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Sept 11

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I honestly don’t remember a whole lot from elementary school, but I still remember September 11, 2001. 

I remember it was a beautiful, warm day. There was not one cloud in the sky and we were all so excited that we would be able to play outside for recess and gym class. 

At just 8 years old, I was in the fourth grade at East Street Elementary School in Hicksville — just a little over an hour away from one of my favorite places, Manhattan. 

My dad was a truck driver back then, and he was always in the city making deliveries. He’d take me and my brother out there every other weekend and show us his favorite spots. One of them was the World Trade Center. 

“Isn’t it amazing?” I remember him saying, “They look like Legos from far away.”

Back at school that Tuesday morning, I remember simply going about our day. Things eventually got weird, though. My principal came to speak to my teacher out at around 10 a.m. outside of the classroom, and I remember her face when she came back inside. She was white as a ghost. 

Throughout the day, my classmates started to get pulled out one by one. I remember being mad that I couldn’t go home, like everyone else. I remember being jealous but, looking back, they were being taken out because their fathers and uncles were first responders and their families were scared.

When our parents picked us up later in the afternoon, I remember everyone just feeling so sad. The sky wasn’t that pretty blue anymore — it felt like a dark cloud washed over us, which on reflection might have been smoke heading east. Everyone’s energy was low. The news was the only thing we watched for hours.

My dad made it home later that night and he was shell shocked. From his truck route in Queens, he said he saw the smoke. He was on the parkway, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, fleeing with the rest of the people trying to evacuate Manhattan. 

My family was lucky — we didn’t lose anyone that day, and being so young I don’t know if I was able to recognize what happened until much later in life. 

I knew it was a sad day. I knew that something bad happened. I knew that I had to wear red, white and blue on Sept. 12 and that a lot of people were missing and dead. 

But when I became a journalist, I started to talk to more and more people who were impacted on the anniversaries of the attacks. Every year since the age of 8, it began to become more real to me. 

After college, I met my best friend, Nicole, who’s aunt worked in the first tower. She died on impact when the plane crashed through her office. 

Hearing these stories opened my eyes more. I grew up with 9/11 and felt it firsthand. But growing up, I started to learn more about the actual people whose lives were lost that day. I heard their stories and they eventually became real persons to me — not just numbers in this crazy story. 

It’s amazing to think that 20 years have passed since the events which took place that horrible day. It’s amazing to see what has happened since then —wars, recessions, other bombings and a pandemic. And it’s amazing to believe that families, like my friend Nicole’s, have been without their loved ones for two decades.

No matter what age you were when the events happened — or even if you hadn’t been born yet — I think the anniversary of 9/11 should remind all of us to hug our families a little harder. Tell them you love them, and never forget the thousands of people who were impacted that day. 

Julianne Mosher is the editor of the Port Times Record, Village Beacon Record and Times of Middle Country. 

The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

Ray Strong has helped put out more fires across Rocky Point and Shoreham than he can remember. He has saved countless residents from burning buildings. He stood at Ground Zero to aid in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But entering his 40th year in fire and rescue service, Strong, 59, is stepping into uncharted territory within his field as he begins a five-year term on the Rocky Point Fire District’s five-member board of commissioners.

Strong, who joined the Rocky Point Fire Department in 1978 and later served as chief, was elected commissioner Dec. 12 after running unopposed to fill a vacant seat left by former commissioner Gene Buchner, who opted not to run again after his own five-year term ended. A total of 159 votes were cast, and Strong received 153 votes.

Fireman Ray Strong, on the scene, has been elected the newest Rocky Point fire commission board member Dec. 12. Photo by Dennis Whittam

He will be officially sworn in Jan. 9 and said he hopes to apply his  four decades of hands-on experience and knowledge as both a volunteer and career fireman to the job and better protect the community in which he grew up and lives.

“I want to continue to be an asset to the department,” Strong said. “After 40 years of fighting fires, I think I have enough experience to help me make the difficult decisions that have to be made in regard to protecting our communities and making sure our first responders are getting the best education, training and care. This is going to be a learning experience for me, but I’m looking forward to helping keep the ball rolling.”

Commissioner duties are generally divided among the board members and  include overseeing budgets and insurance policies within the district, maintaining the custody and control of all village property of the fire department, and purchasing necessary equipment to prevent and extinguish fires or administer first aid within the area.

“I’m going to do the best I can in whatever job I’m given,” said Strong, who will still serve as a firefighter while in his new position. “My mission in life has always been to be a firefighter and now hopefully a good commissioner. I get a thrill and satisfaction from it. It’s my gift back to my community, and I plan to do that as long as I’m standing on my own two feet.”

He had his first brush with the department as a member of its drum and bugle corps when he was a student at Rocky Point High School, marching in parades and routinely interacting with its members at the firehouse. He became a volunteer at 19 in March 1978 and was trained in first aid and firefighting tactics before taking advanced classes in both. Just two months in, Strong responded to a call to extinguish a major 24-hour fire at a squab farm on Randall Road in Shoreham — still the biggest one he’s ever faced.

“I get a thrill and satisfaction from it. It’s my gift back to my community, and I plan to do that as long as I’m standing on my own two feet.”

— Ray Strong

“I’ll never forget that,” he said, claiming that fire better prepared him for the job more than any training course could have.

Within Rocky Point, he has primarily served in the district’s North Shore Beach Company 2 firehouse, on King Road, while also volunteering for a few years at Mastic Beach Fire District. In 1985 Strong was hired as a career fireman within the New York City Fire Department, where he ultimately climbed the ladder to lieutenant of Rescue Company 4 in Woodside, Queens, and served there until he retired in 2016.

“Ray’s going to bring a lot of firsthand experience to the position, which really helps,” said district vice chairman, Kirk Johnson. “He has a ton of knowledge, too, as far as what equipment is needed for firefighters to do their jobs properly and to keep them safe.”

Johnson added that Strong will be particularly helpful when it comes to monitoring the district’s newly passed capital projects to replace the North Shore Beach Company 2 firehouse with a safer, more updated one, and acquire a new fire truck.

“He knows every nook and cranny of that building,” Johnson said.

Bill Lattman, an ex-chief at Rocky Point, has been working alongside Strong since 1982 and said there’s nobody better for the job.

Ray Strong, with wife Iris, is a longtime Rocky Point resident. Photo from Ray Strong

“He’s a great guy and an extremely loyal friend to everyone,” Lattman said. “He’s always been a very hands-on person within the fire district and has been involved in everything in our department. He’s definitely going to bring a lot to the table. He’s going to be a very good asset to the district and the community.”

As an FDNY member, Strong not only saved lives, but bettered them. In 2013 he started a nonprofit motorcycle club called Axemen M/C NY-3, geared toward raising money for special needs children of FDNY firefighters through annual fundraisers and charity events. The organization, which has raised more than $25,000 since 2015, came out of Strong’s own experience with two daughters born with cerebral palsy, both of whom passed away in recent years due to complications with the illness.

“He’s the most kindhearted and giving man that I know,” said his wife Iris Strong. “Anything he puts his mind to, he gives 100 percent. He’s always looking out for everybody else and if anybody ever needs help with anything, he’s right there and he’ll never ask for any help back. That’s just his nature.”

As commissioner, Strong said he hopes to  strengthen the department’s community relations and keep residents more aware of what goes on within the district. He encourages young people to give volunteering a shot.

“Everybody in fire service started out as a person who just wanted to help their community,” Strong said. “This is what has driven me for decades. People’s lives are being saved daily by your local volunteers, and it’s nothing but a great feeling.”

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Donations from the 10th Annual Kevin’s Ange’s Toy Drive will be wrapped on Dec. 19 before volunteers deliver them to the families in need. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After Sept. 11, 2001, the Williams family wanted to so something special to remember their son Kevin who died on that day, and after 15 years, they’re still honoring him.

Community members packed themselves into Phil’s Restaurant in Wading River to help support and donate toys to the Kevin Williams Foundation’s 10th annual Toy Drive, which was held on Dec. 1, from 7 to 10 p.m. The toy drive is an expansion of the Williams service to the community.

Fifteen years ago the family created Kevin’s Angels, which helped send children to a sports camp or play for a team. However, after schools and organizations like Long Island Youth Mentoring sought the family’s help for other families in need, the Williams started the toy drive to continue their outreach. For the Williams, giving back to the community and offering a helping hand during the holidays is a way to remember their son.

“We knew that we had to share his zest for life,” said Patti Williams, Kevin’s mother. “What better way than creating a foundation; and we could give to children and hopefully change the direction of some of their lives.”

Kevin Williams worked for Sandler O’Neil, a financial company based in Manhattan. The 24-year-old was on the 104th floor of Tower Two when tragedy struck and the building collapsed. Williams was to be married 10 weeks after Sept. 11.

Patti Williams takes donated gifts. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Patti Williams takes donated gifts. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In 1995, Williams graduated from Shoreham-Wading River High School and had a passion for academics as well as sports. In high school he was the captain and the most valuable player of his basketball, baseball and golf teams. Several years ago, Shoreham-Wading River renovated its varsity baseball field and renamed it after Williams. The field offers the family and other community members with a safe space to remember a loved one and reflect on Sept. 11.

This was the fifth time Phil’s Restaurant, owned by Phil Marcario, donated the space for the toy drive. Since Marcario’s wife grew up with Kevin Williams, the two are like family. Together, they made the night more than just a toy drive.

“We really wanted to make it a night where people could mingle and talk instead of just dropping off a toy,” Marcario said. “You could come and kind of spend time together, which is what the holidays are really all about.”

According to Mike Williams, Kevin Williams’ father, the toy drive helps around 30 families annually. They’ve also helped 1,025 underprivileged kids attend sports camps in the past 15 years. Despite their efforts, the family said the community is what really helped get to this point in their lives.

“We have a great faith, but we also surround ourselves with an abundance of love,” Mike Williams said.

While the Toy Drive was created in light of a tragedy, Shoreham resident Steve Malandrino said the Williams are one of few families who have turned a bad situation into something positive. Malandrino was once Mike Williams’ student when he attended Miller Place High School in the 1970s. Thus far, he’s attended nine of the 10 toy drives.

In addition to the abundance of community support, turning a negative situation into something positive also helped the family get through tough times.

“Anyone who’s gone through a tragedy, especially losing a child — you have a decision to make,” Patti Williams said. “You somehow have to get yourself from that point of not wanting to wake up in the morning because it’s another day of pain, to finding an avenue where you can make lives better for others.”

Community members gathered to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. During memorial events across Suffolk County, ceremonial shots were fired, victims’ names read aloud and flowers laid down.