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Merrick remembers 9/11 nearly two decades later

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Under unimaginable circumstances, Merokeans gathered once again at the firefighters’ memorial on Sept. 11 to remember the most unimaginable day in American history.

Dozens of mask-wearing residents stood together in silence to pay tribute to the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice during the attacks on the World Trade Center 19 years ago. One firefighter remarked that it was one of the biggest turnouts the ceremony had seen in recent years.

The whirling emergency lights that threw colors onto the crowd were soon shrouded by astounding beams of white light as day turned to night. Behind the memorial, two searchlights projected tribute beams up into the sky, which could be seen from every corner of the hamlet.

Emcee Paul Waterman, an ex-chief of the Merrick Fire Department, explained that four local firefighters were compelled to continue the tradition in Merrick after a near-cancellation of the annual Tribute in Light ceremony sparked nationwide controversy.

Ex-MFD Chief Tom Gies — whose father, Ronnie, perished on 9/11 — spearheaded a GoFundMe page with Freeport Fire Department Captain Kevin Madigan, Wantagh firefighter Matt Fratello and FDNY firefighter Chris Howard to ensure the lights would shine in Merrick. The campaign raised $15,000.

Addressing the sea of first responders before him, Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin said, “In March and April, the early days of the pandemic, all you heard was ambulances — that was you, and we are grateful.

“We need to remember the lives lost 19 years ago and the lives we continue to lose today,” he added. “It’s the promise we’ve made, so we’re here again to say ‘thank you’ to our first responders.”

Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhodes, who’s also a volunteer firefighter, said the memory of those lost on 9/11 should serve as “the reason and inspiration” for others “to do good in their honor.”

“This year, people have been focusing on the things that divide us,” he said, “but this day reminds us to stand together as a country against the evil that we know exists.”