President George Bush, County Executive Tom Suozzi and Ian Siegel (pictured far right), president of the Nassau County 9/11 Memorial Foundation speak with families after the brief yet somber groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Carisa Keane
During a somber ceremony at Eisenhower Park March 11, President George Bush, flanked by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Governor George Pataki, County Executive Tom Suozzi, Ian Siegel, president of the Nassau County 9/11 Memorial Foundation, Arlene Howard, mother of the late George Howard, and Janet Wexler-Magee, wife of the late Charles Magee, helped break ground at the site of a future memorial that will honor hundreds of Nassau County 9/11 victims.
The dignitaries never formally spoke during the ceremony but bowed their heads in prayer as the God Squad's Monsignor Tom Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman offered opening remarks, recalling the Holy Book of Deuteronomy and the story of Amalek.
"The evil Amalek attacked the line of march going out of Egypt - attacking not the soldiers in the front of the march, but the defenseless and unarmed ones at the rear of the march. And so Amalek was able to kill the most people with the least risk," they said.
"Amalek was the first terrorist and the only evil person in the Bible that God commands us to remember ... Now we understand this. We are here today not only to remember and mourn the victims of Amalek, the Amalek of our own age, but to pray yet again for some measure of solace and comfort for their grieving families."
They spoke to the children of those lost, stating, "On some day, perhaps some spring day in the future, there will be a victory over Amalek. It will not be signed on some fine piece of parchment or on some field of battle. But it will occur," they proclaimed. "And you can come to this place someday, I pray you can come to this place and it will be gentle and soft and the world will be filled with the milk of freedom and the honey of liberation from fear."
Although the president's visit generated controversy as protestors congregated at the park's Hempstead Turnpike entrance, he spent much of his time signing programs and posing for pictures, as did all the dignitaries, with the victims' families. One county resident thought the president's presence offered a level of comfort to the victims' families and said she was grateful to attend.
The Garden City Fire Department Honor Guard, joined with fellow Nassau County fire department Honor Guards, formed an impressive presentation of American flags and later met President Bush.
The God Squad closed the ceremony with these words: "This may not be the most famous memorial to that terrible time. But it is for us the most dear because, in the end, it is more important to build a memorial near the places where they lived than it is to build a memorial near the places where they died."
The memorial, designed by Keith Striga of Striga & Associates of Valley Stream and Phil Gavosto of Gavosto Associates, Architects of Glen Cove, will focus on two interconnected, stainless steel towers that rise 35 feet above the reflection pool. The interlocking towers will stand semi-transparent, depicting the fallen fixture of the New York City skyline.
The towers will be placed upon a raised base of polished black absolute granite, which also makes up the floor of the reflection pool. The pool will also contain narrow vertical fountains. All other walking surfaces in the memorial will be of concrete and the towers will be visible to passing cars on Merrick Avenue.
Siegel, who noted that the memorial will represent the heroism and sacrifice each and every victim made, said the Nassau County 9/11 Memorial Foundation was honored to have so many family members and esteemed public officials attend the groundbreaking. "My only concern is for the families of Nassau County and to make sure this memorial, which will mean so much to this community, is built," he said.
The monument will be accessible from either the east or west ends of Eisenhower Park. Entering from the east, the first piece visitors will see is a cast plaque briefly describing the events of September 11, 2001. The short narrative will conclude with a quote by President Bush. The next noticeable feature will be one of two steel artifacts salvaged from the World Trade Center affixed in the pavement and surrounded by a starburst cobble configuration.
The reflecting pool with the stainless steel tower structure will be located at the center of the memorial in an irregularly shaped pool, which represents the geographic perimeter of lower Manhattan. The pool will be the pedestal of the twinned towers.
In front of the pool, and in a line directly to the water, will be three flags - the United States, the New York State and the Nassau County flags. Placed in the water, the flags will be visible from and relate to all prominent features bordering the lake.
A list of Nassau County victims will be seen to the west of the pool. Following the concrete structure to the west will be the wall of rescuers, which will entail the emblems of the three services that contributed during and after that fateful day - the New York City fire department, police department and the police of the Port Authority. A second piece of recovered steel will also be displayed between the pool and the rescuers' wall.
Unions and construction workers donating all the labor include the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters, District 7, Billy Weitzman, Chris Fusco and crew; Local 25 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, George Psillos and crew as well as other representatives from the 60,000 strong members of construction unions. Tom Ferrante, District Council 9 of Painters is preparing the steel artifacts from the World Trade Center, which will be included in the design. Benefactors of the project include Ed Galvin of Galvin Brothers, Bomanite of New Jersey, Hobbs Architecture and Fountains of Atlanta and Portland Cement Association with Lehigh Cement Company.
The county, through the efforts of the Nassau County 9/11 Memorial Foundation, is currently fundraising for construction of the memorial with a goal to have it completed by September 11, 2004.
Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Santelli of Garden City is doing her part, spreading the word and volunteering to help raise money for the memorial's construction. Although she wasn't personally affected by the attacks, Santelli wanted to be a part of something that touched so many people.
"It's not just one town, it's a whole world," she said. "Even though it [happened] so long ago, it still seems like yesterday. Just like I asked my parents where they were when Kennedy died, my kids are going to ask me where I was when the towers fell. I'll say we have this memorial at Eisenhower Park that I'll take you to."
Carla Santella contributed to this story.