People affected by day of terror are on hand
John Heslin stepped up to the podium.
“You gotta be strong,” Al Piscitelli told him.
It was a particularly poignant moment during the Carle Place American Legion Post 9/11 ceremony. Legion Commander Piscitelli was the emcee at the Veterans Memorial Park on the 18th anniversary of the attacks.
“No crying,” Heslin said firmly to himself.
“I carry this picture of my nephew [Glen Pettit], who was murdered in the Twin Towers,” Heslin informed the assembled, holding up the framed photo like an Orthodox priest exhibiting an icon.
“His remains were found in December and he received a proper burial,” he continued. “Last year, I spoke here for the first time. Normally I’m down at Ground Zero [at the September 11th ceremony].”
Heslin told The Westbury Times afterward that after receiving a pacemaker, he found it difficult to make the walk from the bus to the ceremony grounds. So last September, after 16 years of faithful attendance at Ground Zero, he began attending the memorial service in the hamlet where he has lived for 51 years with his wife of 55 years, Barbara.
Heslin is a retired NYC policeman. He related how his nephew, then a freelance videographer/photographer who worked chiefly for Channel 12 News, called to ask his advice about joining the city police department. The uncle was encouraging and in due course Petitt, of Oakdale, entered the force and was assigned to the Police Academy Video Production Unit. According to reports, he was engaged in videotaping the rescue efforts when he was killed at the WTC at the age of 30. He was posthumously award the NYPD Medal of Honor and then-Commissioner Ray Kelly joined the family in renaming the corner near the police academy after Petitt.
Heslin noted that his father was a city policeman in the 1930s and wore badge No. 3815. John joined the department in 1965 and spent 28 years there. He also wore the same badge number. His nephew Glen asked for the same number, and according to Heslin, “the department was proud to give them the shield.”
Glen’s brother Neal, Heslin’s godson, joined the MTA police K-9 unit and the agency gave him a special shield with the same number.
“3815, the family shield, is still around,” Heslin said, his voice breaking.
Referring to the victims, he urged, “Pray for them. Remember that thousands of people went to work and never came home. They’re gone. I try to tell you, ‘Love the one you’re with.’ You never know what can happen.”
Heslin then asked Tina Karen to come up and introduced her, observing, “Right here in Carle Place, families are losing members over the years. A couple years ago her husband [Charles] a New York City police officer, died of [9/11-related] cancer here in town. It was a beautiful service. Please remember her and her family. Her two boys [Charles and Dominic] are in the schools. I love her. What can I say? God bless her. Remember, community people, say hello to each other and love each other.”
Words To Remember
The keynote speaker was Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth,
“This is a day we must always remember,” she said. “September 11th, what a sad day. A day filled with terrible, frightening memories. A day that we have a responsibility to remember. A responsibility that’s bigger than ourselves. And that’s why we’re all here. We’ve come to show our solidarity as a community and as a nation.”
Among the dead on 9/11, she noted, were 56 North Hempstead residents.
“Eighteen years later it remains an unimaginable loss, [with] staggering numbers,” Bosworth continued. “We must also remember the 50,000 survivors diagnosed with 9/11-related illnesses following the attack. Those people are still suffering because of their courageous and brave acts.”
She cited the recent passage of a bill in Congress that will cover the cost of treatment, stating, “How comforting it is to know that those who are suffering from those illnesses, and those that will be diagnosed, will have access to medical care.”
Echoing a familiar sentiment, she said, “There are children in school now who weren’t alive on 9/11. And they need to know what happened that day. Their children need to know. Their grandchildren need to know.”
Town of North Hempstead Clerk Wayne Wink also spoke, commenting, “For 18 years we have gathered together to persevere. Because it would not be right to come to these ceremonies just to remember the pain and remember the loss. All that will do is cause us to want to hate those who hated us in the first place. To inflict suffering on those who made us suffer. We need to be bigger than that. We need to be more than that. We need to persevere. And that’s why our nation has declared today and all future September 11ths as a day of national service and remembrance.”
Legion Chaplain Helmut Walter delivered the invocation and benediction, while Frank Arcardi and Tom Genovese led the singing of “God Bless America.”
As Heslin greeted people after the ceremony, a woman said to him in passing, “You’ve made me cry.”
For a list of September 11 victims from Nassau County, visit this site.