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St Michaels Cemetery 911 Memorial ServiceThe Gift You Gave The Price You Paid

East Elmhurst / September 12, 2009. Saturday was a dreary day. Dark clouds covered the skies and drizzling rain soaked me, as I rode my bicycle to St Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst to cover the memorial service commemorating the fallen FDNY, PAPD and NYPD officers of 911.

I arrived a bit early and took a couple of photos of the fire truck standing outside the chapel where the deceased were to be remembered. Outside the chapel there stands a large headstone dedicated to the firemen, with their names inscribed within the stone. At the foot of the stone is inscribed, "The gift you gave. The price you paid." [see photo to right]. Inside the chapel it was still a bit empty as I looked for a spot to observe the occasion.

St Michael's Cemetery - East Elmhurst Queens911 fireman's mother East Elmhurst

As I sat down in one of the back pews, a woman approached me, asking if I would endorse a petition to the mayor to include affiliations of the deceased in the design of the memorial to commemorate the World Trade Center site. She wanted the memorial to identify the names and include the titles of those who served in the fire or police departments, and the names and titles of those who worked at Oppenheimer Funds, Cantor Fitzgerald or Goldman Sachs to be accordingly assigned as well, and so on. This mother’s reaction to the proposed memorial design [which we originally understood to be a simple listing of names - but now understand that the names of the FDNY, PAPD and NYPD are to be grouped as first responders] was, “twenty years from now no one will remember who was who”. In the photo above to the left is Bridget Regan, mother of Robert Regan FDNY, who died at the age of 47 while evacuating people from the Marriott Hotel on September 11th, 2001.

St Michael's Cemetery East ElmhurstThe chapel soon filled with the family members related to those who died on 911. I inquired and was informed that there are six graves containing 911 victims in St Michael’s Cemetery, only one of which is a fireman. But the families of the 911 deceased had come from various and sundry parts of Queens, regardless of where their own loved ones were buried. It seems St Michael’s, in its determination to help survivors, has begun to attract the families of 911 firemen from around the borough. In the photo to your left Councilman Peter Vallone speaks [straight back at the podium] inside of the chapel of St Michael's.

The memorial began with a ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. The event emcee said it was difficult to say something new after eight years. He was followed by others who rose to commemorate those who had died including: City Councilman Peter Vallone, Diana Pizzuti the Assistant Police Chief of Northern Queens, Joe Strong of the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and later in the program City Councilman John Liu. A monsignor led us in a prayer. And then a couple of family members got up to speak.

Mournful OccasionFDNY Astoria Queens NY

A wife read a poem she had written and dedicated to her husband who had died eight years ago on 911. She spoke, her voice quavering, telling us how things have changed in the eight years since … but that she still remembers him and that she still misses him. In the photo to the right are some of the current fire fighters who attended the memorial service.

A father who had once been a fireman himself got up to speak. He spoke longingly of his lost son. He told us that some public officials are now trying to transform 911 into a day of public service. He said he was ok with that, just so long as 911 also remained a day of mourning.

Queens FDNY PAPD & NYPD

FDNY 911 photos Queens NYA pianist played ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ as the group sang along. Then came the somber reading of the names of the fallen. There were six different readers, each of whom [I believe] lost a loved one on that day. I noticed some teenage kids in the audience and pondered that one day they would talk about that tragic day when they had lost their fathers and their lives had been irrevocably changed. Lastly came the roll call for the 23 non-present members. There was an unscheduled, natural pause in the program … a moment of silence. In the photo to your right a close up of a board containing the firefighters who died on September 11, 2001.

Surviving Family Members Make Remarks911 fireman's mother

This year survivors of the deceased were invited to make a few remarks. A number of audience members accepted the offer and each expressed their own unique perspective. One remarked about some of the good things that came out of 911, like donations to an elementary school. Another made the analogy between a 911 tapestry that hangs in Washington, DC and how we are all a part of the tapestry of life. Another brought home the stark reality that many of those who risked their lives on that fateful day now suffer the ill effects of the burning asbestos through deteriorating health conditions which are not adequately addressed by the programs designed to help 911 survivors. A friend of the woman who had petitioned me arose to speak about the WTC memorial, asking the audience to help them influence the design of the memorial so that it would include the rescuers' titles. And the last speaker gave a patriotic speech, after which the service ended.

The memorial closed with a singing of ‘The Prayer Of St Francis’. A reception followed. In the photo above to the left, on the right hand side, is Theresa Mullen [mother of Michael Mullen who died on 911]. She's one of those who's trying to change the WTC Memorial design to include the rescuers' titles. In the photo she's speaking to Diana Pizzuti, Assistant Police Chief of Northern Queens, while the emcee [far left] and a policewoman [center] look on.

911 memorial service 2009 queens ny Real American Heroes At 911

I understand that about 2,940 people died in 911. And that about 343 of them – nearly twelve ten percent – were from the fire, police and emergency medical departments. These people all knowingly and willingly risked their lives to save the lives of others. They ultimately lost their own lives in that attempt.

These heroes weren’t trapped in the endangered buildings after they had been struck by those fiery, flaming, planes-turned bombs. They entered into those buildings after they were already on fire, knowing full well that they were walking into great danger. GREAT DANGER because they could see the stone debris, the melted iron and the construction materials strewn everywhere. Why would anyone enter a building in that state?

911 memorial service queens 2009They did it because of their own sense of duty, their dedication to their profession and their own heroic sense of themselves. They did it because fellow New Yorkers lives were in great peril. They did it because they had chosen of life of great danger. And they did it because they had chosen to serve the people of their community.

Ultimately they made the greatest sacrifice one can make … a sacrifice that their loved ones continue to struggle with each day since these heroes left us some eight years ago. To this day it’s evident that many of the surviving families still feel the pain and the emotional loss of the carnage of that single fateful day. Many of these survivors never saw their loved ones bodies. And so they continue to search for understanding and meaning in their tragic loss. I guess that’s why they want more say in the memorial design, kind of like having input into what goes onto the tombstone of a family member. A memorial service attendee is shown standing outside the memorial service chapel in the photo to your left.

World Trade Center Memorial - How You Can Help

You may pass this story onto a friend by using the box below.

You may click this link to go to the Christopher Santora website where there is additional info about how you can help the surviving families of 911 firemen, policemen and EMT’s gain more influence in the WTC memorial design.

 






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