It was an emotional evening, but one in which the community again stood together. Twenty years ago, the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center shook the Merrick neighborhood, which lost residents in the recovery efforts. On Saturday, the Merrick and North Merrick fire departments remembered the fallen at their annual ceremony.
More than 100 residents filled the street at the corner of Sunrise Highway and Merrick Avenue, where the Merrick firefighters’ memorial stands alongside a steel girder that once supported one of the towers. Dozens of firefighters solemnly stood by.
After Merrick Fire Department volunteer Tom DiBlasi read the poem that is engraved on the memorial, emcee Paul Waterman, an ex-chief of the department, delivered a somber speech that recounted his times with the men he once served beside.
“Twenty years is an awfully long time, perhaps to some a lifetime,” Waterman said. “Twenty years ago, our lives were changed forever. Time’s passing, yet for us, there will be no forgetting Sept. 11.”
“I often think back on these gentlemen who made such an impact on our community, our city and our country 20 years ago; men who gave all who they were,” Waterman continued. “I had the privilege of knowing them, and in our firehouse culture, I had the privilege of laughing hysterically with them, and I had the privilege to learn from them. They were good, decent men who loved their families, contributed their talents to this community and really made the world a better place to live because of who they were.”
Wreaths were laid for ex-chief Ronnie Gies and ex-captain Bryan Sweeney, who gave their lives on that day.
“I remember him for the person he was,” said First Assistant Chief Ronnie Gies about his father. “He was a great person — he’s all of our heroes. He was amazing. He makes it tough every year because we miss him a lot.”
Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads, who is also a volunteer firefighter, added that the enduring lesson from Sept. 11 is “that we must never be afraid to recognize evil for what it is, to call it by name and to be united in our standing against it.”