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Seaford, Wantagh remember 9/11

Impromptu ceremony draws hundreds as hamlets mark loss

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More than 200 people gathered last Friday night to march from Seaford to Wantagh in an impromptu memorial to those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attacks 19 years ago.

For many of those who took part, the attacks were highly personal, as the communities mourned the loss of family members killed that day as well as those who have died of illnesses contracted in its aftermath.

Members of the Seaford and Wantagh fire departments were joined by contingents from East Meadow and Levittown, as well as a sizable representation from the Fire Department of the City of New York. The Nassau County Police Department’s Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band, under the direction of Pipe Sgt. Robert Farrell, lent additional solemnity to the occasion.

“The high schools canceled their memorials,” event organizer Rosanna Morey said, “so I decided to put together something small we could do instead.”

Morey was one of the organizers of the “Light the Nights” parades in the two hamlets last month, in which residents showed their support for first responders by illuminating their homes with blue lights. Working through Beyond the Badge NY, the blue lights and car parades are meant to signify respect and support for those who were called into action during the attacks.

Starting two weeks before the memorial, Morey said, she “made a few calls” to others active in the community to determine the level of interest in an alternative to the canceled events. As residents got on board, what was envisioned as a small event quickly morphed into a march from the Seaford F.D.’s firehouse, on Southard Avenue, to the Wantagh F.D.’s Station No. 3, on Neptune Avenue, by way of the NCPD’s new 7th Precinct station house on Merrick Road, in Seaford.

“I was a young [New York Police Department] officer, just out of the academy,” Town of Hempstead Councilman Christopher Carini said as he recalled the beautiful, balmy Tuesday morning 19 years ago.

When a plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., no one knew what had happened, Carini recounted. “All we knew was that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. We didn’t know it was an airliner, or that we were being attacked” until the second plane flew into the south tower 20 minutes later.

“We were one of the first companies to respond,” said one FDNY firefighter from East New York, who asked not to be named. “But we got held up at the tunnel because of the traffic, and couldn’t get through.” The company made it to the plaza eventually, where firefighters waded through a scene of indescribable devastation after the towers’ collapse — but the delay likely saved his life, the firefighter said.

Friday’s ceremony began with the tolling of a bell in remembrance of the residents who lost their lives that day. Six from Seaford and seven from Wantagh were killed in the attacks, including eight firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians. Three worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, a brokerage firm whose trading floor was at the center of the explosion in the north tower. It lost more than 600 employees.

The Rev. Joseph Fitzgerald, pastor of St. William the Abbot Catholic Church, in Seaford, gave the invocation, speaking of the “vacuum of loss” while urging “compassion and mercy as we spread our hands in unity.”

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Peter King, of Seaford, who is retiring from Congress after 28 years; and the Rev. Anthony Giordano, pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church, in East Meadow.

In years past, an event has been held at the 9/11 Memorial at Seaford Middle School. This year, the coronavirus pandemic made the gathering impossible. In a grim reminder of the climate in which Friday’s march took place, Fitzgerald said his parish had lost 42 members to the virus.