Five Towners reflect on 20years after 9/11

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There were words of remembrance, words of anger and words of appreciation at the 20th annual Cedarhurst 9/11 memorial ceremony at Andrew J. Parise Cedarhurst Park on Sept. 12..

On Sept. 11, 2001, four hi-jacked jets took down the twin towers of the Word Trade Center, rammed into the Pentagon and crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa., taking 2,997 lives in total.

Seven residents who lived in the Five Towns or nearby communities died in the attacks at the World Trade Center: Thomas E. Jurgens, Neil Levin, Kevin O’Rourke, Bettina Browne Radburn, Joseph Rivelli Jr., Howard Selwyn and Ira Zaslow.

The ceremony, attended by nearly 300 people, according to village officials, was led by Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock, who called for the continued remembrance and education of a day that is painful to recall but whose wrenching memories need to be passed on to those who did not experience it.

Lawrence-Cedarhurst American Legion Post 330 members led a color guard that included members of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department.

There were musical performances by Lawrence High School students, led by the district’s director of music, Pam Gallopini. Sivan Laniado, Stephanie Lopez and Leslie Melendez Melgar sang under the direction of Shelly Goldman. Didier Gordillo, Audrey Michlig, Xian Scott, Emma Urgen and Ilia Urgen were directed by Andrew Krahm. Band director Brian Stabile played taps.

Corinne Strom recounted how residents of Lawrence and Cedarhurst have honored her late father, Kevin O’Rourke, an FDNY and volunteer firefighter with the Lawrence-Cedarhurst and Hewlett departments who died at the World Trade Center.

“Whether it was lining Central Avenue, clapping and waving flags as he arrived at his final Mass at St. Joachim’s to dedicating the street in front of LCFD firehouse and a truck in his name at his first firehouse home, to the scholarships given in his name so children may follow their dreams like he did his,” Strom said as a Long Island Rail Road train pulled into the Cedarhurst station across from the park — a reminder that many people who commuted to work the morning of Sept. 11 did not come home that night.

John Feal, who survived a harrowing accident at ground zero when a falling steel beam landed on his foot, said, “Twenty years ago, on Sept. 12, was when the empathy and the humanity kicked in, when the charity kicked in, when we all put aside our differences, our ideologies, our political affiliations, our skin color, our gender and our pay scales. And everyone said it was great to be an American, it’s great to be a patriot. No, wrong, it was great to be a human being. We’ve got to stop labeling each other and look at each other like human beings.” Feal now runs the FealGood Foundation, which advocates for first responders.

Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman remembered his nephew Thomas Jurgens, a New York state court officer and a volunteer firefighter who raced to the scene, and died there.

“Tommy was a wonderful boy — he set the bar very high for our family,” Blakeman said. “When I see our volunteer firefighters, especially those from his home firehouse in Meadowmere Park, I think of Tommy.”

Having attended ceremonies across Nassau County, County Executive Laura Curran said it was vital that its citizens come together as a community.

“I think we do not take our freedoms for granted, and it is a feeling of gratitude that I have to live in this beautiful country,” she said. “It is also to make sure we honor, we thank, we defend, we support our first responders … That is something we can do, and it takes away a bit of the helplessness and hopelessness that sometimes can overcome [us].”

Deacon Dan Otton, who represented the Catholic churches of the Five Towns — Our Lady of Good Counsel, in Inwood, St Joachim, in Cedarhurst, and St. Joseph, in Hewlett — gave the invocation, and said it is important to honor those lost on 9/11 each year, especially on the milestone anniversaries. “We remember the hurt,” Otton said, “but we also remember the hope.”

“I remembered that beautiful Tuesday morning 20 years ago,” said Rabbi Benjamin Samson, of Cedarhurst, who gave the benediction. “Around 9:10, I was going to my office at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens when, on the radio, someone said, ‘Hey, listen, a plane went into the World Trade Center.’ I ran up to my office, to the 13th floor of the building, and on a clear day I could see the World Trade Center from my office. What did I see on this day? I saw the black smoke billowing from the building, going toward Brooklyn.”

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