JFK’s Memorial Park honors those we lost

John F. Kennedy Airport will hold a ground-breaking ceremony Sept. 11 for the Memorial Park honoring those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center tragedy.

The ceremony will include a gathering of leaders from the airport and nearby communities, affected families and friends, airport workers, businesses and organizations to share thoughts and witness the beginning of the JFK Airport Memorial Park.

The event will take place at the JFK Airport ball field, which is along the Federal Circle roundabout, next to building 141 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The first community-wide service for 9/11 will include a series of commemorative actions, including a moment of silence, an honor guard, police bagpipe, laying of a wreath, words of comfort and inspiration by local clergy and community leaders, an 18-wheeler truck emblazoned with American resilience images and participation by American and United Airlines, which lost personnel. Refreshments will be served by food-service companies at the airport and here will be a Remembrance Tent where people can share their feelings and thoughts on camera for posterity use in the future Memorial Park development.

Banners and posters have been placed throughout the airport and terminals to make people aware of the event. The Queens Chamber of Commerce is helping to sponsor the event with invitations to the surrounding community. “We invite all to attend and share time remembering loved ones and our love of our country,” said Joe Clabby, president of the JFK Chamber of Commerce,

It has been 16 years since that terrible day of loss at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Mike Moran, general manager of JFK Airport, remembers all too well the friends and associates he lost on that day. He is concerned that too many people may forget the horror of that day. Moran has a very personal reaction to the World Trade Center disaster since some people in his parish died, and many of people he worked with perished as well.

“I knew then that this airport would not forget that day, “ said Moran, who wanted to create a lasting memorial for all.

“The act of remembering then dovetailed with the idea of a memorial park since it was all about our people,” he said.

The idea of a Memorial Park where all the different workers at the airport can share this space in recreation and camaraderie reflects what Moran said is the sentiment that “we are all Americans, and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder as a community”.

Jerry Spampanato, former deputy general manager of the JFK Airport at that time of 9/11, has some difficulty speaking about that day’s events. He said he and the general manager had just completed rounds of the airport to make sure all was in order when he and others in the car spotted a large plume of smoke in the distance.

“I immediately knew something was wrong, and my first reaction was thinking back to what happened at Pearl Harbor,” Spampanato recalled, “This is worse than Pearl Harbor,” he said immediately afterward everyone rushed back to the office where he saw the second plane hitting the second tower. The airport operations were closed immediately and airlines flights were stopped for about a day and a half. Hours were spent in security meetings and trying to contact people he and the other airport personnel knew.

“Over 60 people we knew died that day,” Spampanato said. “It was very intense”.

He also remembered fondly when the baseball field by Building 141 was created. He said the maintenance people did a great job not knowing that their field would eventually become a place of reverence and community use.

The JFK Port Authority had envisioned a park to commemorate the people who died during this event. With the support of the JFK Chamber of Commerce, which has taken the lead in organizing this event, and subsequent fund -raising, the day of solemn memorial and groundbreaking of the Memorial Park will take place after a long period of planning and logistics. When completed, the Memorial Park will commemorate the lives of those who perished with a piece of steel from the Towers, a memorial wall, individual pavers and name plaques and the ongoing development of support from different organizations, and individuals.

This will be a place of reflection, respect and reaffirmation of our freedoms often gained through sacrifice, according to Mercedes Altman, executive director of the JFK Chamber of Commerce.

The development of the Memorial Park will be funded by contributions from the private sector with the property supplied by the Port Authority. This public-private partnership is exemplary of the spirit of care and recognition for our fallen citizens from all involved in the creation of this space.

Donations can be made to a special Memorial Park creation fund being created by the JFK Chamber of Commerce. Contact Mercedes@jfkcoc.com for more information.

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