Tags Posts tagged with "9/11"

9/11

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Around 200 gathered at the 9/11 Memorial on TOB property in Port Jeff Sept 12. Photo by Steven Zaitz

On Sept. 12, the day after the 19th anniversary of 9/11, hundreds marched down Port Jeff’s Main Street to honor lives lost at the 9/11 memorial across from Village Hall.

Approximately 100 marchers started from the Port Jefferson Train Station where they sang the national anthem before coming down Main Street. Most walked but another group also came down the street on motorcycles. A large group Suffolk County Police were there to block traffic and lead the group down the road on motorcycles. Many of those marching were not wearing masks.

Most marched in good spirits and there were no reported confrontations between marchers and people on the sidelines.

After reaching the Brookhaven marina area, the crowd grew to about 200 before stopping in the small 9/11 memorial on Town of Brookhaven property. Once at the site, organizers, including former FDNY Lieutenant Daniel Dooley, who helped originally construct the 9/11 memorial, read off the names of those from Brookhaven town who died in the terror attacks 19 years ago. Other speakers included Vietnam Vet and PJSD alum David Mann.

Setauket Patriots, a local online right wing and pro-Trump group, organized the march through social media. While event organizer James Robitsek told TBR News Media before the event they wished it to be a-political, a small number of marchers bore flags, hats and other paraphernalia supporting President Donald Trump’s (R) reelection campaign. Others in the march sported thin blue line flags and other items that supported police.

The Village of Port Jefferson originally denied the organizers a permit to march at the end of August, citing a general moratorium on any new permits for marches and parades because of the ongoing pandemic. Village officials also said that the permit application the Setauket Patriots sent in was incomplete in the first place.

Organizers for the march previously told TBR News Media they felt the permit denial was a suppression of their constitutional right to assemble, and they announced they would be marching anyway.

All photos by Steven Zaitz

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Shoreham resident and ex FDNY Tom LeDeoux placed the ceremonial wreath in the standing pool. Photo by Kyle Barr

For the 19th anniversary of 9/11, the Rocky Point Fire Department’s annual ceremony in Shoreham was limited in attendance to mostly firefighters and a few residents. Despite the abbreviated ceremonies, it was still a solemn memorial to the many who have lost their lives during the World Trade Center terror attack and all those who died after.

The evening included firefighters from the Wading River, Miller Place and Ridge Fire Departments as well as the RPFD. Speeches by head of the 9/11 Memorial Committee David Singer and Fire Chief Adam DeLumen touched on how both partisan politics and the COVID-19 pandemic have led to division, but most can remember how Americans came together in solidarity after the attacks 19 years ago today. It was also a time to remember the thousands who have died as a result of adverse health effects caused from being at the scene when the towers fell.

As of June, 2020, 79,001 respondents and 26,271 survivors were enrolled in the Centers for Disease Control’s World Trade Center Health Program, of those, 58,933 have one or more certified health conditions. Now over 18,100 members have certified 9/11 related cancers. Every year the numbers rise.

“As we get further and further away from that terrible event 19 years ago, we must continue ceremonies like this all around the world to make certain that present and future generations never forget the lives lost and continue to lose because of 9/11- related illness,” Singer said.

DeLumen, in his speech, also noted that this year is likely to be his last year as chief of the department.

“I remember exactly what I was doing that day of the attack and feeling the fear of the unknown, this year has much the same feeling,” the chief said. “I remember the day after 9/11 … we all became became one nation and came together no matter what, the same way these first respondents have always done.”

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A bell is wrung for every name read commemorating the people who died on 9/11. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Port Jefferson Fire Department held a private ceremony the morning of Sept. 11 to commemorate the events of 9/11 on its 19th anniversary. Many local ceremonies are being held privately this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rev. Gary Gudzik led the assembled department members in prayer before PJFD Chief Todd Stumpf got up to the mike to speak some solemn words, saying they were not only there to remember all those lost when the towers fell, but also all those who have died after or are sick because of injuries or adverse health impacts from breathing the dust kicked up by the fallen buildings.

“We gather because we will never forget,” Stumpf said.

Retired FDNY Captain David Loper read off the many names of Brookhaven residents who died on that fateful day 19 years ago, while 2nd Assistant Chief Anthony Barton read off the names of the local police who died during the events of 9/11.

This article was amended to correct the name of the Port Jefferson Fire Chief.

Major Martin Viera, back row third from left, along with other members of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing. During 9/11 he was an eighth grade science teacher in New Jersey, and the terrorist attacks pushed him even further to join the service. Photo courtesy of 106th Air Rescue Wing

By Rich Acritelli

Nineteen years ago, this Sept. 11, the U.S. was attacked in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and over the farm fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Long had it been since our people endured such a threat to the national security of America. In a matter of moments, a horrified generation of citizens watched a dangerous threat oppose this country. But, almost immediately, there came an unyielding spirit of patriotism that matched every serious historic event that gripped our people.

‘If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.’ 

—Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl

The above quote was from the wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, who lost his life due to this terrorism in what was known as the “plane that fought back.”  Regardless of race, ethnic group, religion or economic class standing, years ago during and after this assault on our soil, all people in this country helped each other during this time of sorrow. People sent goodwill packages to the rescue workers, firemen, and police officers that spent endless days searching for survivors and the remains of citizens from the World Trade Center. Yellow ribbons were wrapped around trees and porches, patriotic bumper stickers were on our cars and trucks and Walmart was unable to keep up with the massive requests to purchase American flags. Through this national hardship originated an immediate willingness to help others, to serve at home and abroad. People looked at the flag with an intense sense of pride.

But in our current times, the political, economic, social, racial and ethnic tensions have divided this outstanding country. Today, on both sides of the political aisle, there is a noticeable resentment that threatens to weaken the foundations of a country that was always an example towards others. Regardless of our citizens’ differences, our people could always count on supporting each other through the darkest of times. To friend and foe alike, American has been a true source of strength and determination since 9/11. For in this country it was not that long ago that people lined the streets to wave to rescue workers and give them a needed boost as they headed towards Ground Zero. There were the sad periods when people, especially those from the North Shore, attended funeral services for those local graduates and citizens that were killed from these attacks. This also marked the point where there has been continued fighting and presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world, where our residents served with distinction to protect the freedoms of this nation against terrorism and its supporters. 

Members of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 stand proud. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Local residents widely recalled important memories of when America was united some twenty years ago. Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore fondly recalled the unity that was demonstrated on the North Shore. Weeks after the attacks, there was an outside assembly program at the Rocky Point High School football field. The American flag that was flown at Ground Zero was presented by parachuters jumped over a packed crowd. Years after this event, Cognitore still gets chills from this program that brought these people together to cherish a flag which survived the earliest moments of the War on Terror.  

Miller Place resident Anthony Flammia is a retired 24-year veteran of the New York City Police Department. As a motorcycle patrolman, Flammia spent over 300 hours at Ground Zero where he assisted in the rescue and the recovery efforts. He has tirelessly championed local, state and federal legislation to aid the thousands of rescue workers and citizens that have been severely inflicted or died from the 9/11/01 related illnesses. As a devoted member of the FEAL Good Foundation, Flammia’s mission has been to help many people from this period that saw all people, from all different backgrounds come together. Flammia recalled the devotion that his fellow officers showed to each other at this time and he stated, “It did not matter if your skin color was white, black, orange or purple. We all helped each other, and we bled blue.”

Marty Viera was a 1988 graduate of Rocky Point High School and a former lifeguard at Smith’s Point that currently serves at the New York 106th Air National Guard base at Westhampton. As a combat rescue officer, Viera has spent numerous days away from home in deployments at home and abroad. During 9/11, Viera was an eighth grade science teacher in New Jersey who was in the process of joining the military. Once the nation was hit by terrorism, Viera felt helpless that he was unable to help our people and he quickly pursued a career in the service. Always an upbeat military officer, Viera is proud of his training and combat experiences with his fellow service members who are devoted to live by the creed of this Rescue Wing, “These things we do, that others may live.”

John Fernandez was a talented student athlete that graduated from Rocky Point High School in 1996. “Spanish Lightning” went to the West Point Prep School for one year and moved onto graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York in 2001. As a young second lieutenant, he was completing training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when terrorism hit this nation on 9/11. For Fernandez, this was an extremely personal matter for this local officer, as he recalled watching the destruction of the Twin Towers, he immediately ascertained that our country was at war against Al-Qaeda. 

By 2003, Fernandez entered Iraq with some of the first American forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This Shoreham resident is an upbeat father of six children that was severely wounded overseas and has the constant reminders of Second Gulf War. For many years, Fernandez worked for the Wounded Warriors where he had seen incredible acts of comradery between the city rescue workers and veterans. Years after 9/11, Fernandez observed these groups bond together through a special source of unity that was based in service. Fernandez explained that this “shared sacrifice” brought these proud Americans together that fought both on foreign battlefields and amongst the debris of Ground Zero.

In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, a parachuter jumped down to Rocky Point HIgh School football field carrying a flag that was flown at Ground Zero. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Almost two decades ago, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) vividly remembers the dark moments of terrorism and its aftermath within the city. Recently Toulon recalled, “I was working for the New York City Department of Corrections as a captain assigned to the Firearms & Tactical Unit, and I remember my first thought was to secure and protect the range because the range had many millions of rounds of ammunition and thousands of firearms. As an EMT, I was then sent to respond to the scene like so many other first responders. Everyone who responded and volunteered at the site of the attack was hoping to save lives, and I was sent back to my post at DOCS because it quickly became obvious there were few survivors that day. I was able to contribute several years later in the helping to build a lasting memorial in Nesconset to all the heroes, the first responders, and all those that perished due to the 9/11 related illness. The 9/11 Responders Remembered Park was a labor of love for me and so many others who came together to recognize the sacrifices of all those who responded to Ground Zero.”  

During the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American people, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” At the turn of this new century, America on a beautiful, sunny, late summer day was changed forever. It seemed like yesterday that airplanes were re-routed to Canada, national airports grounded all flights, harbors were closed, and there were numerous security inspection checks through bridges and tunnels. But Americans came together in a positive spirit to overcome the unknown, while these current times are complicated, our citizens, including those on the North Shore, do not have to look far to recall the way that all groups of people came together during after 9/11. As in any part of our long history, the citizens of the U.S. has always proven to be a resilient people, able to rise up and defeat all daunting obstacles in its way.

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

There will be a significant reduction in the number of people who can commemorate 9/11 this year, with many like the annual event in Shoreham being closed to the public due to COVID-19. File photo by Kyle Barr

TBR News Media reached out to several local elected officials at the national, state and county level to let them share their thoughts as we head into another commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

*This post will be updated as more officials respond to our questions.*

Sen. Gaughran Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) spoke with the TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

Gaughran: When I think of 9/11, I obviously think of the heroism and the number of people I know who died. I certainly think of the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders who, without hesitancy, ran right into those buildings. Probably, some of them knew they were going to get killed. Maybe others figured it was another day when they were going to try to save people.

TBR: Who is the first person you think of in connection with 9/11?

On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.

Gaughran: Since I have been in the senate, the first person that comes to mind more than anyone else is Tim DeMeo, who is a constituent of mine, who was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He was in charge of dealing with oil spills, other contaminated sites and other hazardous clean ups. He was in Manhattan, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, when the plane crashed. He got a call, “You should turn around, go back to Manhattan. This is something we’ll have to deal with.”

He turned around. The second plane crashed. He was permanently injured by debris. He stayed there. The next day and the next day, throughout [the clean-up] with all the other heroes…

He worked alongside police and firefighters and others working at the scene. He got very sick. He was not entitled to the same disability retirement benefits that everybody else was who was there. The way the state legislature wrote the bill, it was written so it would [be for] uniformed employees. He was not one of them. He was in the Department of Environmental Conservation. There were eight or nine other people like him. One of the first who came to see me in my district office, he came and told me a story … He said, “everybody else has been helped and I haven’t.”

He has significant medical issues. Attempts to pass a bill never went anywhere. I ended up writing a bill. We passed a bill last year, on 9/11. The Governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] signed the bill.

It’s my proudest achievement so far. It didn’t help as many people as some of the other legislation I dealt with. I’m proudest of [that bill]. All these people were just as much heroes as everyone else. They were left out. New York was ignoring them.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Gaughran: I think it’s basically the same. A nurse or a doctor or a firefighter or an EMT who picks up somebody and puts them in an ambulance and brings them to the hospital are doing this knowing they could easily contract COVID and face the same issues that people they are trying to help are facing. The risks are the same. Running into a burning building is a more immediate risk. Dealing with a sick COVID patient, who may give you the disease, you’re facing a risk that potentially could cost you your life.

TBR: Do you think the divisiveness of today will ease during 9/11?

Gaughran: I would hope so. I remember on 9/11, watching George W. Bush at the site, that iconic image, with the bull horn and everything. That wasn’t that long after the election. My kids were young. They paid attention to everything. [They said] “dad, you didn’t vote for him.” This is a moment when we all have to stand behind him. It was a different world then. It’s hard to get people to agree to the same thing today. The president we have now is not going out of his way to try to create national unity.

I voted for Al Gore, but Bush did push for national unity after that, including visiting mosques, to make it clear that even though the terrorists who killed us were of a certain background, the folks who were living in the United States who happened to be Muslim are patriotic citizens like everyone else.

Rep. Lee Zeldin Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) responded to questions from TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Zeldin: The bravery, selflessness, fearlessness, and resolve of first responders, Americans, and our entire nation as a whole. When so many of us think about 9/11, we remember exactly where we were that day, when ordinary Americans became extraordinary heroes. We vividly remember what we heard, what we saw and how we felt. We remember first responders running towards danger at the greatest possible risk to their own lives.

While our memories of those moments have not faded, most importantly, neither has our resolve to rise stronger than ever before. New Yorkers remain committed, especially this year, to remember, honor and exemplify those Americans, who in the face of unconscionable evil, were the very best of who we are.

TBR:  Who is the first person that comes to mind in connection with 9/11?

Zeldin: It’s difficult to choose just one person who comes to mind, but with the full permanent funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund signed into law last year, one of the first people who comes to mind is Luis Alvarez. While he wasn’t with us to witness the legislation he fought so hard for signed into law, he spent his final weeks with us continuing the fight until the very end so other 9/11 first responders wouldn’t have to.

TBR: In the context of the pandemic, is 9/11 overlooked?

Zeldin: Even in the midst of a pandemic, the commitment of New Yorkers to Never Forget, as we’ve seen with the Tribute in Light and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, underscores how dedicated New Yorkers are to the memory of those who died on that day and the so many who have passed since due to 9/11 related illnesses.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Zeldin: The same bravery in the face of clear danger and uncertainty that drove so many first responders on 9/11 to save countless lives at the expensive of their own, is the same bravery that has spurred so many of our local first responders and health care workers to serve throughout the novel outbreak of coronavirus.

Though the Setauket Patriots said their Fourth of July parade held in Port Jeff was an a-political event, a few cars like this military-style Jeep rolled down Main Street bearing “Trump 2020” paraphernalia. Photo by David Luces

The Setauket Patriots, a sometimes-controversial online conservative group, announced they plan to hold a 9/11 parade in Port Jefferson, even though this time they lack the village’s approval. 

The planned march, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12, would take people from the train station all the way down to the 9/11 memorial across from Port Jefferson Village Hall, next to the marina parking lot. The village has not granted a permit for the march, but the group plans to go anyway. 

“This is about trying to follow the mandates.”

— Margot Garant

The Facebook page for the event states the event is planned because New York City, along with Suffolk and Nassau counties, have declined to hold public 9/11 ceremonies because of the pandemic. The patriots, a known pro-Trump group, said the event “is not a Trump rally but a 9/11 never-forget-our-first-responders event.” Organizers said they expect anywhere from 150 to 200 participants.

This is not the first event the group has decided to host in Port Jeff. When hundreds marched down Main Street in Port Jefferson for a Black Lives Matter march in June, the Setauket Patriots hosted a Fourth of July car parade in response. Both the protest march and Patriots parade received permits after discussions with village officials, which created changes of time and place for both events. This time, the conservative group filed for a permit but they claim their request was denied Friday, Aug. 28.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said an executive order signed July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopped the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests. The order was enabled by the village’s previous declaration of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time it was signed, Garant said the permits for such protests and parades had been “a mistake” because of the ongoing pandemic.

In regards to any further action taken by the village, Egan said nothing would be enforced by Port Jeff’s constables, and it would instead fall on the Suffolk County Police Department. In response to whether the village plans any further action against the group if it does host its parade, he again reiterated that Port Jeff’s clerk would no longer be issuing permits for any kind of march.

Garant said that beyond the moratorium on permits, the application the group filed had been incomplete and was rejected for that as well. She added the purpose of no longer allowing groups of more than 50 to gather is an attempt to comply with state orders trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“It has nothing to do with who they are and what they’re doing,” she said. “This is about trying to follow the mandates.”

The mayor said the village has contacted Suffolk County police as well as state police about the planned march. They have also contacted the Town of Brookhaven, since the 9/11 memorial is technically on town-owned land. She advised that the group should try and communicate with the town instead to devise some kind of ceremony.

A spokesperson for the Setauket Patriots, who asked he not be named because of fear of being outed online, called the village’s decision to not allow any more parades unfair, considering the village has started hosting its Harborfront Park movie nights once again, though these are hosted by the village itself and therefore do not require permits.  

“We’re helping Mr. Dooley, and it’s the only reason we’re having it in Port Jeff.”

— Setauket Patriots

The Setauket Patriots leader reiterated that the planned march was planned to be apolitical. He said it was planned after conversations with Daniel Dooley, a New York City Fire Department lieutenant who helped construct the Port Jeff 9/11 memorial. Dooley normally hosts a vigil at the memorial site to commemorate 9/11. He was also described as a member of the group.

“We’re helping Mr. Dooley, and it’s the only reason we’re having it in Port Jeff,” the Setauket Patriots rep said.

Efforts to contact Dooley went unsuccessful as of press time.

A few other 9/11-based events usually happen within the village to commemorate that fateful day in 2001. The Port Jefferson Fire Department normally hosts its own ceremony, and last year the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America hosted a candlelight vigil in Harborfront Park. 

Tom Totten, the PJ fire district chairman of the fire commissioners, said they plan to host an in-house ceremony that’s not open to the public. Discussions are still ongoing whether the vigil will be recorded or livestreamed.

Other 9/11 events on the North Shore have been postponed or changed to meet the challenges of the pandemic. The usual Setauket Fire Department 9/11 event will not be open to the public and will instead be livestreamed. Other events, like the 9/11 memorial hosted in Shoreham by the Rocky Point Fire Department, are still up in the air.

Members of the Setauket Patriots group also took the lead in several controversial May protests in Commack calling for the end of the COVID-19 shutdowns. Their Facebook normally posts conservative and pro-president news, but their page also shares more posts that could well be described as inciting violence, such as videos of pro-Trump car paraders in Portland, Oregon, driving into and through counterprotesters and spraying them with pepper spray with captions like, “Bear spray is the new bug spray!” 

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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.