“It was a beautiful day, just like this.”
These words and similar ones passed among the village residents last Saturday as they streamed toward the Firefighter Richard T. Muldowney Jr. Memorial Lighthouse for the annual 9/11 ceremony.
In the softening evening light, residents clustered at a respectful distance from the monument in the traffic circle where South Bayview Avenue meets Ray Street and Branch Avenue. Greetings were muffled and movement within the crowd was muted.
The ceremony, which was hosted for the 17th year by Columbia School Principal Alma Rocha, opened with a speech by Kathleen Monestere, one of the Freeport residents who had helped maintain a wooden community 9/11 shelter in the traffic circle before construction of the Memorial Lighthouse in 2011.
“On Sept. 18, 2001,” Monestere said, “Phyllis Held placed a flier in the mailboxes of our neighborhood. She was asking that we gather at the traffic circle at Bayview Avenue and Ray Street. Many neighbors brought flags or candles. We held hands and sang patriotic songs and shared our sorrows. We prayed for the families and friends of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11.”
Monestere recounted the progression from grieving neighbors holding candles to the permanent monument that now stands (see “The Story of a Shelter”). She wept as she finished her talk, saying, “So it seems to be so fitting that the permanent 9/11 neighborhood memorial should be a lighthouse, a beacon of light leading our heroes home.”
Then the flag-bearing color guard of the Freeport Fire Department marched past their blue-uniformed comrades, who stood at attention in long lines reaching from Bayview Hose 3 nearly to the monument. A line of Boy Scouts followed. The sight of the firefighters as they faced the crowd in front of the monument evoked thoughts of those who should have stood with them, but had fallen on 9/11.
The somber mood lightened when Rocha invited all the children present to come to the microphone and lead the Pledge of Allegiance. About 20 children of various ages ran forward to stand at the edge of the circle. They spoke the pledge, and then darted back to their parents while Karla Martinez sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” in her full, round voice.
The Rev. Robert Dawley next read a prayerful poem, which said in part, “In the blueness of the skies in the warmth of summer, we remember them … As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as we remember them. Amen.”
Monestere then read the names inscribed on the monument, and added names of 9/11 victims that have accrued since the monument went up -- “Including,” she said, weeping, “two firefighters who have succumbed to the World Trade Center-related illnesses: Keith Young and my son-in-law, Ronald Stortz.”
As each name was spoken, a solemn tone was struck on a silver bell.
Rocha invited the listeners to speak aloud the names of others whom they wished to remember, followed by a time of silence. Marlin Terrell Flores and Anthony Luna played taps, and a moving rendition of “America the Beautiful” came through the sound system.
Alma Rocha then provided a graceful litany of thanks to the many of the Freeport community who had contributed to the ceremony.
“As we see the manifestation of natural disasters around the world, and sometimes acts of violence,” she said, “we also see the strength, the compassion and the helping hand, with the communities together, supporting each other. We are stronger together. We are strong already. We are Freeport strong.”