Marking a day like no other

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In the early evening of Sept. 11, 2001, Kathy Martinez Walsh and Patricia Magnus Brown, captains of the East Meadow Fire Department’s Rescue 5 Ambulance Company, were stationed at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan. But before arriving there, they were taken to what was then simply known as the pile at the World Trade Center.

“It was scary,” Brown said. “The police officer driving the ambulance didn’t realize how heavy the debris was.”

“It was as though we were buried in ashes,” Walsh recalled, adding that the ambulance was unable to get through and headed for the pier instead. “It took a long time to get the smell out of my hair. My husband kept saying that I smelled like fuel.”

Their job that night and the next day was to unload body bags from two 18-wheelers, which were filled with body parts from people who had died in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. 

“My memory of Sept. 11 is my 21-year-old daughter begging me on the phone not to go,” Brown said. “I said, ‘I have to go. I’m a captain.’”

Walsh said she could not watch the televised annual ceremony from the Sept. 11 memorial in Manhattan. Brown said she watches it and cries.

Both, now ex-captains, having put in more than 20 years as volunteers, said they were proud to march on Sept. 11 with other members of the Fire Department and the community from fire headquarters on East Meadow Avenue to Veterans Memorial Park.

Roderick Geoghegan and Boy Scouts from East Meadow Pack 157 lined up behind the firefighters. The troop leader said he shares his experiences on Sept. 11 every year with the boys, who are ages 14 to 17.

Geoghegan was working at the marina as an accountant in an office across the street from the towers.

“I tell the boys that when the rescue workers came out with a body part, everyone would salute it,” said Geoghegan, adding that he had to leave. “People were jumping. I couldn’t watch that. I was five blocks away when the first tower fell.”

Before he left, he remembers his boss on the phone with a client, Cantor Fitzgerald, and then the phone died. With offices located in the north tower above where the plane had hit, everyone who reported to work from the financial services firm died that day.

“Emotionally, my wife will tell you I was very uptight after Sept. 11,”  Geoghegan said. “I work on Long Island now.”

Running around laughing and playing on a grassy area near where community members were lining up, the girls in Girl Scout Daisy Troop 1119 held small American flags, with many wearing  red, white and blue clothing.   

“Don’t let the flag touch the ground,” a parent, Allison Vardakis, warned, which caused the girls to stop running. Smiling, they held their flags high. 

Co-leader Kim Gonzalez said the girls, who were between 5 and 7, were too young to comprehend the seriousness of Sept. 11. “They know about patriotism and heroes,” she said. “Today they are celebrating our heroes from Sept. 11.”

The parade was led by the Nassau Firefighters Pipe Band, who played several mournful tunes. Many residents lined the sidewalk waving flags, with some wearing T-shirts with the words, “Never forget.” One young girl sat cross-legged on top of a car.

East Meadow firefighter Glenn Carpentier served as the master of ceremonies during the ceremony inside the park, which drew roughly 100 people.

“Today we remember the day that the world changed,” he said. “It’s been 20 years, yet the pain is great. We are here for one reason — to honor our freedom.”

As the ceremony was ending, residents and firefighters sang “God Bless America,” some wiping away stray tears.

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