It was a solemn scene on Sept. 9 at Heroes’ Walk in Wantagh: With candle flames flickering in the wind, residents bowed their heads as the Wantagh American Legion Pipe Band played “Amazing Grace” to honor those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Wantagh Chamber of Commerce hosted a 20th-anniversary memorial at Heroes’ Walk, adjacent to Twin Lakes Preserve. The Chamber and pipe band were joined by the Wantagh Fire Department; the Nassau County Police Department; Wantagh School District officials; Miss Wantagh 2021, Angelina Maciak, and her court; Blue Star Military Moms of Nassau County, and town and county officials.
Chamber President Cathy McGrory Powell introduced guests and explained how the Heroes’ Walk was established. Roughly 22 years ago, Powell said, she asked Town of Hempstead officials to install a sidewalk along a section of Park Avenue west of the Wantagh Parkway, and the walkway was dedicated to the 15 Wantagh residents who perished in the terrorist attacks. For the past 19 years, Powell said, community members have kept the area clean.
“I know that we’re all reflecting on the fact that it’s been 20 years,” County Executive Laura Curran said at the ceremony. “I know it doesn’t feel like 20 years — it feels like it was just yesterday. As we think about those who died that day, and those who have died since that day of 9/11-related illnesses … I think it’s incredibly important to say the names, to honor the memories and to thank those who laid down their lives for us.”
Tom Bloomfield, 1st chief of the Fire Department, noted that the department hosts a ceremony each Sept. 11 to remember firefighters Kevin Donnelly, Lee Fehling and Tim Haskell, who died on Sept. 11. “We haven’t forgotten,” Bloomfield said. “We will not forget. And by the showing here tonight, I see that Wantagh will not forget.”
The Town of Hempstead and Wantagh “never forget and always respect,” Town Supervisor Don Clavin said.
“This is a really special community for so many reasons,” Clavin added. “To have a ceremony like this, as we approach the 20th anniversary, again demonstrates what this community is all about: remembering and caring for those we lost.”
County Legislator Steve Rhoads said that an important lesson to draw from that fateful day is to recognize evil in the world and “unite and fight against it.
“We see some of the events going on around the world, and it makes us wonder, have some of us forgotten?” Rhoads asked. “I know that in Wantagh, we have not forgotten. I know that in Hempstead and Nassau, we have not forgotten.”
Near the end of the ceremony, Powell reflected on a conversation she had with a man shortly after the Heroes’ Walk was renamed. When he approached Powell to thank her for its creation, she cut him off, urging him not to thank her.
“I hope he is here tonight, because I want to apologize to him,” she said. “I, like many in the country, did not feel worthy of any recognition for having honored your loved ones. It was the least we could do, as we stood by feeling completely helpless.”
Powell sported the jersey of the late Pat Tillman, a former star of the Arizona Cardinals who left the National Football League in 2002 to enlist in the U.S. Army, and was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004. “I wear it as a tribute to him and so many others that also felt they needed to enlist after Sept. 11, 2001,” Powell said. “… They felt they needed to recognize and emulate the selfless acts from all of our first responders by putting the safety and lives of others first.”