Nearly 100 people spread out across East Meadow’s Veterans Memorial Park last Friday to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A table at the entrance to the park offered hand sanitizer and facemasks. The ceremony, hosted by the East Meadow Fire Department, went on as it has in the past, but this year’s speakers called on lessons learned from the trauma as a means of uniting the country as it pulls itself out of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We still cannot help but be awed by the actions of everybody following the Sept. 11 attacks,” said longtime volunteer firefighter Glen Carpentier, who led the ceremony. “This anniversary gives us a chance to re-evaluate how far we have come and rededicate ourselves to our community.”
East Meadow Board of Education Trustee Scott Eckers began the ceremony by singing the national anthem, which was followed by a presentation of the colors by the Fire Department Color Guard.
EMFD chaplain Douglas Wood, of the United Methodist Church, led the gathering in a prayer, speaking of the compassion around the nation after the attacks 19 years ago and calling for unity as the fall election nears. In past years, Rabbi Ronald Androphy, of the East Meadow Jewish Center, has also offered a prayer, but this year the memorial fell on a Friday, when he was conducting Shabbat services.
Carpentier recalled the passengers of United Flight 93, which was hijacked by terrorists who were eventually overpowered by a group of civilians on the flight. Instead of crashing into the U.S. Capitol, as was revealed to be hijackers’ plan, the plane went down near Shanksville, Pa., killing everyone on board. Carpentier pointed to the actions of the passengers as a reminder of what “ordinary citizens” could do in the face of a threat to their country.
“We must ask what we could do to protect and preserve our Constitution,” he said. “Because out of our darkest day has risen a resolve to make the world a safer, better place.”
When history books are written about events like Sept. 11 or the coronavirus pandemic, Carpentier said, “the true legacy will not be one of hate or division, but of safety, sacrifice and the goal to build a better America.”
Seven East Meadow residents died in the Sept. 11 attacks — four who worked in the World Trade Center, two firefighters and a police officer. For the 2014 commemoration, the East Meadow Kiwanis erected a memorial in the southeast corner of the park, featuring a 1,800-pound marble slab with an etching of the twin towers, and a steel beam from ground zero.
Affixed to the marble is a footstone that reads, “In the name of freedom/To those who lost their lives/September 11, 2001,” and bears the seven names: Ann McGovern, Carlos Dominguez, Stephen Mark Fogel, Stephen LeMantia, Claude “Dan” Richards, Daniel Brethel and Thomas Patrick DeAngelis.
Other from East Meadow have since died of illnesses they contracted as a result of exposure to the toxins at ground zero, where they worked in the aftermath of the attacks. Last year was a significant anniversary for the community, as it marked the first year of the extension of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Many residents fought for the continuation of the fund, including the late Ray Pfeifer.
Pfeifer joined the EMFD’s Engine Company No. 3 in 1978, and became its youngest captain in 1982. From 1987 to 2014 he was also a member of the New York City Fire Department, and he and his fellow firefighters rushed to the World Trade Center after the attacks. Pfeifer spent eight months at ground zero, and eventually developed kidney cancer. He died in May 2017, at age 59. Even in the throes of his illness, however, Pfeifer traveled to Washington to urge lawmakers to approve the legislation that created the fund.
In July 2019, the law’s name was changed to memorialize Pfeifer and two other prominent activists for the fund. Its official title is now Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.
As last Friday’s ceremony ended, Carpentier led the crowd in singing “God Bless America,” while members of the EMFD Junior Fire Company helped attendees light candles as the sun began to set.