Another year has passed and the fateful day that changed America burrows deeper in the recesses of our memories.
Enough time distances the present day from that Tuesday 16 years ago that, for many, it was business as usual yesterday, despite the pall cast by the long shadow of that day.
All activities did not halt at 8:46 a.m., the time hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the upper floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower — or again at 9:03, the time the second hijacked jet, United Flight 175, was flown into the South Tower. The second crash, captured on live television, was witnessed by millions of horrified Americans.
Bells did not toll across town at 9:59 a.m., the moment when the burning South Tower collapsed — or at 9:37, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Also passing with little notice yesterday was the hour of 10:03 — the time when a third hijacked plane, bound for Washington D.C., crashed in western Pennsylvania after passengers who heard what happened in New York fought with the hijackers of United Flight 93.
The collapse of the North Tower at 10:28 a.m. was the final blow on a morning of terror and chaos for all who lived through it. It was just the beginning for the families of the 2,996 people killed in the coordinated terrorist attacks by 19 members of al-Qaeda — and for the first responders who rushed to the burning rubble of Ground Zero.
Enough time has passed that for most Americans, Sept. 11 has become an ordinary day. Work carried on. Schools were in session. After-school sports drew players and parents to soccer fields. Government boards held their regular meetings.
Life goes on.
That’s a healthy thing, said retired NYC firefighter Bob Kelly last night, following the annual memorial service at the 9-11 Memorial Park on Sound Avenue.
The park is a four-acre oasis on a busy roadway where it intersects with a road dedicated to the memory of his younger brother Tommy, a NYC firefighter who ran into the South Tower to rescue others that day and, like 411 other emergency workers who rushed into the towers to help, never came out. He was 38 years old.
As he has every Sept. 11 since 2002, Kelly — who spent the days, weeks and months after the attacks digging through the rubble at Ground Zero — went to his brother’s Brooklyn firehouse yesterday morning. There he gathered with other firefighters, active and retired, and family members and carried flages in a solemn procession across the Brooklyn Bridge to memorial ceremonies at Ground Zero, where family members read aloud the names of the victims.
“It’s always an emotional day,” Kelly said, “always very tough.” This year, though, he said he feels like he’s turned a corner somehow. “I’m feeling pretty good.”
Like thousands who worked in the recovery efforts in lower Manhattan, Kelly has suffered from health problems related to his work at the smoldering pile of Ground Zero. Nearly half of the crew he worked with there has passed away, he said. Responders are suffering from cancers and lung diseases from breathing in and absorbing air polluted with toxic substances: asbestos, cement dust, mercury, plastics and other materials that burned or were released into the air.
Kelly, his brother Jim and sister Jean Marie and members of their families led a long procession down Thomas Kelly Memorial Road yesterday to the park on the corner. They were accompanied by the family of Jonathan Ielpi, 29, another part-time Reeves Park resident and a NYC firefighter killed in the collapse. Riverhead Fire Department, Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Boy Scouts Troop 94, community residents and local elected officials joined in the procession and service.
“As a nation, as a town, as a community, we are stronger when we are united,”
said Eric Biegler, vice president of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, which coordinates the Sept. 11 memorial service each year.
“We will never forget,” Biegler said.
Deacon Michael Bonocore read passages from the Bible and offered prayers for peace and comfort for the survivors and for the country.
Caitlin Beirne, a 10th grader at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington sang the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and Amazing Grace. Piper Patrick O’Neill played “Danny Boy.”
Last night’s service was also attended by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and council members John Dunleavy, Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard, by Congressman Lee Zeldin and by County Legislator Al Krupski.