly only a few people were killed, including a policeman in Jersey City, the railroad chief of police, the barge captain and an infant thrown from its crib a mile away. Two guards were quickly arrested for having triggered the disaster by lighting smudge pots on the pier to keep away the ever-present mosquitoes until it was realized that the pots were too far from the fires to have been the cause. Further investigation, which continued for years, identified the culprits as German agents who were trying to stop the shipments.

Until early 1915, the neutral United States was able to supply any nation with arms, but after the blockade of Germany by the British Royal Navy, only the Allied forces could purchase arms. Imperial Germany sent secret agents to the U.S. to obstruct production and delivery, and some of them caused havoc and civilian panic in the ensuing years. An effective weapon was the “cigar bomb” that was silently attached to the hulls of departing American munitions ships and only exploded after the vessels were well out to sea. Many ships, with their cargo and crew, were lost that way.

President Woodrow Wilson was desperately trying to cling to neutrality before the coming, tightly contested election against Charles Evans Hughes, chief justice of the Supreme Court and former New York governor. Wilson, as the president who had kept the nation out of war, initially refused to recognize the explosions as the work of the Germans. But after the election indisputable evidence forced his hand, and by early 1917 he prepared the country for war against Germany.

After the war, the railroad sought payment for damages under the U.S.-German Peace Treaty (1921) signed in Berlin and, at last in 1953, an agreement was reached for $50 million to be paid to the railroad. Dozens of railroad cars, six piers and 13 warehouses had simply disappeared into a huge crater filled with water and debris after the first explosion. For practical purposes the island, with its causeway to the mainland, had disappeared. Final payment was not made until 1979. In today’s currency, damages are estimated at $500 million.

Landfill projects through the years time have enabled what little was left to be incorporated into Liberty State Park. A single plaque there tells the tale of the largest terrorist attack until our time.

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Smithtown and fellow firefighters stop to salute 9/11 hero Lawrence Stack, whose remains were honored during a service at Saints Philip and James Roman Catholic Church in St. James. Photo from FDNY

All of Smithtown came to a stop on Friday as the community said a final goodbye to one of its own.

FDNY Battalion Chief Lawrence T. Stack of Lake Ronkonkoma was laid to rest at Saints Philip and James Roman Catholic Church of St. James nearly 15 years after his death on Sept. 11, 2001. The North Shore native, who died helping others in the horrific terrorist attacks of that tragic day, was never recovered from the rubble, forcing his family to hold out hope for a proper Catholic funeral ever since.

A bizarre twist of fate made Stack’s funeral and burial possible on Friday, on what would have been his 49th wedding anniversary with his wife Theresa. While his remains were never found, two vials of blood he donated to a bone marrow bank nearly six months before his death allowed his family to orchestrate a final goodbye in Smithtown.

Lawrence Stack, 58, received a full line-of-duty service on Friday as Smithtown shut down several streets surrounding the St. James church to accommodate the number of people who stopped to honor him, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and countless more distinguished guests. It wasn’t until a year ago that his wife Theresa Stack said she remembered she and her husband donating blood about six months before 9/11 with hopes of matching a Long Island boy who was fighting cancer. Upon remembering and pursuing that blood, Theresa Stack said she found it in a Minnesota blood bank. That blood was buried on Friday.

“We’ve always honored him, respected him, loved him, and we never forgot him. But now he will rest with the members of the FDNY and the military at the Calverton National Cemetery,” wife Theresa Stack said. “I’m happy, and my family is happy, that we finally have some place to go to. I want Larry’s story to be out there so people don’t forget that there are families still suffering from that terrible day.”

Lawrence Stack’s son Michael, who is a lieutenant with the FDNY with Ladder 176, said he would remember his father as someone dedicated to helping others at any cost. In a statement to the FDNY’s Facebook page, Michael Stack detailed the accounts he received of his father’s last day.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, he was at the safety battalion at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, putting the finishing touches on the [fatal] Father’s Day fire report, when he heard about the plane hitting the north tower,” he said. “He went on the roof, looked through his binoculars, and saw the south tower get hit with the second plane. He put his binoculars down, looked to the other chiefs and firefighters and said, ‘Guys, I think they’re going to need us over there.’”

Brian Stack of Ladder 123 was 30 years old when his father died in the Sept. 11 attacks. He said he was thankful to have been able to spend as much time as he did with his father, and felt for the younger children of other heroes who died that day.

“I understood what happened on September 11 because it’s work, it’s the fire department. Danger is always right around the corner. It’s part of the job. I was 30 years old when he died, and I know that I’m lucky that I got more time with my father than some of the men and women coming on the job now,” Brian Stack said. “They were much younger when they lost their fathers. We were fortunate to have so many years with him in our lives.”

In a statement, the New York Blood Center said it was an honor to help bring peace to the Stack family.

“To every member of the FDNY, NYPD and to every rescue worker: We honor you all,” the center said in a statement on its Facebook page. “We honor those fallen in the line of service and those who serve. You protect life in our communities with determination, vision and courage every single day.”

Lawrence Stack worked with the FDNY for 33 years and was one of 343 FDNY members who died on Sept. 11th. He joined the department in 1968, first assigned to Ladder Company 107 and then Ladder Company 175 in Brooklyn. In 1981, he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Ladder Company 35 in Manhattan. Three years later, he was promoted to captain and assigned to Division 7 in the Bronx, and in 1990, he was promoted to battalion chief, working in Queens at the Bureau of Operations and the Safety Battalion. Prior to joining the FDNY, he served in the United States Navy for six years, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

A piece of Tower 1 from the World Trade Center made its way to the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department Wednesday to be used as a memorial for the community.

Thomas Buchta, a member of the department, said receiving the metal is important for many reasons.

Brothers Daniel and John Martin, of the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department, lost their father, Peter C. Martin, a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York’s Rescue 2 in Brooklyn, during the 9/11 terrorist attack.

“It’s significant for us and for the community to remember … what really took place that day and how many people sacrificed and are still to this day perishing because of illnesses that they received from the Trade Center,” he said. “It’s never-ending. [There are] so many to remember. We don’t ever want to forget what happened. We never want to see that happen again, so that’s why it’s important to remember what transpired that day so we keep vigilant and never let it happen again.”

Bob Thornton, another firefighter at Cold Spring Harbor, said the moment has been 14 years in the making.

“It all started back on 9/11, when we got the call to go in,” he said. “I was fortunate [enough] to be one of the 12 guys from our department that went in.”

Thornton said he and other firefighters were sent to Belmont Park to wait to go to Ground Zero, but after three days, they were discharged and sent home.

“It’s like the end of a dream,” he said of finally having the metal come to their community. “I’ve written letters for 14 years to try and get this metal. You kind of lose steam when nothing happens and the years roll by. Now we’re finally coming to fruition.”

Members of the department picked up the beam early Wednesday morning at The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey storage facility, transported it to the North Shore along with units from the New York City Police Department, the Suffolk County Police Department and others.

The steel beam is 17 feet long and 4 feet wide and weighs about 18,000 pounds. According to the department, it is one of the last remaining pieces of steel available for use as a memorial.

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Jon Stewart, Raymond Pfeifer and John Feal talk after the ceremony honoring those lost on and after Sept. 11, 2001. Photo from John Feal

To the wall, the names were new, but to those at 9/11 Responders Remembered Park, they brought with them years of courage and heroism. All eyes were on the park on Saturday as 61 more names were etched into its wall of heroes, honoring those who paid the ultimate price for their efforts in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The event was packed with first responders, their families, lawmakers and advocates, including advocate and first responder John Feal of Nesconset’s FealGood Foundation and comedian Jon Stewart.

“This park was built … to serve the 9/11 community with grace, dignity and humility,” Feal said to the crowd before the new names were read aloud. “I hope this park will help tell the stories of our nation’s greatest resources: its citizens, both uniformed and nonuniformed.”

Feal and several members of what they called the 9/11 community have descended upon the Nesconset park every year since it was established in 2009 to add names to the wall of heroes, paying tribute to those who have died on or after that horrific day. Martin Aponte, president of the North Shore park, reminded the crowd that they were not there to mourn, but to reflect, remember and recognize the stories behind the names on the wall behind him.

Jon Stewart and John Feal observe the wall of heroes at the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park. Photo from John Feal
Jon Stewart and John Feal observe the wall of heroes at the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park. Photo from John Feal

“To maintain this park is the least we can do for those who have served our nation with distinguished honor, courage and sacrifice,” he said. “We are here only to serve a fragile fraternity of heroes who come here to rest and join their brothers and sisters. Their story is told through this park.”

Feal, along with Stewart and New York City firefighter Raymond Pfeifer, used the ceremony as a means to celebrate a recent legislative victory they helped accomplish nationwide after years of pushing Congress to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which supports first responders whose illnesses are linked to their efforts on 9/11. For his tireless advocacy on the subject, Pfeifer was awarded an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol along with a golden firefighter’s axe on a plaque.

Pfeifer, who spent eight months on top of the debris pile of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, has stage-four cancer and spoke from a wheelchair about the collaborative efforts it took to overcome that day.

“Today is a good day. It’s sad, but nobody gets out alive. Anytime you can tell a story about [first responders] that’s a good thing,” he said.

With a heavy-hearted expression on his face, Stewart read each of the names that were added to the wall that day in somber tone. The tolling of a bell followed each name. After his remarks, the comedian and former host of “The Daily Show” remarked on his time on the front lines of advocating for first responders’ benefits. He spoke to inspire those in attendance against the fear of terrorism, saying “we win” because of America’s unending resource of courage.

“I’m always humbled when I’m in the company of Ray and John, and all the other responders,” he said. “I can never in my life repay the debt that you all gave to not just me, but to the city and to the country. We owe you, and we will continue to owe you forever.”

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Donations from the 10th Annual Kevin’s Ange’s Toy Drive will be wrapped on Dec. 19 before volunteers deliver them to the families in need. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After Sept. 11, 2001, the Williams family wanted to so something special to remember their son Kevin who died on that day, and after 15 years, they’re still honoring him.

Community members packed themselves into Phil’s Restaurant in Wading River to help support and donate toys to the Kevin Williams Foundation’s 10th annual Toy Drive, which was held on Dec. 1, from 7 to 10 p.m. The toy drive is an expansion of the Williams service to the community.

Fifteen years ago the family created Kevin’s Angels, which helped send children to a sports camp or play for a team. However, after schools and organizations like Long Island Youth Mentoring sought the family’s help for other families in need, the Williams started the toy drive to continue their outreach. For the Williams, giving back to the community and offering a helping hand during the holidays is a way to remember their son.

“We knew that we had to share his zest for life,” said Patti Williams, Kevin’s mother. “What better way than creating a foundation; and we could give to children and hopefully change the direction of some of their lives.”

Kevin Williams worked for Sandler O’Neil, a financial company based in Manhattan. The 24-year-old was on the 104th floor of Tower Two when tragedy struck and the building collapsed. Williams was to be married 10 weeks after Sept. 11.

Patti Williams takes donated gifts. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Patti Williams takes donated gifts. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In 1995, Williams graduated from Shoreham-Wading River High School and had a passion for academics as well as sports. In high school he was the captain and the most valuable player of his basketball, baseball and golf teams. Several years ago, Shoreham-Wading River renovated its varsity baseball field and renamed it after Williams. The field offers the family and other community members with a safe space to remember a loved one and reflect on Sept. 11.

This was the fifth time Phil’s Restaurant, owned by Phil Marcario, donated the space for the toy drive. Since Marcario’s wife grew up with Kevin Williams, the two are like family. Together, they made the night more than just a toy drive.

“We really wanted to make it a night where people could mingle and talk instead of just dropping off a toy,” Marcario said. “You could come and kind of spend time together, which is what the holidays are really all about.”

According to Mike Williams, Kevin Williams’ father, the toy drive helps around 30 families annually. They’ve also helped 1,025 underprivileged kids attend sports camps in the past 15 years. Despite their efforts, the family said the community is what really helped get to this point in their lives.

“We have a great faith, but we also surround ourselves with an abundance of love,” Mike Williams said.

While the Toy Drive was created in light of a tragedy, Shoreham resident Steve Malandrino said the Williams are one of few families who have turned a bad situation into something positive. Malandrino was once Mike Williams’ student when he attended Miller Place High School in the 1970s. Thus far, he’s attended nine of the 10 toy drives.

In addition to the abundance of community support, turning a negative situation into something positive also helped the family get through tough times.

“Anyone who’s gone through a tragedy, especially losing a child — you have a decision to make,” Patti Williams said. “You somehow have to get yourself from that point of not wanting to wake up in the morning because it’s another day of pain, to finding an avenue where you can make lives better for others.”

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The starting line at the Tunnel to Towers 5K race was lined with American flags. Photo by John Davies

By Jane Koropsak

My feet hit the floor at 4:30 a.m. and for one fleeting moment I wondered why I was up so early on a Sunday morning.

Then, I remembered. Today, Sept. 27, I would participate in the Tunnel to Towers 5K fundraiser in New York City to honor every firefighter who gave the ultimate sacrifice on Sept. 11, 2001, including Stephen Siller, the New York City FDNY firefighter for whom the fundraiser is named.

On that fateful day that changed our nation forever, Siller put on 60 pounds of gear and ran from the Battery Tunnel to the Towers, and 14 years later I was joining thousands of others in retracing his steps.

Duffle bag on my shoulder filled with water, snacks and extra clothes, I headed to the Mastic Fire Department to meet up with some of my colleagues from the Brookhaven Lab and friends from the fire department for our journey to Brooklyn, where the 5K begins.

While waiting for the race to start, standing amid 30,000 people, my eyes teared up during a beautiful rendition of “God Bless America.” The anticipation filled my senses and I wasn’t sure what to expect, as this was my first time at this event. When I saw nearly 7,000 American flags lining the starting line of the race — each flag representing a member of the military who has died for our nation since Sept. 11, 2001 — the tears came once again. It was heart-wrenching.

Soon, we turned a corner and walked under an arch of red, white and blue balloons to start the 5K through the Battery Tunnel. I walked, others ran, and as we all entered the tunnel, we heard hundreds of people chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” in unison.

Cheerleaders lined the streets. Musicians played on corners. It all gave me goose bumps and prompted me to pick up my pace. Before I knew it, I started running — something I don’t typically do. When we reached the end of the tunnel, we saw streams of sunlight and were greeted by 343 firefighters in their formal uniforms, each holding a flag with an image of a firefighter who perished on 9/11 — 343 heroes who never went home. I proudly high-fived each firefighter standing in line along the route, saying thanks over and over and how much I appreciate all they do every day.

Five kilometers from the start and I was no longer the same person.

When I boarded the bus early that morning I knew how brave these men and women are. I knew that they go to work every day not knowing whether they or a fellow firefighter may not make it home, and I knew that their passion is only felt by a few. You see, I am the sister of an FDNY captain and I am the daughter of a volunteer firefighter who gave the ultimate sacrifice 26 years ago while fighting a fire in my hometown of Sayville. I know personally of their sacrifices and the countless hours they spend training and helping others. During Tunnel to Towers I felt the indescribable deep passion of what it must be like to be a firefighter. And, on the bus ride home, I had time to tuck away the memories of the day for an entry that will have a dog-eared page in my journal.

I salute all of our firefighters, emergency responders, police and military personnel.

I promise I will never forget.

The author works in the Media & Communications Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory.