Peter King

At this dinner, true patriotism was on vivid display


Recently I was privileged to attend the annual Patriot Award Dinner hosted by the Seaford High School 9/11 Memorial Committee. This event, and other 9/11 programs and projects in Seaford, are administered by the Memorial Committee, which was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, with the commitment to “always remember.”

Communities across Long Island were devastated by 9/11. None, however, has been more consistent or wide-ranging in its dedication to preserving the memory and legacy of that day and its victims than Seaford. Here are a few examples.

  • In November 2002, a commemorative plaza was constructed at the entrance to Seaford High School, dedicated to the alumni who lost their lives that day: New York City Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Haskell, FDNY Firefighter Tim Haskell, New York City Police Officer John Perry, Robert Sliwak and Michael Wittenstein.

  • Each year on Sept. 11, more than 1,000 people attend a memorial at the plaza — last year, undaunted by a driving rain.

  • Since 2002, Patriot Award scholarships totaling more than $235,000 have been given to 112 deserving Seaford High seniors who reflect the values of the five graduates who died on 9/11.

  • Honorary Patriot Awards have been presented to 59 people who selflessly service the Seaford community.

  • District students make field trips to the 9/11 Memorial at ground zero.

This year’s Patriot Award Dinner was held at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. As always, there was a large turnout, more than 300 people. The mood in the room was a mix of energy and respect. There was the energy of people who have been working for over two decades to ensure that the memories and legacy of that day are preserved, along with respect for those who died and their family members, who were at the dinner, as they have been at so many commemorations over the years.

Among those sitting at my table were Monsignor Steve Camp and members of the Haskell family. Camp, now the pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Huntington, was a priest at St. William the Abbot in Seaford in September 2001. He officiated at funerals for victims of the attacks, and showed a level of compassion and concern that did so much to help not only the victims’ families through those days of sadness and despair, but the Seaford community as well.

Tom and Tim Haskell were heroic members of the FDNY, as was their brother, Ken, who survived that day, and has dedicated so much to the Memorial Committee, serving as its president. With Ken at the table were his mother, Maureen; his wife, Genene; and their sons Kenny and Ryan; Ken’s sister, Dawn; and Tom’s widow, Barbara.

No family has endured more than the Haskells. Somehow their spirit remains as strong as ever — as does the spirit of the other 9/11 families.

Walking through the room and seeing so many neighbors, friends and other familiar faces, I was pleased and reassured by the number of young people who were there who weren’t yet born on Sept. 11, 2001. I also gave a special hello to my sister, Barbara, a Seaford High graduate who put so much effort into making the dinner a success.

The student scholarship winners were very impressive, as were the Honorary Patriot Award recipients. Longtime Seaford High officials Tom Condon and Ray Buckley, who played strong leadership roles in forming the Memorial Committee and have continued their efforts to this day, spoke movingly, and then led everyone in an emotional and spirited rendition of “God Bless America.”

All these good, hardworking people gathered to show their unfailing dedication and commitment to their community and country more than two decades after America’s darkest hour exemplify patriotism at its best.

As I left that night, I thought about how wonderful it would be if the spirit of selfless dedication and commitment that these Seaford residents still demonstrate could once again predominate in our divided country. If the sense of unity and respect that Americans had in the days, weeks and months after the attacks could somehow be re-established. If we could work together on issues where we agree, try to find common ground where we disagree and do so respectfully, always remembering that we are Americans.

The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 could not destroy us or break our spirit. Instead we emerged more united than ever. We owe it our nation, and all those who were murdered that day, not to divide against ourselves from within, but rather to do all we can to recapture the unity we had then, and never forget that we are still the greatest nation on earth. As the hundreds of Seaford residents proudly sang at the conclusion of the Patriot Award Dinner, let us all proudly proclaim, “God Bless America!”

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.