September 11

Members of the Mount Sinai Fire Department during a 9/11 memorial service on Monday night, Sept. 11. Photo by Raymond Janis

Outside the Mount Sinai Fire Department at dusk on Monday night, Sept. 11, members of the Mount Sinai Fire Department held their annual commemoration for those who perished on that date 22 years earlier.

Firefighters gathered at the department’s 9/11 memorial, surrounded by family and community members, where they reflected upon the memory of those who died, recognizing the sacrifice of the first responders who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Chief Randy Nelson presides over the Mount Sinai Fire Department’s annual 9/11 memorial service. Photo by Raymond Janis

Department chaplain Micky Nassauer delivered the evening’s invocation, outlining the purpose of this annual occasion.

“On this solemn day of remembrance, may we honor the lives that were lost in this tragic act, and may we give thanks to those who served and saved,” he said.

Chief of Department Randy Nelson performed the annual bell ringing ceremony, which rang out in honor of the 343 New York City Fire Department members who laid down their lives in the line of service.

“We honor their supreme sacrifice,” Nelson said, “On this day and every day.”

Photo by Raymond Janis

In an address to the department, Nelson chronicled the events on that Tuesday morning as they transpired in real time. Despite the darkness and the destruction unleashed upon the city and nation, he maintained that the nation has persevered, offering a new approach to reflect upon that moment in history.

“The words ‘Never forget’ have become synonymous with September 11,” the fire chief said. “But as stated today by one of the victims’ family members, ‘Always remember’ is really the better approach.”

He advised, “Keep your memory of that day as a way to remember all that were lost.”

From left, T.J. Hatter, Long Island director of intergovernmental affairs for New York State Attorney General Letitia James; former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright; Anthony Rotoli Jr., president of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Vigiano Brothers Lodge 3436; and Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich. Photo by Raymond Janis

Rain couldn’t halt the annual memorial service held on Monday, Sept. 11, in downtown Port Jefferson.

The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Vigiano Brothers Lodge 3436 hosts this event each year. The vigil honors the lives of brothers John and Joseph Vigiano, who died from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Traditionally held outdoors in Harborfront Park, this year’s iteration moved to the Village Center’s drier interior, a last-minute accommodation courtesy of the Village of Port Jefferson.

“I don’t care if it was raining or not raining, we were going to get this done,” said Anthony Rotoli Jr., president of the lodge.

Lodge members, community residents, faith leaders and public officials gathered for a ceremony of prayer and reflection. Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and T.J. Hatter, Long Island director of intergovernmental affairs for New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D), each addressed the audience in turn.

T.J. Hatter, Long Island director of intergovernmental affairs for New York State Attorney General Letitia James, speaks during a Sept. 11 memorial service at the Port Jefferson Village Center. Photo by Raymond Janis

Of the many annual events Kornreich attends, he referred to 9/11 memorial services as “the most solemn and most painful.” Despite the lingering pain over two decades later, the councilmember maintained that the nation has endured.

“Although that day was a day of terror and sorrow and tragedy, the days that followed became days of community, hope and resolve,” he said.

In the face of tragedy, Hatter maintained that “inspiration can come from many places.” He asked those present to apply the examples of service and selflessness exhibited on 9/11 to their daily lives.

“Hope is real,” he said. “There is no such thing as false or too much hope. There is only hope. As we remember those who were lost that day, I want to thank you all for being here to help keep that hope alive.”

Englebright offered that services such as these can keep the memory of the 9/11 fallen heroes alive.

“We must never forget, always remember, and always give thanks to those who ran into the buildings and up the stairway into heaven on behalf of all of us,” he said. “The rain is the tears from heaven today.”

Anthony Rotoli Jr., left, and Larry Johnston, right, holding a piece of steel recovered from Ground Zero. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Vigiano Brothers Lodge 3436 held a memorial service at Harborfront Park on Sunday, Sept. 11, to honor two brothers who lost their lives on 9/11.

The Sons and Daughters of Italy is a nationwide Italian American fraternal organization. Lodge 3436 comprises nearly 90 members from communities throughout the area, such as Port Jefferson, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Stony Brook. 

Anthony Rotoli Jr., president of the lodge, explained the intent of the memorial service. For lodge members, it is an annual reminder of the sacrifices and heroism of first responders who risked their lives in the line of duty. It is also a way to honor the many lost on that fateful occasion.  

“Every year, we do this memorial and it’s uplifting,” he said. “It’s something that we look forward to every year, though with a heavy heart.”

The lodge was instituted in 2008 and named in honor of two brothers killed on 9/11: John and Joseph Vigiano. Rotoli considers the example of the Vigiano brothers a source of pride and inspiration for the members.

“We take that name with pride — pride to us because they sacrificed for this country,” the lodge president said. He added, referring to the memorial service, “It’s an uplifting [event] because we’re giving something back to the brothers.”

Larry Johnston, one of the attendees, served with Joseph Vigiano as a patrol officer. He remembers Joseph’s dedication to his profession and his commitment to public service.

“The guy was a cop’s cop,” Johnston said. “He was shot on three separate occasions and could have easily gone out on a disability. He decided that he didn’t want to do that and just wanted to continue on as a police officer.” He added, “Anything that he could put service into, he did. … His legacy is a legacy of service.”

Given the Vigiano family’s example of duty and sacrifice, Johnston believes the naming of the lodge is a fitting tribute. “It’s a great way to remember Joe and who he was, what he represented, what he brought down to his family and how they represent him,” he said. Brother John Vigiano was an FDNY firefighter.

Photo courtesy Elliot Perry/MSFD

The Mount Sinai Fire Department held a memorial service on Sunday, Sept 11, in honor of the lives lost on 9/11.

Community members gathered at the fire department’s memorial. There, various members of MSFD delivered speeches commemorating the fallen. Following these statements, the department performed a ceremonial bell ringing, recognizing those who died in the line of duty. 

In an interview, Chief Randy Nelson discussed the ceremony’s purpose. For him, this annual custom preserves the memory of first responders who risked it all in the name of duty. It also recognizes the many civilians who died during the attacks.

“It’s a way to honor those who were lost on that day and, unfortunately, those that were lost since then battling diseases that stemmed from their work at Ground Zero in the months after,” he said. “It’s a way to honor, remember and — like it’s always said — to never forget. It is important to always have their memory at the top of our minds, especially on this day, but every day.”

— Photos courtesy Elliot Perry/MSFD

By Daniel Palumbo

To mark the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Rocky Point Fire Department held a commemorative ceremony at its dedicated 9/11 Memorial Garden on the evening of Sept. 11. 

The fire department invited community members, firefighters from neighboring towns and Rocky Point High School student-musicians for an evening of solemn remembrance of the lives lost 21 years ago. 

Throughout the evening RPFD firefighters, including Chief of Department Fred Hess, took to the podium to thank the attendees for their support. In their speeches, they expressed gratitude and admiration for the many servicemen, servicewomen and civilians who made the ultimate sacrifice on that tragic day in history.

This Sunday, Sept. 11, marks 21 years since of one of the darkest episodes in U.S. history. Pixabay photo

“You can be sure that the American spirit will prevail over this tragedy.” — Colin Powell 

Those were the words of the former U.S. secretary of state who passed away last year. As a prominent military and political figure, Powell understood the terrible impact that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would have on the nation. 

Though the 9/11 attacks were 21 years ago, the American public was and remains forever changed. Yet Powell was confident that America could overcome this tragedy.

This year marks the first time that the U.S. has not had a major military force in Afghanistan since the weeks after 9/11. A year ago, President Joe Biden (D) ordered the final withdrawal of soldiers from this war-torn nation. After the withdrawal, Afghanistan was quickly overrun by the Taliban. 

The long-term fighting in Afghanistan contributed to the increase in post-traumatic stress disorder among American servicemen with many other soldiers who were severely wounded fighting in this conflict. For almost two decades, Americans tied yellow ribbons around their trees and kept stars in their windows to represent the military service of their loved ones who served in Afghanistan.  

On May 1, 2011, Americans learned during a New York Mets game against the Philadelphia Phillies that Osama bin Laden was finally killed. Flying from military bases in Afghanistan, members of SEAL Team 6 were transported by helicopters to Abbottabad, Pakistan, where they cornered bin Laden in his compound. Chants of “USA” were heard throughout Shea Stadium once baseball fans learned of the death of this al-Qaida leader. The demise of the coordinator of the terrorist plot on 9/11 provided a sense of justice to the victims on that day and their families.

Despite ongoing political polarization domestically, many can still recall the moments of national solidarity in the wake of the attacks. After 9/11, citizens put their political differences aside for the good of the nation, just as they had done after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Americans in 2001 rallied around the importance of helping local rescue workers and first responders who worked around the clock in Lower Manhattan.  

New Yorkers lined the streets with American flags and handed out food and water to the police officers, firefighters, demolition workers and medical personnel who heroically sifted through the debris at Ground Zero. A plume of smoke hung in the air, blocking visibility of downtown Manhattan. Yet within this cloud, rescue workers operated 24/7.

At Shea Stadium, the New York Mets organized supplies that were sent to the rescue workers. Prominent members of the New York Yankees — Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez — visited firehouses near the World Trade Center and thanked these public servants for their efforts. Both the New York Giants and Jets invited military and rescue workers to spread flags across their football fields. With tears in their eyes, football fans nationwide watched fighter planes soar through the skies above the stadiums. Rival fans who rooted against New York teams wore “NY” on their hats, showing support for the residents of the City.

Here on Long Island, locals need not look far to see patriotism that stirred from that day of infamy. Countless memorials depict the importance of this date. Pieces of steel that were collected by the NY/NJ Port Authority was given to towns across Brookhaven and Suffolk County that were placed at post offices, schools, libraries, and police and fire stations. 

This past spring, the Rocky Point VFW organized the first annual 5K race to support War on Terror veterans as they work to better handle post-traumatic stress disorder.

And so 21 years ago, politics was put aside for the good of the nation. Americans from every corner of this country sent rescue, salvage and fire crews to help the search, and later recovery efforts at Ground Zero.  

In a moment of profound despair, our nation came together. Through shared tragedy, people from diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds illustrated the meaning of national unity. 

America today is a deeply divided nation. In the face of unlikely odds, the American people should never doubt their power to resolve their differences and overcome adversity. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Middle Country Central School District honored 9/11 with a performance by their fifth grade class, who sign languaged to the song “God Bless America.”

Music teacher Rebecca Schaarschmidt overcame the digital divide that was created due to digital learning. The students have been practicing their sign language since the end of last year and were very excited to perform for their peers in the first, second, third and fourth grade on Friday, Sept. 10 at Oxhead Road School.

“It took them about three or four practices to really get it down,” Schaarschmidt said. “Then we picked it up again when school started, and really only had two days to pull the whole thing together.”

Making sure that all fifth graders were able to participate, Schaarschmidt combined students who were in person last year as well as the students who attended school virtually. She was able to teach the sign language both virtually and in-person. 

“The students were very restricted last year, we had to be six-feet a part in order to sing together and we just didn’t have the space for that,” she said. “So, I was trying to think of a creative way to have the students be able to make music without using their voices which is why I decided to go ahead and teach them the sign language.”

Growing up in the Middle Country School District herself, Schaarschmidt remembers performing a 9/11 memorial with her choir during high school every year. Wanting to translate that tradition into the elementary school, she decided to teach the fifth graders how to perform.

“I think learning about 9/11 in schools is really important because it’s a part of our history,” she said. “These kids were not alive when it happened, so I wanted them to know what happened on that day and who the heroes were as well as who was able to help protect our country.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Dozens of people came together to remember September 11, 2001 last week during the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s annual 9/11 memorial early Saturday morning.

Port Jefferson firefighters, EMS and juniors lined up to salute three wreaths placed at the foot of the monument, while the names of Town of Brookhaven first responders who perished during the attacks were read. A bell rang every time a name was said. 

Port Jefferson School District music teacher Christian Neubert and students Kasumi Layne-Stasik and Andrew Patterson paid tribute to those who lost their lives with several moving musical performances. 

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Photo by Kimberly Brown

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and give remembrance to those whose lives were taken by the tragic events, Rocky Point High School welcomed veterans and survivors of the attack to speak to the senior class early Tuesday morning.

Students and teachers filled the auditorium as members from the Rocky Point VFW and Suffolk County Police Department were brought in to share their stories. 

The students they spoke to were not alive when 9/11 happened, which is why Social Studies teacher Rich Acritelli, who led the event, believed having an assembly on the matter was dire. 

“The big thing with this assembly is so we don’t forget,” Acritelli said. “It’s that there’s always that sense of respect towards the people that were lost and for the family members.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Guest speaker ESU officer Owen McCaffrey reflected on what it meant to be an American, and how helpful people were to each other during that tragic time. 

“Everyone was an American citizen,” McCaffrey said. “It didn’t matter what you looked like, the color of your skin or how you were dressed — everyone was working together because we were all American citizens.”

Suffolk County Acting Police Commissioner, Stuart Cameron recalled what it was like for the SCPD after the attacks had taken place, noting that the New York City Police Department even reached out to them for help. 

The SCPD sent out hundreds of officers to Ground Zero. 

“The most difficult aspect was that my phone was ringing off the hook with members of our department volunteering to go help their brother officers in New York City,” Cameron said.

Unfortunately, many of the officers who volunteered to help later passed due to medical complications, mostly being cancer related. 

“9/11 is not one day,” Cameron said. “It’s the days, weeks and months after it. You know the saying, ‘it’s the gift that keeps on giving,’ well 9/11 is the event that keeps on taking. It truly has taken away some of our greatest heroes.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Another guest speaker, Phil Alverez, whose brother, former NYPD detective, Luis Alverez passed from complications of cancer from working on Ground Zero. 

Phil said Luis wasn’t interested in people knowing his name, rather, he wanted people to know the message, which was to get victims and first responders assistance for the damaging health effects Ground Zero caused. 

“I was fortunate to have Luis around 15 years after the attacks, even though he was dealing with stage four cancer,” he said. “I got to hold him and hug him and tell him that I love him, and at the end of his life, I got to say goodbye to him — 3,000 families that day didn’t.”

Ground Zero. Pixabay photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On September 11, 2001, where were you? I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was teaching my Freshman Seminar Class at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. It was a beautiful sunny day. Right after that all of our classes were suspended. I celebrated the campus mass that day. We prayed for all the victims, for all the first responders and for our nation.

It was a scary day, but it also brought out the best in all of us. The solidarity that emerged in the days after 9/11 was inspirational. The spontaneous gatherings to honor our first responders, firefighters, and police were heartwarming.

President Bush brought us together as a nation reminding us “we must never forget!” When he addressed the nation that day he made everyone feel better and feel that we were connected to each other.

Much has happened these past 20 years since 9/11. The world has changed and so has our nation. Technology has transformed a whole generation. Unfortunately, it is a double-edged sword. In an instant you can have information about anything you desire that would normally take you days and weeks to gather. It has also become in some circumstances a painful distraction. People are obsessed with their cell phones. Communication skills have become weaker. As a teacher, I have found a growing number of my students have inadequate critical thinking and analytical writing skills.

Recently, I took an informal poll of my college students. 90% of more than 100 students acknowledged being on their cell phone more than being engaged in any other activity. Most of them agreed that cell phone use is out of control.

Ground Zero. Pixabay photo

We talked about the need for more human connection and how polarized our nation is. It was amazing to see how many believe that their vote does not matter. We talked about civic engagement, how they are the future leaders of our nation and that they need to become more involved today.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I was profoundly moved by the words of our former President George Bush at the Shanksville National Memorial in Pennsylvania. He reminded the nation of the need for unity and solidarity; that we need to rediscover the same American spirit that brought us together 20 years ago on that horrific day. He also reminded us that home-grown terrorism is as evil as terrorism around the world because it destroys the fabric of our nation by encouraging violence, hate and destruction.

As we remember 9/11 and the thousands that died on that dark day in American history, let us recommit ourselves to social justice and human rights; let us recognize our greatness in our diversity and our respect for the dignity of all people.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.