Sometimes it seems like yesterday, sometimes it seems a long time ago. Sometimes it is painfully real, sometimes almost surrealistic. The Port News talked with community leaders about the commemoration of the first anniversary of the day that the world as we know it changed forever.
Chief Walter Trapp of the Port Washington Fire Department said that the department is not planning any commemorative event as a department. "By the grace of God, we didn't lose any member," he said, "so I am leaving it up to the individuals to determine how they want to spend the day." He pointed out that over 50 PWFD volunteers have paid jobs as firefighters, police or emergency technicians in New York City or Nassau County and many will be attending memorial services for their colleagues in those jurisdictions. Nassau County's ceremony will be held at 8 p.m. on Monday, September 9 at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre in Eisenhower Park. Following the ceremony county officials will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at the spot where a memorial is to be built next year. County Executive Thomas Suozzi said, "We wanted to make sure that we did something to recognize that over 240 people in Nassau County lost their lives on September 11. We are holding the event on September 9 so as not to interfere with other activities in New York on September 11." Suozzi added, "We want the service to be as prayerful and simple as possible."
Many PWFD members gave generously of their time and talents to help in the rescue and recovery operation at the World Trade Center site, but none perhaps more generously than Thomas Tobin, the department's chaplain and (with his wife Maureen) a 15-year volunteer with the Nassau County Fire Service Critical Incident Stress Management team. For months, Tobin spent countless hours at the site, helping in the search for survivors and remains and putting those who died to rest. Functioning with almost no sleep for days at a time, he counseled the emergency workers and their families. He said, "We were short of chaplains, and people came from all over to help. My first relief was a priest from Toronto, and I still remember Bob Watson, a great guy from Washington DC." Tobin added, "I've always had the vision of the faces of these young firefighters. It's as if they were saying, 'Father, do something to stop this.' They were frustrated, some of them cried, some of them couldn't. I realized how much I couldn't do for them. I could just sit with them and listen." Another vision Tobin says will remain with him is turning around and facing a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on a Humvee. He says, "I never believed I would see this in New York City. Bosnia, maybe, or Grenada. I know they were there to protect us, but it was chilling." During the commemorative period, he will be speaking in Oneonta on the role of the chaplain in the fire service and in Otsego County at the Fire Academy. He will also be attending a countywide service sporsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rockville Centre.
The Clergy Association of Port Washington, which comprises the churches and synagogues in Port, is planning a memorial event on September 11th at 8 p.m. at Temple Beth Israel located on Temple Drive at the end of Mackey Avenue. Port residents remember the very moving and healing service that our clergy conducted after last year's attack, providing an opportunity for the community to come together to share our grief and anger, as well as our love and friendship for each other. Rabbi Toni Shy of Temple Beth Israel said of the anniversary, "This is not something we can ignore. We react every day. It is important to acknowledge it and use the liturgy to move through it and heal ourselves and the world." Rabbi Beth Davidson of Port Jewish Center, who is coordinating the event, said "We were attacked as a country, and we need to come together as a community to mark the event." The local churches plan to ring their bells together at 10:20 a.m. to commemorate the fall of the second tower. Some will be holding individual services as well. St. Stephen's Episcopal will have Matins when the church is opened and a Eucharist service at 9:30 a.m.
Emma Pendleton, assistant superintendent of schools for curriculum, instruction and assessment, reported that each of the school principals, in consultation with the faculty, will be making the decision as to how to mark the anniversary date. The district office has sent guidelines and materials to the schools, recommending that they honor Governor Pataki's request to observe one minute of silence at 8:46 a.m. Pendleton emphasized that the observations will be "low key." Nancy Cowles, vice president of the board of education, echoed that sentiment, saying, "This can be scary for kids. For some, the experience will be as if it were happening all over again. No matter what, the school should be a safe haven for kids." Cowles pointed out that the anniversary is also going to be hard for teachers, many of whom lost relatives and friends. "They really put themselves out last year," she said, "and this is going to bring up a lot of stuff for them." The occasion will be handled differently by each school, and will be appropriate to the grade level. Pendleton said that the high school teachers most likely will introduce the discussion into the curriculum in classes such as social studies and English. She said, "There will be an emphasis on how we can bring about world peace. We want to talk about heroism, not terrorism."
The Port Washington library will mount an exhibit, "Beyond Ground Zero" featuring photographs by Len Jacobs, who began visiting Ground Zero on September 17, recording the rescue mission and the shrines to the missing which sprang up around the site. The exhibition also features a video by Mike Lennon, 9 Firehouses, a second generation firefighter who is also a filmmaker. The show will run from Sept. 5 through Oct. 31. There will be a slide show and video screening on Monday, October 21 at 8 p.m.
The Town of North Hempstead will hold a ceremony in front of town hall on the morning of September 11 at 8:30 a.m. Supervisor May Newburger's spokesperson said, "It is when we gather as a community that we are best able to feel each other's strength and share each other's hopes." She also reminded the town residents of the recently unveiled memorial at the Clark Botanical Garden, located in a quiet grove, which is a "perfect place for reflection."
A number of individuals with whom we spoke, including Agnes Lasetchuk, director of the Port Counseling Center said that, although they understood the need for commemorative events, they were hopeful that the anniversary not be an opportunity to engender more hatred. "I pray for peace and I visualize peace," she said. Tom Tobin said, "I took a moment to think of what the firefighters who died would want us to do. I believe that they would ask us to let their families and their children live out their lives in peace."