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9/11

9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. Pixabay photo

This Sunday will mark 21 years since our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. The fear that many of us felt on what was a beautiful late summer day and the compassion toward the victims and their loved ones will never be forgotten.

In addition to those who lost their lives on that tragic occasion, there were many who coordinated evacuation efforts and others who helped clean up the wreckage. It’s imperative for Americans to remember and honor these heroes, too. 

Since 2001, more than 4,000 first responders, volunteers and survivors have died, according to the World Trade Center Health Program. More are suffering from cancers and illnesses that medical professionals believe are linked to working at Ground Zero. These reported deaths are over 1,000 more than the nearly 3,000 killed at the World Trade Center on the day itself.

The images of first responders trying to save people will be forever seared into Americans’ collective memories. 

In the days and the months after 9/11, police officers, firefighters, tradespeople and more put their country and fellow humans first. They dedicated their time and energy to help New York City heal, rebuilding a hurt but unbroken nation, bringing dignity to those perished beneath the rubble. Their dedication allowed families and friends of the victims to properly grieve, and offered a sense of closure.

This was no ordinary work. It took immense courage and selflessness to confront the horrors of Ground Zero. The first responders and the rest put others before themselves, knowing that what they uncovered within the debris could not be forgotten. 

And despite the trauma and shock in the days and weeks after the attacks, these brave souls likely never imagined the physical strain their work would have later in life. 

They could not know that one day they would need additional health care because of their work, emotional support, and possibly financial assistance to help with mounting medical bills.

Ground Zero volunteers and workers, as well as 9/11 first responders, still need our help. Whether it’s listening to their stories, running an errand for them when they are sick or simply thanking them for their bravery, every bit means something.

When tragic memories become part of the distant past, for those who were removed from the scene, it’s easy to forget those who suffered the most or, even worse, ignore them. However, we should never forget the repercussions of 9/11 as our heroes continue to heal from it.

This 9/11, as we honor those lost on that tragic day, we must also remember the thousands on the scene in the months following who have died since then. They helped New York City recover, and their sacrifices should never be forgotten.

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.

Joe Cognitore with members of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. Photo from Joe Cognitore

 Commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11 has had a big impact on Joseph Cognitore, a Rocky Point resident who is  commander of the local VFW Post 6249. 

On the day of 9/11, he was working at the Coca-Cola distribution center in Hauppauge when he and his co-workers heard two planes had hit the World Trade Center towers. 

At first thought, he figured it was something similar to the Empire State Building accident in 1945 — when a B-52 bomber crashed into the building in thick fog.

As the September 2001 morning progressed, TV announcers said loud and clear that this was an attack on America. Feelings of anxiety, frustration and pent-up emotion overcame Cognitore, bringing back his memories of Vietnam.

“I vividly remember the quiet and serenity of all the people just milling around, not knowing what to do,” he said. “The whole area was quiet and full of blank stares and disbelief.”

Some of Cognitore’s high school friends who worked in the World Trade Center, as well as fire department personnel, perished in the attacks. 

One of his friends with whom he graduated and played ball with, Peter Ganci, held the rank of chief of department for the New York City Fire Department and was last seen on the day of 9/11. 

“I didn’t know it at the time, but later that day I found out he had passed,” Cognitore said. “When the towers fell he was with Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He told the mayor to go one way, but he wanted to go back with his men the other way, and that’s when he perished.”

As a veteran who works on legislative committees for the VFW on state and national levels, Cognitore has been pleading with U.S. Congress to pass the defense budget. However, he said the budget never gets passed or is pushed to the side.

“We need to get better security and better defenses, and I’m not confident that’s happening,” he said.

Despite this obstacle, Cognitore believes it’s extremely important for younger generations to learn the history of 9/11. Every year he makes an appearance at Rocky Point High School, along with other guests, to discuss the tragic day as well as honor servicemen.

“I know when I was in high school and went to assemblies we laughed and giggled and didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on,” he said. “The assembly they do at Rocky Point High School you can hear a pin drop. I mean the tension is there.”

When the commander was a child, his grandfather would take him to various monuments around Long Island to pay respects to America’s fallen heroes, and said this memory has stuck with him his whole life.

“I always remember going with my grandfather to monuments and it had such an impact on me as a child,” Cognitore said. “I think what my grandfather did with me should still carry over to other generations because it taught me about respect.”

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Photo by Stefanie Handshaw

Dozens of people came together to remember September 11, 2001 last week at the Sound Beach Fire Department’s annual 9/11 memorial.

On Saturday morning, 20 years to the day of the attacks, local first responders lined up to pay their respects to victims and their families.

A bell was rung 13 times in memory of those lost.

This article was updated to resolve previously published mistakes.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Vigiano Brothers Lodge 3436 gathered in Harborfront Park Saturday morning to remember two Long Island brothers who perished during the September 11 attacks.

Joseph, a police officer, and John, a firefighter, were among the nearly 500 Long Islanders who died 20 years ago on 9/11. Both brothers were from Deer Park.

Every year, the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America host a candlelight vigial to remember the lives of the Vigiano brothers and the other first responders who lost their lives that day.

Photographer Bolivar Arellano was on the scene when the World Trade Center’s south tower was imploding. Photo by Bolivar Arellano

When 9/11 happened, I was only three years old, and at such a young age, I had no idea what was going on in the world — the only thing that mattered to me was my stuffed animals and food. 

As I grew up in elementary school, I was always reminded every September about the attacks with an assembly my district put together. 

We always were given little American flags to place outside the front yard after the presentation was over. 

I was born in a time where it was no longer safe to walk around by myself like it used to be. I remember my mom telling me about her time as a young child, and how she’d walk all around the neighborhood with her close friend Sue Hill from morning until dusk, no cellphone, no contact, relying on complete trust in her community and town. 

Kimberly Brown

However, when 9/11 happened, that trust broke completely. I asked her why I wasn’t allowed to do the things she did as a kid, and she told me that “times have changed.”

I didn’t always see the big picture as to why things were the way they are, because it’s the environment that I grew up in. It’s something that I’ve been accustomed to since I was born, but as I grew older and moved onto middle school I started to understand more.

I’m not sure exactly what age I was when I found out why my next-door neighbors, Timmy, and his brother Tommy weren’t around anymore, but I remember they were dedicated to their jobs as firefighters and were always very friendly to me and my family.

My mom had told me that Timmy rushed into the North Tower while Tommy, who was a Battalion Chief, led his men into the South Tower. Both of them tragically died whilst trying to evacuate 25,000 people from the World Trade Center.

When Timmy was younger, he planted pine trees next to our house that continued to grow for decades after his death. To me, it served as a memorial, remembering how free-spirited yet brave these two brothers were.

To some people around the country, 9/11 is a distant memory, but for me, it has been prevalent in my community since the day it occurred. Neighbors, friends and family members, all have people they hold dear to their hearts, serve in our local fire and police departments. 

In one way or another, regardless of age, 9/11 has touched everyone in some form. It truly is one of the most important events of our American history to remember, as well as commemorating our brave service members who gave their lives to save others. 

Kimberly Brown is a reporter with TBR News Media and a recent graduate of Stony Brook University.