By Kathianne Boniello
With little more than 24-hours notice, hundreds of people packed Bell Boulevard Saturday night in a boisterous display of patriotism and pride in Bayside’s firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel following the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Holding candles and frantically waving American flags, the large crowd stretched from at least 39th Avenue to 42nd Avenue along Bell Boulevard and often spilled out onto the street.
Alternating chants of “U.S.A.!”, songs like “God Bless America” and the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd encouraged passing cars to honk their horns to join in the impromptu celebration and applauded passing fire trucks, police cars and the Bayside Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Some of the loudest cheers were reserved for the fire truck from Engine Company 306, located a block from Bell Boulevard at the corner of 41st Avenue and 214th Place. Later in the night a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers grew outside the door of the firehouse as people left the crowd on Bell to pay their respects.
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) called the loud, two-hour long celebration “amazing.”
Grabbing the microphone of a nearby Bayside Volunteer Ambulance Corps ambulance, which had been blaring the song “I’m Proud to be an American,” Ackerman gave a rousing speech.
“We are Americans,” he shouted. “The bastards that did this didn’t kill Democrats in the World Trade Center, they didn’t kill Republicans — they killed our brothers and sisters.”
Ackerman told the crowd he had toured “Ground Zero” — as the site of the now demolished World Trade Center has come to be called — with President Bush and that the president “has pledged to do whatever it takes to get the sons of bitches that have done this.”
Bronx Police Officer Robert Kane, who worked at Ground Zero for three days, said he had come to Bell Boulevard Saturday night to take his wife out to dinner.
Not expecting the massive display of patriotism which had overtaken Bayside at the time of his visit, an emotional Kane called the celebration “incredible.”
“I feel very joined with everyone involved,” he said above the noise of the crowd. Kane described Ground Zero as “nothing you would believe.”
But despite his work in the rescue efforts, Kane refused praise.
“I have no right to call myself a hero,” he said. “The police officers, firefighters, and emergency service workers — they are all the heroes.
“Don’t call me a hero,” he said. “I did what I had to do.”
Later in the night a visibly moved Kane spoke after Ackerman speech and told the Bell Boulevard crowd the rescue efforts in Manhattan would continue.
“We’re going to keep trying,” he said.
Jessica Franco, a Flushing resident and member of the Bayside Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said none of the ambulance corps members expected such a large crowd.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said.
Saturday night’s crowded celebration was previewed with a smaller candlelight vigil Friday night.
Joining a national event in which people were asked to step outside at 7 p.m. Friday night with a lit candle in remembrance of those killed during the World Trade Center attack, between 100 and 200 people lined Bell Boulevard.
Some sat quietly with somber faces watching their candles burn, while others sang “God Bless America.”
Alberto Rodriguez, who works in Bayside, sat by himself Friday evening and shielded his candle from a light breeze.
“I’ve been to the towers,” he said, referring to the now-fallen Twin Towers. “I’m going to miss not being there. They must build them again.”
Mary Ford, whose brother Harry was one of three firefighters killed in the Astoria Father’s Day blaze, also joined the Friday evening event.
“I’m here to support America,” she said. Referring to the 300 firefighters who have been declared missing since the Sept. 11 attack, Ford said “this is horrible.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.