Just before 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2017, members of the Island Park Fire Department began to gather at the triangle of Long Beach and Parma roads, the site where, just a few minutes later, a gnarled and rusted piece of the Twin Towers would be officially dedicated as the Island Park 9/11 Memorial, to serve as a reminder of what was lost that day, and what remains. Dressed in their official uniforms of dark blue, firefighters milled about and greeted each other, exchanging somber nods and a bit of small talk.
A school bus pulled up adjacent to the triangle, and the nearly 20 students who make up Island Park’s fourth grade festival troupe poured out and lined up on the curb, before sitting down on the grass, while their teacher, Marie Sambolin, set up an electric keyboard next to the monument. Many of them adorned in red, white and blue.
After the troup sang a heartfelt Star Spangled Banner, Rabbi Paul Hoffman of the South Shore Jewish Center issued the opening prayer. Mayor Michael McGinty, explaining the purpose of the memorial said, “We come together at this monument, because our hearts need a tangible, viable expression of our sorrow. We must always remember, never, never to forget.”
There was a moment of silence, in honor of Thomas R. Kelly and Anthony Perez, of FDNY Ladder 105.
Perez, whose family still lives on Parma Road, died at age-33. “We never got any of the remains,” his mother Maria said.
“It’s like it was only yesterday,” she added. “It’s been 16 years, the pain’s still there, and the dreams still come and go. When you lose a child, it feels like a part of your heart is gone.”
But Maria still has something special to remember him by, three things actually. Perez’s children Olivia, 26, Anthony-James, 22, and Alexis, 21, still remember their father, “They’re very good kids,” Maria said. Of her son’s legacy, “At least we have something left.”
She said she appreciated the monument and that it would provide a nearby location for her to sit and pray for the son she lost that day.
And after a rendition of America the Beautiful, and a closing prayer by the Rev. Paul Conforti, of the Gospel Church of Island Park, Mayor McGinty thanked by name his staff and Public Works employees who helped to make the event and the monument itself a reality.
After the official event had come to a close, attendees remained where they stood, looking at the monument for a while. A minute passed and people began to walk around and talk to each other, giving hugs and comforting squeezes on the forearm. A fireman who declined to give his name said that the wounds of that day still felt fresh. The sixteenth year, he said, “feels just like the first year.”