A Riverhead High School NJROTC color guard opened ceremonies at the Railroad Museum of Long Island Saturday. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Twenty years worth of perspective on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has brought into focus the importance of how America responded to the attack as a nation, speakers told their audiences at the three remembrance ceremonies held in Riverhead yesterday.

“The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were intended to break our spirit. Instead, we have emerged stronger and more unified. We became more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom,” Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said to the crowd gathered at a ceremony hosted by the Railroad Museum of Long Island in the rail yard off Griffing Avenue, where two retired LIRR cars were painted this week with murals honoring those who perished on what Aguiar called “America’s darkest day.”

“While it was the worst day America ever witnessed, it brought out the best in us and our spirit has prevailed,” Aguiar said. “We proved Americans can lead, hand in hand with each other. Nothing is impossible,” she said.

“It’s not about what happened on Sept. 11. Now, it’s about what happened on Sept. 12, 2001, thereafter and today,” Aguiar said.

That was a common thread in remarks by nearly every other speakers at the three events, calling on people to look back on the unified spirit that prevailed in America in the months following the attacks.

Bob Kelly, a retired New York City firefighter whose younger brother and fellow firefighter was killed in the collapse of the South Tower, called on those present at the Sound Park Heights annual remembrance service Saturday evening to think back to Sept. 12, 2001.

“On that day there were no Black Americans. There were no white Americans. We weren’t Republicans. We weren’t Democrats. We weren’t socialists. We weren’t gay. We weren’t straight. We were all just plain old Americans,” Kelly said. “And that’s what people ran into the buildings for. They didn’t look for ID cards when they went in there. They went in to save lives and try to protect property,” Kelly said.

“So I wish we could go back to that day and the few months afterwards when we were all one,” Kelly said. “Let’s just take a minute to love one another, to be kind to each other.”

At the Railroad Museum’s ceremony Saturday afternoon, Father Larry Duncklee of St. John the Evangelist Church in Riverhead shared a quote he attributed to comedian Jon Stewart, who has become an outspoken advocate for first responders suffering from illnesses related to their work in the toxic environment at Ground Zero: “Any fool can detonate a bomb. Any fool can kill people or commit acts of terror. Only people with faith and courage can run in and help others. They thought they did but they cannot destroy who we are.”

He pointed to all the good that has been done and continues to be done by organizations established across the country in response to the attacks. “We need to continue to move forward with faith, with hope, with love,” Duncklee said.

Rabbi Michael Roscoe of Temple Israel in Riverhead drew from the Book of Deuteronomy, which he said has been a focus at services during the current High Holy Days season. The Torah teaches that God demands “a just retribution, not people taking vengeance,” the rabbi said.

“Memory is vital,” Roscoe said. “The man who still carries the key to his office on the 92nd floor fo the World Trade Center. The girl who never really knew her mother but brought her picture with her to her driver’s test and kissed in when she passed. Memory lasts not because we’re victims but because we search for meaning and examine our ways,” he said.

“Vengeance will not keep alive the 9-11 memory for our children and certainly not their children, but memory used to examine what it means to be a good citizen of the United States could,” Roscoe said. “Then we won’t define ourselves by he evil deeds of others and the spilled blood, but by resilience and our commitment to the life-giving dreams of those who founded this country and their aspirations to be better than we are.”

The rail yard ceremony also featured remarks by Tommy Magee of Shirley, who knew his construction experience would be helpful at Ground Zero so he raced to lower Manhattan after the collapse to volunteer his services. He spent the next 10 months at the site, helping to comb through the debris in the grueling effort to recover victims’ remains. Magee spoke of his experience at “the pit” and the lessons he learned about patriotism, unity and resilience.

The Railroad Museum hosted the service at the rail yard, where volunteers spent a week prepping two retired LIRR rail cars owned by the museum for full-length murals dedicated to the anniversary of the attacks.

>> See photo gallery below

It was the second time volunteer artists using cans of spray paint created murals on the two cars. Patrick Voorhees of Patchogue reprised a project he first undertook in 2016, for the 15th anniversary.

“I was passing by and I saw these cars and had the idea,” Voorhees said. Voorhees went to the museum, met RMLI president Don Fisher and pitched his idea. Fisher jumped on board and brought it to the museum’s board of trustees and they embraced it.

The Lionel Train Co. is manufacturing a collectible car featuring one of the 2016 murals created by the artists five years ago. It is a first for the company, Voorhees said. The Railroad Machine will have a limited number available for sale, Fisher said.

The mural project is a labor of love for Voorhees, who took a week off from work and enlisted the help of his five sons to prep the cars for the artists and clean and paint the sides of the cars facing the Riverhead station house.

The Railroad Museum’s service was bookended by services held by the Town of Riverhead and an annual service hosted by the Reeves Park community. See coverage of Flanders Fire Department ceremony held earlier in the day.

The town held its remembrance service at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning at its World Trade Center Memorial on the corner of Riley and Edwards avenues in Calverton. The memorial is the creation of Calverton resident Hal Lindstrom, who designed it and raised the funds for its construction in the months after the Twin Towers fell. See: “‘A place for reflection’: World Trade Center memorial in Calverton grew out of one man’s vision in the months following terror attacks”(Sept. 11, 2019.) Riverhead Town Board members placed a wreath at the memorial site, which was dedicated in September 2002.

The Sound Park Heights Civic Association ay 6 p.m. held its annual candlelight walk down Lt. Thomas R. Kelly Memorial Drive and remembrance service at the Sept. 11 Memorial Park at the corner of Sound Avenue. The four-acre park was developed in 2013 by Suffolk County and the Town of Riverhead on land preserved by the county. The acquisition came after the community rallied to fight a proposed shopping center at the corner site and pushed for its acquisition as parkland.

The town had previously named Park Road for Kelly, whose parents had a summer home in the Reeves Park community. The Kelly family thereafter created a roadside memorial honoring Tommy, as he was known, and began holding an annual Sept. 11 remembrance service at the memorial there in 2010.

The tiny Reeves Park community lost two NYC firefighters in the attacks. Firefighter Jonathan Ielpi, nine years younger than Kelly, and also a summer resident, was killed in the collapse of the South Tower. Ironically, Kelly was also in the South Tower when it collapsed at 9:59 a.m. on that fateful day, 56 minutes after impact by United Airlines Flight 175.

“They didn’t really know each other then,” Bob Kelly said yesterday. “I’m sure they do now.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.