Hundreds gathered in Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for a solemn memorial program, remembering the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives that day in New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The emotional program included the reading of the names of the 9/11 victims from the surrounding area, a video montage of the attacks and the aftermath accompanied by Alan Jackson’s song “Where were you when the world stopped turning,” as well as the observance of the Tribute in Light, shining bright against the late summer evening sky.
The 9/11 Vigil Committee in Middle Village has held a candlelight vigil and memorial service at Juniper Valley Park for 20 years — the first vigil was held a few days after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil and attracted 6,000 people.
Organizers and elected officials had an important message: Never forget that fateful day, which has become synonymous with sacrifice, heartache, heroism and unity.
Frank DeBiase, president of the 9/11 Vigil Committee, remarked that the committee, which comprises a group of volunteers from Middle Village and Maspeth, had invited 13 local schools to participate in a 9/11 essay contest.
“Only one school submitted entries,” said DeBiase, a retired corrections captain and Ground Zero first responder.
He then introduced Christ the King High School senior Melissa Rojas, who won first place with her essay “A never-ending tragedy.”
Queens Deputy Borough President Rhonda Binda said that the victims’ legacy lived on in their families, and it was the duty of New Yorkers to honor them.
“And another way that we can honor them is to celebrate our freedom as Americans and keep this city and this borough open and embracing diversity,” Binda said.
Congresswoman Grace Meng expressed her gratitude to the volunteers who organized the memorial and the families who brought young people to the vigil who were either too young to remember 9/11 or who weren’t even born at the time it happened.
“I say this more as a mom than as an elected official, ” Meng said, urging that schools nationwide teach about the darkest day in U.S. history. “For us to ensure that our future generations of young people know and understand what happened that day, it shouldn’t be just one school in our district who submits essays to talk about and remember 9/11.”
Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, who lost his cousin FDNY firefighter Edward White on 9/11, pointed out that some, unfortunately, didn’t pay much attention to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“It is our duty to make sure the next generation of Americans know what was what happened and why it happened,” Barnwell said.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi shared the story of a neighborhood kid who was “the best athlete” he’d ever seen play in every sport, and “the nicest guy.”
Hevesi’s childhood friend worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, which occupied the 101st to 105th floors of the north tower. He perished along with more than 650 of his co-workers.
“I’m constantly going back to that day because the feeling is sadness. But that feeling is also combined with anger, still angry that Americans were attacked,” Hevesi said. “I am grateful to live in the greatest country in the history of the world and to celebrate and come back here every year to remember what happened 20 years ago.”
Councilman Robert Holden recalled the first vigil on Sept. 16, 2001, and how proud he was of the 6,000 community members who united in Juniper Valley Park. He said some marched to FDNY Squad 288/Hazmat 1 firehouse in Maspeth, which lost 19 firefighters on 9/11.
In 2013, community members asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the firehouse but were turned down because of policies, Holden said.
“I said, ‘baloney,’ … we are going to fight,'” Holden said, sharing that he would introduce legislation in the City Council to landmark the firehouse dedicated to the 19 firefighters.
Holden said it was the duty of those who lived through the tragedy to tell the next generation about the lives lost on 9/11 and how many families were left devastated.
“So even if I have to introduce legislation to make it mandatory in New York City public schools, I will do that. It has to be taught,” Holden said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo said it was important to remember those who perished on 9/11, those who are dying from 9/11-related illnesses, and the heroic efforts of those who saved thousands of lives on that day.
He recalled when over 10,000 construction workers from the greater New York area joined the FDNY and NYPD to help in the search for victims and survivors.
“I like to think about 9/12, the day after, because we started to rebuild. We weren’t afraid. We didn’t back down,” Addabbo said. “We got together with those who lost others, and we helped them rebuild their lives.”
He urged everyone to reclaim the spirit of unity everyone felt after the terrorist attacks.
“We started with the flag and the patriotism, and so in honor of those that we lost, in honor of those that were saved and honor of the first responders and the veterans, may we work together as a community,” Addabbo said.