“It’s up to us to tell the stories of the days and months after Sept. 11 — how this country came together as one and worked together,” said Bobby Gies, son of the late Ronnie Gies, a lieutenant from Merrick who was part of the elite Rescue Squad 288 in Queens.
Hundreds of people streamed into Point Lookout Park on Monday morning for a ceremony to dedicate the Town of Hempstead’s permanent 9/11 memorial. Attendees passed through an arch at the front entrance formed by two fire engines’ tower ladders and a massive American flag erected by the Lido/Point Lookout Fire Department.
Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino — who served as the master of the ceremonies — spoke at length of the bravery demonstrated by Ronnie as he showed no fear when he rushed into the burning World Trade Center to save people.
Santino continued with a message for terrorists: “You will never defeat the Gies family. You will never defeat the United States of America.”
Bobby implored parents to bring their children to the memorial and show them the long-felt after-effects of terrorism. No textbook or tablet, he said, could teach them what they will learn at the memorial.
“Explain to them what we all went through,” Bobby said. Allow them to cry if they wish, he added, after telling the crowd that the Point Lookout memorial is “the most peaceful, beautiful memorial any of us could be a part of.”
The memorial, Santino continued, “will live on for our children’s children.”
Since the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Hempstead has annually hosted one of Long Island’s largest memorial ceremonies, always on the town’s Point Lookout beach, one of the locations where people assembled to watch the World Trade Center as it burned, sending black smoke billowing from Lower Manhattan into an azure sky. Town officials estimated that more than a thousand people attended the dedication ceremony.
“Having this here for everyone to see year-round, day in and day out, not only on Sept. 11 but whenever you want to come down — it’s just incredible,” said Fred McFarland of the Levittown Fire Department, who performed a rendition of “God Bless the USA” at the ceremony. “This day has a lot of meaning to me,” he said as he recalled losing his chief, Ronald Kerwin, in the attacks.
The names of the 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks were etched on granite plaques upon a gently sloping walkway as part of the monument. Nearby, a 30-foot-tall steel beam from the Twin Towers sat next to a memorial table that displayed the poem “On the Beach at Night” by the poet Walt Whitman. Work on the monument — which cost $1.3 million — began in May and finished in August. The names of future first-responders who die of 9/11-related illnesses will be added to the granite plaques.
Many family members and friends of victims attended the more than hour-long dedication ceremony, along with elected leaders and fire volunteers from across the South Shore — from Wantagh to Freeport, Elmont and East Rockaway, among many other communities. Volunteers from the Merrick Fire Department acted as the color guard.
Prayers of multiple religions were recited during the ceremony, which began promptly at 7:30 a.m.
Long Beach also hosted several memorial services on Monday, including a memorial paddle-out hosted by Skudin Surf and the Central Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, the city’s remembrance event along West Bay Drive, Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford’s ceremony in the West End and the Long Beach Fire Department’s ceremony on West Park Avenue in front of the 9/11 memorial at Lafayette Boulevard.
“Terrorists thought they could break this great nation,” former fire chief Richard Corbett, who led the Fire Department ceremony, told a crowd of more than 50 people. “They may have hurt us, but we will never be broken.”
Framed by two engine ladders displaying a large American flag behind him, retired FDNY Assistant Chief Edward Cunningham read the names of the victims from the community: Bettina Browne, Michael Scott Carlo, Capt. Terrence Hatton, Michael Kiefer, Neil Levin, Charles P. Lucania, Noell Maerz, Kenneth Joseph Marino, [Stephen Hoffman] and Gregory Stajk, as well as William Quick, Richard Wentz and Thomas Farrell, who participated in the rescue effort at ground zero and later developed illnesses.
“Most of my anger has been replaced with pride,” Corbett said. “Knowing that this might be their last days, they still did what needed to be done. I’m very proud to have led this department, and I’m proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these fine people. I’m also proud to be a citizen of this community. That being said — never forget.”