Led by Riverhead Fire Department volunteer firefighters, dozens of Riverhead residents came together last night in a procession on Lt. Thomas R. Kelly Memorial Drive for a ceremony honoring the NYC fireman from Reeves Park and the thousands of other people who perished in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Tommy” to his family and friends, Kelly, 38, was one of more than 300 NYC firefighters killed when the burning towers collapsed. A member of Brooklyn’s Ladder 105, he and the other members of his engine company were last seen rushing into the south tower hoping to rescue people trapped inside.
Kelly’s parents, Emmet and Sue, still live in their tidy Reeves Park cottage, perched on a bluff that overlooks a beach awash in happy family memories. Elderly and frail, the couple made their way down the road in wheelchairs pushed by their two surviving sons. Still the center of a tight-knit family, the Kellys were surrounded by their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, bringing up the rear of the long, solemn procession as they have each year since 2010.
But this procession was different. In the past, it culminated in a ceremony held in the street, in front of a small curbside memorial to the fallen Reeves Park hero. This year,
the service was held in the just-completed memorial park at the corner of Sound Avenue and
Lt. Thomas R. Kelly Memorial Drive/Park Road.
The park is located on a 4.2-acre corner parcel where a developer once planned to build retail stores and a restaurant. Residents fought the plan and pressed for public acquisition of the site for a memorial park in honor those who perished on Sept. 11.
“It’s unbelievable…after everything we went through, the events that took place to get to this,” Kelly’s brother, Bob, a retired NYC firefighter, said last night. He and several Reeves Park residents led the years-long fight for the memorial park. The county purchased the site from the developer in March for just under $1.3 million, using drinking water protection program funds.
“It’s much more than I could have imagined,” Kelly said.
His parents smiled as their wheelchairs were positioned in front of the large stone to which a piece of steel from the World Trade Center is affixed. The memorial sits at the base of an old maple tree whose thick trunk and graceful limbs became a centerpiece of the park’s design. A walkway, built with brick pavers donated by Riverhead firefighter Dennis Kenter, leads to and circles around the tree and forms a connecting path to and around a flagpole. Both flagpole and tree are lit by spotlights on the ground, pointing heavenward.
White bricks at the base of the tree form the date 9-11-01, the with numeral 11 a symbolic representation of the Twin Towers, complete with their distinctive antenna.
The park, designed by town engineers and park residents, was built by Riverhead Town buildings and grounds crew members who “went above and beyond” in completing the task, according to Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Eric Biegler.
“They took such pride in it,” Biegler said, “and it shows. They created a beautiful public space for reflection. It was built with love.”
“People are already using it, sitting on the benches, looking out on the corn field across the way,” Biegler said. A formal dedication ceremony of the park will take place at a later date, he said.
Biegler led the memorial ceremony in the new park, which included prayers and a Bible reading by Father Piotr Narkiewicz of St. Isidore’s church, taps played by 10-year-old Reeves Park resident Brian Noone, musical selections, including “Amazing Grace,” by bagpiper Patrick O’Neill, of Riverhead, and the reading of a poem, “Visions of Heaven,” by Chris Kelly, which he wrote shortly after the tragedy to honor his cousin Tommy.
“We remember those who took action on this day 12 yrs ago and became heroes,” Biegler said in remarks to the somber gathering in the new park.
“We remember the 2,606 victims who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attack at Ground Zero. We remember the 125 victims who were lost in the attack on the Pentagon in Washington DC. We remember the 40 heroes of Flight 93 whose ‘let’s roll’ attitude prevented greater tragedy. We remember the 23 New York Police Department officers, the 37 Port Authority officers, and the 343 New York City firefighters who rushed into hell in the hope of saving others.
“Over 1,700 have no final resting place,” Biegler said. Among them, Tommy Kelly.
“May they rest in peace.”
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti
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