Dozens of people gathered on Sept. 6 in a canvas tent on Tobay Beach for a memorial ceremony to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Torrential rain rattled against the roof, and lightning flashed as thunder roared. But the wind that whipped through the tent could not extinguish the candles the attendees held during the vigil or deter mourners from honoring the loved ones who were taken from them 17 years ago.
“Maybe tonight is symbolic: that we’ll go through hell or high water — perhaps literally, at the moment,” said Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, gesturing to the veritable river pouring off the pavement behind him into the sand, “to remember our loved ones.”
The Rev. Dennis Suglia, of St. Kilians Roman Catholic Church, said that the weather, and the attendees’ willingness to show up in spite of it, was a reminder of the devotion, and the loss, that victims’ families felt. “I don’t think there’s anyone here, who, if we could, wouldn’t climb up that flagpole [outside] to take a lightning strike so we could have one more day with the ones we loved,” Suglia said.
Relatives of those who died were invited to share their thoughts about them. Some, like Nancy Nee, referred to the weather. “I can’t help but think that this is the sign from all of them,” she said. “Maybe it’s anger. Maybe it’s a lot of tears. They were taken from us. They didn’t just die. They were murdered. Unless you’re one of us, it’s really hard to understand.”
The event also served as the unveiling of plans to erect Walls of Honor in memory of the first responders — firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and other volunteers who helped clean up ground zero — who have died in the 17 years since the attacks of “9/11-related illnesses,” mainly a broad array of cancers.
The new memorial will be erected to the east of the existing one at Tobay Beach, and will be completed in the next year. “Each year,” Saladino said, “we will remember their sacrifices as we inscribe into these new Walls of Honor the names of family members, friends and neighbors lost to this toxic legacy.”
Since 2001, almost 10,000 people have been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers, and more than 2,000 have died from them. Some people in the “9/11 community,” as first responder Bill Gleason called it, expect that before the end of this year, the number of fatalities caused by illnesses will exceed the number of people killed in the attacks. Gleason said that he attends an average of two funerals for first responders every month.
Several state and federal programs have been established to provide aid to those who fell ill after serving their colleagues when they most needed it. But advocates for first responders are concerned that one such program, the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, which has a dwindling pool of money and a 2020 deadline to apply for benefits, will prevent first responders diagnosed with illnesses after the deadline from receiving compensation for their service.