Two days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards hosted a solemn ceremony at Queens Borough Hall honoring the innocent lives who died that day and the heroic actions of first responders.
Alongside members of the NYPD and FDNY, elected officials and community representatives, Richards recalled the horrific day that claimed 2,977 victims, including 232 Queens residents.
Richards, who was in college at the time, said that everyone remembered where they were on that dreadful day when two planes crashed into the towers, and many families lost their loved ones.
He thanked the first responders for their bravery and their sacrifice on that day.
He noted 343 FDNY firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 Port Authority officers, eight EMTs, three court officers and one patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol knowingly went into danger and paid the ultimate price trying to save others. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been suffering or have died from 9/11-related illnesses.
“We often don’t give them the credit that they deserve,” Richards said. “And it gets rocky at times. But one thing I never forget is when something catastrophic like 9/11 happens, it is our first responders who run into the burning buildings. It’s our first responders who are putting out the fires. It is our first responders who, just like on that ultimate day, give their lives.”
FDNY firefighter Regina Wilson recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem before two clerics led in those present in prayer.
FDNY Battalion Chief Christopher G. Eysser said that it was hard to believe that it had been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks and that despite the challenging time, the FDNY rose to the challenge.
“Ceremonies like this one tonight honor our fallen friends and allow us to fulfill the pledge that we will never forget,” Eysser said.
NYPD Assistant Chief and commanding officer of Queens South Ruben Beltran urged everyone to keep the memories and stories of the 9/11 heroes alive.
“It needs to be retold and retold in an encouraging way,” Beltran said. “You just don’t want to look back and reflect and be despondent on the losses that we had that day. But be proud of the recovery that it inspired and how we continue to honor those memories.”
James Hendon, commissioner of the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services, said it was essential to retell the stories of what happened in Shanksville, at the Pentagon, and in New York City.
He recalled the lives lost in the wars that followed the attacks. Ninety-three of the 7,057 service members who died in Afghanistan and Iraq called New York City home — with 34 of the 93 coming from Queens.
“I will tell you about the first NYPD personnel to lose their lives in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan was Jimmy McNaughton, who was from Middle Village, Queens. At 27 years old, [he] lost his life in 2005,” Hendon said.
State Senator John Liu said that the memory of 9/11 will never be erased and that no one will ever forget the horror they saw unfold on television as “these massive steel towers crumbling like toothpicks.”
“But I also never forget the incredible heroism that was displayed by the brothers and sisters of these very public servants in uniform that we’re standing with: our New York Bravest, our New York Finest, the Port Authority police department and civilians who stepped up and helped out, many of whom also perished in the aftermath,” Liu said.
Assembly members Catalina Cruz and David Weprin also thanked the first responders for putting their lives before others.
“On 9/11, many of [the first responders] didn’t get to go back home,” Cruz said. “Now, 15, 20 years later, many of them are never going to get to go back home because of the health risks, the health consequences of having to put our lives before their own.”
Weprin recalled running for the first time on 9/11, which was also primary day in New York City.
“We prepared for that election for a long time, but of course, it was so meaningless and became so insignificant,” Weprin said.
City Council members Barry Grodenchik, Selvena Brooks-Powers and James Gennaro also recalled the day.
Grodenchik said that despite the terror, it also showed the strength of New Yorkers.
“Evil tried to rob us of our dignity. And while [they] took many thousands of our brothers and sisters, they could not take our dignity, and they could not take the love that we have for one another,” Grodenchik said.
Grodenchik remembered Assembly member Michael Simanowitz, who died at age 46 four years ago and was an NYPD auxiliary member at the 107 Precinct.
“He was on the pile selflessly,” Grodenchik said. “This year, his illnesses were confirmed to be 9/11-related.”
Brooks-Power recalled that she was in college, and on her way to class, she passed the security desk and saw that a plane was flying into one of the towers on television.
“I was thinking that this must be a movie that security is watching early in the morning, only for security to come to the classrooms looking for the students that were from New York to pull us into a room to tell us what had just happened,” Brooks-Powers said.
Brooks-Powers shared the story of a close family friend who lost his only child on 9/11 but whose body, like many others, was never found.
Crossley Williams Jr. worked in the south tower as a financial analyst for Fiduciary Trust.
“That type of pain that a parent has to live with each day, I can only imagine what that experience is,” Brooks-Powers said.
Gennaro wondered what the fallen, who dedicated their lives to service, would want and concluded that they would want to be sources of inspiration.
“We should be receptive to the inspiration that they showed us by their life, and by their service, and by their sacrifice and honor them by carrying on and being like them,” Gennaro said.
Paying homage to the victims of 9/11 in advance of the milestone anniversary, Queens Borough Hall lit up blue each night until Saturday, Sept. 11.