It was a nearly cloudless morning, early, on Sept. 11, 2001, when Valley Stream resident Samuel Gay, who was in college and working as a taxi driver at the time, recalled he had made his routine pickup-stops throughout lower Manhattan to bring his usual customers to work.
As part of his route, he recounted, he usually picked up a man who lived on 67th Street and Columbus Avenue, and then drive him down to his place of work at One World Trade Center building — the north tower. After dropping the man at work that day, he never saw him again.
“Every year on this day, I think about that friendly man and I get teary eyed,” Gay said emotionally at the Valley Stream Sept. 11 memorial service this year. “The main goal is to never forget so this awful thing doesn’t happen again.”
On Friday, residents and community leaders, all distanced apart and wearing masks, gathered at Arthur J. Hendrickson Park in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people who died, when both 110-story, World Trade Center twin towers collapsed in the terrorist attacks 19 years ago.
“For the families of the fallen, we understand that although we all suffered loss that day, you bear a special burden,” Mayor Ed Fare said in his address to the audience of nearly 50 attendees. “We must always take time to remember and reflect, and in doing so, we pay tribute to the loved-ones we lost and those among us today still succumbing to serious health issues from their service at ground zero.”
For many residents, they said that attending the ceremony made them recall their loved-ones’ and their own whereabouts on that fateful day, as well as how much their own lives have changed since then.
Many of the memories from the day of the attacks remain hazy for Valley Stream resident and 33-year New York City firefighter Arty Riccio who said he spent hours unconscious and buried under rubble after the towers collapsed shortly after he carried a woman down 18 flights of stairs in an attempt to rescue her.
“I never found out if the woman that I carried had survived or not, and I still think about her,” Riccio said, adding that he attends the ceremony in remembrance of not just her, but his colleagues and friends who died that day. “Every single day of my life is harder because of that one day, and I think it’s important that people never stop gathering for remembrance ceremonies like this one, to spread love and never forget.”
Resident John LaBarbera said that in 2001 he worked for a financial firm in the city at 55 Water Street, about a mile away from the twin towers. On the day of the attacks, he said, he watched from inside his work building as smoke rose from the twin towers as they fell.
“I had a lot of close friends and people from work that died on that day,” he said. “It’s a sad thing that our country was attacked and we can and should never forget.”
Oftentimes, when Valley Stream resident Pat Kielawa reflects on the tragedy she said she thinks about her sister, who was in the north tower, when the attacks occurred. A fire broke out on the building-floor where her sister was taking part in a two-week job orientation for a health insurance company. Fortunately, Kielawa said, her sister managed to flee the tower, running for 12 minutes, a 0.6 mile distance, to the Brooklyn Bridge.
“My sister has had a hard time talking about what happened on that day, but I’m sure that when she was fleeing for her life, the run must have felt like forever,” Kielawa said. “This day is always sad, but it is uplifting that we are all gathered here today to remember.”
Valley Stream resident, Elizabeth Capone, said that when she decided to attend this year’s memorial service she already knew that it would be an emotional day for her. Her husband still suffers Sep. 11-related injuries from when he was a first responder working to save lives during the attacks. Her husband has cognitive and breathing issues as well as a variety of other health complications from his exposure to the smoldering wreckage of the towers.
“Many people don’t even realize how many people are still affected by what happened that day,” she said. “This is my day to have my tears and I think events like this keep the reality of what happened alive.”
As the memorial ceremony came to a close residents said they felt comforted from having seen their community gathered in honor both the lost and survivors, and they said they found that the service helped them better understand the importance of remembrance.
“On this day every year I’m sad and I think about the awful pain and suffering that so many people had to endure and that so many people are still faced with today and every day,” Valley Streamer Joann Chang said. “The importance of events like this is to help us remember and educate the younger generations who weren’t alive when the 9/11 attacks happened.”
“This memorial service was such a tribute to the day and to so many people we lost,” said Sharon Daly, another resident whose two neighbors died in the attacks. “I’m glad that we had such a great turn-out for this ceremony even with the Covid-19 pandemic that’s going on.”