Forest Hills remembers Sept. 11 hero

Forest Hills remembers Sept. 11 hero
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Phil Corso

Twelve years later, the memorials still go on throughout the borough to remember those who perished Sept. 11, 2001, but in Forest Hills a revitalized annual event will honor an 18-year-old who literally dedicated his life to helping others.

Richard Pearlman, a volunteer with the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, was running an errand at 1 Police Plaza in Lower Manhattan when he heard an all-hands call to the World Trade Center, where a plane had struck one of the towers. He teamed up with police nearby, who took him in a cruiser to Ground Zero, where he was seen helping medical personnel and even carrying people out of the burning building.

A Newsweek magazine photo showed the 18-year-old from Howard Beach wheeling a bloody victim away from the South Tower — one of the last photos of him before his death. The South Tower was hit minutes after a jet flew into the North Tower. He then ran back into the South Tower to help before it collapsed on top of him.

In the years following his death, Pearlman’s name was memorialized in annual 9/11 ceremonies at the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters. But this year the group’s president, Ron Cohen, said he will announce a new memorial project in the form of a community garden dedicated in Pearlman’s name, equipped with benches, greenery and a beam from one of the towers.

“We decided the best way to really display [the beam] and honor Richard and his family was to create a garden in front of the base,” Cohen said. “Now we will have something that is publicly accessible.”

Cohen said he was asking the community for help in establishing a memorial fund to help pay for the construction and maintenance of the garden, expected to be unveiled Sept. 11, 2014.

Dorie Pearlman, Richard’s mother, has been volunteering as an assistant in the corps’ various activities in the years since her son’s death to keep his name alive, at least within those walls. She has been a familiar face at the group’s annual 9/11 ceremony.

“He dedicated his whole life to Forest Hills,” Dorie Pearlman said, adding that her son was also an assistant scout leader for a Boy Scouts troupein Middle Village. “This was his life. He would go there in the middle of snowstorms just to be a part of it.”

The Forest Hills mother has also not stopped fighting on her son’s behalf in the years since he gave his life to help others. Since that tragic day, she has been in the middle of an ongoing legal battle to classify Richard Pearlman as a first responder to the attacks, but to no avail. The federal government gives one-time payments to families of first responders who die on duty, but Pearlman said her cries have fallen on deaf ears.

But whether he is officially classified as a first responder or not, Dorie Pearlman said she will be at his Forest Hills ambulance corps building Sept. 11 this year, as she has every year since his death, to take part in the 7 p.m. ceremony.

There were several other Sept. 11 memorial events scheduled throughout the borough as well to keep those lost in the borough’s collective memory.

A candlelight vigil was planned at Juniper Valley Park at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11. The Bayside Hills Civic also announced an annual memorial ceremony for Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. where Bell Boulevard meets the Long Island Expressway.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) will also be placing memorial wreaths at 25 intersections throughout northeastern Queens that have been renamed in honor of 9/11 heroes.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.