Finding comfort among friends, family and strangers, residents memorialized those who perished on the 22nd anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 on Monday. Twenty-four residents from the hamlet died that day during the worst terrorist attack on American soil when members of al Qaeda engaged in a series of airline hijackings with one targeting Manhattan’s World Trade Center.
Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, one of the speakers, said that heroes come in many forms – in sports, music, government — but that those serving to protect others from harm, members of the fire and police departments, who lost so many members that day, are the real heroes.
“Members of the Oyster Bay Fire Company and Atlantic Steamer are the kinds of people who are willing to run into danger when the rest of us run away,” Saladino said. “There’s another group of people who wish they weren’t here to show us the meaning of strength. They are here to honor the loved ones they lost.”
The ceremony, which is usually held at the memorial on West End Avenue, was moved due to heavy rain to Atlantic Steamer’s fire building in Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park. But the rain did not discourage people from attending. The room was filled to capacity with some standing in the doorway.
Sen. Jack Martins hosted the ceremony, taking over for former Sen. Carl Marcellino who was ill. The retired senator originated the idea to host a local ceremony many years ago acquiring a state grant to create the memorial on West End Avenue.
The focus this year was on the importance of being certain young people, who were not born on Sept. 11, 2001, know and understand what happened that fateful day.
“An entire generation has been born and gone off to college,” Martins said. “Those attacks didn’t happen because anyone in the building did anything. It was a direct attack on what makes America America. We have a responsibility that our children remember that day, a responsibility to look at first responders and say thank you.”
Former state Sen. Jim Gaughran, who co-hosted the ceremony with Marcellino for years came to Monday’s event.
“As we get farther into the future it’s important to make sure our history of Sept. 11 continue to be told,” he said. “I believe this event is so important because I know it provides some comfort for the family members of the victims. And while that was our darkest day, we saw the best in people. God bless America.”
Deacon Jesus “Jay” Valdes from St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church shared an invocation that asked that God grant courage to confront enemies and comfort for those who are alone without their spouse, parent, brother, sister or friend because of Sept. 11.
“Despite the horror and tragedy of Sept. 11, our country remains a shelter of peace, a symbol of freedom, a shining light of compassion and justice to the downtrodden and the oppressed of the world,” he said. “May we teach our children to learn and to think, to consider and to reason, to be courageous in thought and in deed and nurture hearts of wisdom that they may do battle against fear, hatred and bigotry using weapons of the spirit and loving hearts.
Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews performed a stirring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” accompanied by the Oyster Bay Community Band, who also played other songs to mark the day.
The names of the victims were read by Sea Cliff Mayor Elena Villafane and Rabbi Jenn Weinstein, from Congregation Simchat HaLev shared a benediction, which concluded with the blowing of the shofar, a ritual performed by Jews on Rosh Hashana.
“The shofar is to awaken our souls,” she said. “It’s to remember where you came from. May our lives honor lives that were lost. May we arise above adversity, terror, trauma and fear.”
Then a rainbow appeared, which Weinstein said was a “sign of promise.”
When people averted their gaze from the ceremony to focus on that rainbow a sigh could be heard throughout the room.