By Jenni Culkin
There was not a dry eye in the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park as the greater North Shore community came together to commemorate the lives of first responders who died from September 11-related illnesses.
The Nesconset park, at the intersection of Smithtown Boulevard and Gibbs Pond Road, was dedicated to victims of the horrendous terrorist attack and was crowded with hundreds of residents and families as 100 new names were added to its memorial wall on May 16.
“They are the reason we get out of bed,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, who acted as the master of ceremonies. “Thank you for allowing us to serve you.”
The wall already had more than 500 names, but those who spoke at the somber ceremony did so with the same sort of hurt felt when the attack first occurred in 2001.
“Like everyone here today, I pale in comparison to those who are going on the wall,” Martin Aponte, president of the park, said during the ceremony with a voice full of emotion.
The service featured various patriotic musical performances and words from elected officials.
“We thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” said Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), “I commit to you that I will always stand watch over this park.”
Elected officials from neighboring towns joined the Nesconset community in honoring the lives of the 9/11 responders.
“We are truly a country of greatness and heroes,” said Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore).
Toward the end of the ceremony, the sons of fallen responders read the names that were going to be etched into the memorial wall. Each name was followed by a solemn bell toll.
Shortly after the names were all read, the sun started to show itself above the memorial park. Feal and those who played active roles in leading the ceremony made it very clear during and after the ceremony that they were grateful for the amount of people attending the ceremony despite the rainy weather.
“It’s humbling to see this many people come out,” Feal said. “For people to withstand Mother Nature truly showed the American spirit.”
Aponte said there are trees among the park’s foliage that are direct descendants of a tree that survived the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. One of these trees was given to the Hauppauge Fire Department and another was also given to the Nesconset Fire Department as tokens of appreciation for each department’s contribution to the park.
A memorial ceremony is usually held, and is expected to continue to be held, every May during Memorial Day week and every September during the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The park has plans to eventually recognize and honor the service dogs that have passed away due to 9/11-related illnesses, Aponte said. There are also plans to place signs on the Long Island Expressway that lead travelers to the park from nearby exits but there are no definite dates at this time.
The park’s upkeep and development is dependent upon donations that can be made on the park’s website, which is at respondersremembered.com. The Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce is also going to be hosting a golf outing to benefit the park in early August.
“We built this park so history does not get distorted,” Aponte said.