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.”