Middle Village residents gather to honor victims

By Dustin Brown

With Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American” blaring from the sound system in the gym at the Our Lady of Hope School, nearly 200 neighbors were transformed into a standing crowd of patriots, their hands clasped over their heads as they swayed to the music.

Residents of Middle Village and the surrounding communities banded together last Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association, offering what was billed as “a tribute to the lost and the missing in the attack on the World Trade Center.”

Queens politicians told the community that all levels of government — from the City Council to the state Legislature and Congress — were rapidly responding to the disaster, while residents offered their own accounts of bravery and inspiration.

State Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) warned that the disaster would cause unforeseen problems for people, such as the question of receiving life insurance money for missing loved ones whose bodies have not been recovered.

“We’re going to address them the best way we can,” Cohen said.

He compared the current struggle with President Abraham Lincoln’s resolve not to allow the dead from the Battle of Gettysburg to have died in vain.

“We’re faced with an almost identical fight today,” Cohen said. “And this fight has to be fought to a successful conclusion, not only for our freedom but also for the freedom of unborn generations to come.”

For state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), a more recent parallel was the nation’s reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which he remembers from his childhood.

“That same fervor and patriotic zeal is what we see today,” he said.

At the same time, the residents and politicians described the enormity of the World Trade Center disaster as unprecedented and signaling a new era.

“They say the pictures don’t do justice, and let me tell you, they don’t,” said City Councilman Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village). “This is going to be a long and difficult fight. These terrorists are going to find out that they picked a fight with the wrong people.”

For Joe Cimino of Middle Village, an employee of the Kings County district attorney’s office who saw the rubble firsthand, Ognibene’s words rang true.

“It was like an assault on your senses because you saw what you were seeing but you didn’t believe it,” Cimino said. “TV couldn’t portray to the American people how bad it was because if it could, the outrage would be even worse.”

The newly selected commander of the 104th Precinct, Captain Peter Loehle, told the crowd how important their support was to his officers, who have been working up to 18 hours a day since the disaster.

“I’d like to express my sincere appreciation for all the thanks that we’ve been getting,” Loehle said.

The captain said his priority remained fighting crime and quality-of-life offenses in the precinct, which covers Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Glendale.

“We’re not going to let down our guard on any front,” Loehle said.

JoAnne Mugno, a self-described “quintessential New Yorker,” stood before the crowd and admonished her neighbors not to stay at home in response to the threat of terrorism.

“Every time we do that, they win,” she said. “We have to go out, we have to go to restaurants, go to a Broadway play. You do have the power.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.