As we near the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and American Airlines Flight 11, it is important to remember the words of Al Ficarola, commander of American Post 246: “The death of our 3,000 innocent people has affected tens of thousands of families, friends and co-workers…We will never forget.”
Baldwinites have never forgotten, as through the years they have honored the loved ones lost on that fateful day, including those who have left an imprint in Baldwin, through ceremonies, plaques, conversations and education.
For nearly two decades, Baldwin American Legion Post 246 has hosted a memorial at the Legion Hall, where participants receive a motorcycle escort to Freeport for a waterside service at the Miss Freeport, after which the boat sets sail.
In 2014, more than two-dozen motorcycles participated in the event, with help of a police escort. Following the ceremony, the crowd of about 60 people boarded the Miss Freeport, where the names of the fallen were read aloud and flowers were cast into the water.
In 2015, it was raining so torrentially that only a six-bike caravan was present that year, and it was unknown throughout the ceremony if the ship would be able to set sail. Among the mourners was a Baldwin Gold Star mother, Emily Toro, whose son, Army Pvt. Isaac Cortes, was killed in action in 2007 in Iraq. “It’s important to know the sacrifice our children make,” she said.
Similarly, Baldwin resident Alan Arias, along with more than 100 of his peers in the New York City Fireriders Motorcycle Club, took a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to participate in a three-mile-procession to lay a wreath on the unknown soldier’s tomb and memorialize the 9/11 fallen.
Throughout the past 20 years, the Baldwin community has come and worked together to pay tribute to the fallen through street-renaming and plaque ceremonies to ensure the memory of the victims is set in stone.
On April 5, 2003, Tennyson Avenue was renamed as Brian McAleese Place in honor of the 36-year-old New York City firefighter and father of four who died on Sept. 11 trying to save people after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Nearly 100 people attended the ceremony to unveil the sign bearing his name.
In a 2001 interview, his widow, Dawn McAleese, told the Herald from her home: “He loved to be a fireman…He said, 'When we go to work, we don't know if we're coming home that night.’” She added, “He was definitely a family man. He called the kids every day before going into work.”
The Town of Hempstead unveiled a memorial at Point Lookout Park in 2016 to mark the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks. At the park, there is a meditation plaza with a memorial table, a granite wall, a 30-foot steel beam from the World Trade Center’s North Tower and a directional plaque showing the distance to ground zero in Lower Manhattan.
The granite wall has the names of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., inscribed on it. And it has been updated every year to include the names of those who have died of 9/11-related illnesses.
Students of Meredith Healy-Kurz’s Art 2 class at Baldwin High School class also found a way to pay tribute to those who perished on 9/11 in 2011 by creating a mural outside their classroom that portrays a firefighter with his face buried in his hands surrounded by the fallen towers at sunset.
Healy-Kurz said, “It took a few years to be able to discuss the events of Sept. 11 with [the students], but it is imperative they understand and remember the brave men and women who lost their lives that day.”
The Baldwin School District also tackled 9/11 education by introducing lessons early on in students’ careers in 2016, including books for each grade about the day and its aftermath. They also held a moment of silence during the morning announcements, after which the students shared their thoughts on the tragedy.
“Our school-age children were not even born when this tragedy struck our country,” Baldwin Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi said. “So it is important for them to know and understand the significance of this event and to remember and commemorate that day in our history.”
2021, however, was a challenging year to gather and remember 9/11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nassau County held a socially distant and masked ceremony to remember the 348 Nassau residents who died on 9/11, attended by only a few at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, where victims’ family members read all the names aloud.
The honoree of this 19th anniversary was Luis G. Alvarez, 43, a New York City bomb squad detective from Oceanside who worked at ground zero. He died June 29, 2019, of complications of cancer caused by his contact with 9/11 debris, just a few weeks after testimony to Congress extended the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.