The Struggle Against Forgetting
What more can be said about September 11, 2001?
However familiar the words and sentiments, they need to be expressed and repeated on the anniversary occasions. Especially in a community that has felt the sting of loss from “our generation’s ‘Pearl Harbor.’ ”
On Sept. 8, at its 9/11 memorial fronting Hose Co. No. 2 on Old Country Road, the Westbury Fire Department (WFD), led by Chief Ken Gass Jr., did its part to keep the memory of the tragedy in the forefront of those who attended.
Among the nearly 3,000 killed that Tuesday morning were hundreds of emergency responders. Others, as JoAnn Dellacona pointed out to The Westbury Times, began dying that day on the rubble of the World Trade Center during rescue and recovery efforts.
Those included her husband Richard, ex-chief of the WFD, as well as Robert Langer, 27-year WFD firefighter. Langer’s name will be added to Dellacona’s in October on the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
The families of both men, who were officially recognized as victims of the toxic air that hung over Ground Zero for months after the attacks, were on hand to place flowers at the memorial.
Department Chaplain Jon Wicks, presiding over the ceremony along with ex-Chief John Bartunek, observed in his remarks, “The passage of time does not diminish the tragedy that our nation suffered 18 years ago. We will forever observe a day of remembrance in honor of those lost and injured on September 11, 2001, and those that continue to perish from September 11-related illnesses.”
Wicks noted that 2,977 people from 93 nations died that day. He singled out the 343 members of the FDNY.
“Eighteen years later, hundreds more have perished from 9/11-related illnesses, two from our own department. And many more continue to fight their illnesses from this tragic event,” Wicks said. “The Westbury Fire Department has retired badge number 343 in memory of the 343 firefighters lost that that day.”
Wicks then called for JoAnn Dellacona, accompanied by Hose 1 Clerk Ron Pfeffer, and Greg and Robert Langer, accompanied by Captain Dominic Buffolino, to approach the memorial with bouquets. JoAnn afterward bent down to touch her husband’s name, inscribed on a brick.
Wicks pointed out the village leaders on hand, including Mayor Peter Cavallaro and trustees Vinny Abbatiello (member of Hook and Ladder), Steven Corte (ex-member of Hose 2) and William Wise. The remaining trustee, Beaumont Jefferson, was out of town.
“It’s really hard to believe it’s been 18 years,” Cavallaro said in his remarks. “Many of you know that yesterday in our village we had our street fair on Post Avenue, and spontaneously, probably three or four people who I was just chatting with [mentioned] 9/11 and the fact that it was 18 years ago this week that it happened.”
He added, “People [recalled that Sept. 11, 2001] was one of the most beautiful days that they could remember. And there was not a cloud in the sky. And then those tragic events happened.”
Cavallaro also reflected that an entire generation had grown up with no memory of an event that has been seared into the collective memory of those of sentient age when it happened. To them, 9/11 is just another historical event
“Every time I drive by and I see this piece of metal here (a beam from the World Trade Center), it really gives me chills,” Cavallaro said. “And it’s a reminder to us every day that people made real sacrifices on that morning, in those frantic hours. But also, we have reminders with us today, of family members of people who made sacrifices in the months that followed being on that pile, going through the rubble trying to find survivors and later just trying to find something so that their family members would have some certainty as to what happened to their [loved ones].”
The mayor went on, “It’s important that we do these ceremonies every year, that we do them forever because we need to remember not only what happened, but I think more importantly, to remember the heroic efforts the people like you all (gesturing at the firefighters) first responders, the police, the firefighters that actually put their lives in danger, first to save people and then to try to help our country and New York City recover from those events. So for those family members who are here, our hearts every year go out to you. For many of us, it’s an annual remembrance. For you, it’s a daily remembrance.”
Wicks then intoned the “Firefighters Prayer”:
When I am called to duty, God,
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life,
whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
before it is too late,
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert,
and hear the weakest shout,
quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling,
to give the best in me,
to guard my friend and neighbor,
and protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I must answer death’s call,
bless with your protecting hand,
my family one and all.
The chaplain then urged the attendees to “Always remember the words inscribed on our memorial: ‘All Gave Some, Some Gave All. We Will Never Forget.’ Please continue to take time throughout the day and on Wednesday, Sept. 11 to reflect how our lives were changed on that tragic day.”
“A lot of people died on September 11th,” JoAnn Dellacona told The Westbury Times. “For the people that died of 9/11 illnesses, such as my husband, they actually started to die on that day, but that’s what they do. I think that even if he knew what was going to happen to him in the end, he would have done the same thing.”
She added, “I thank God that they are all remembered on September 11th because I think the worst thing that could happen is that we forget what they did. For me and my family, [we remember 9/11] every day, but on days like this, we share it and are grateful for people remembering and our country honoring them.”
For a list of Nassau County residents who died on September 11, 2001, click here.