Several hundred people gathered at the Deerpark Town Hall on September 11, 2016 for a 15th Annual 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony. The event brought solemn remembrance as well as hope and encouragement for America’s freedoms and ideals.
Dozens of local, county, and state, as well as school district, officials were in attendance. Many offered reflections on the attack on America 15 years ago, and its aftermath. A common thought regarding the strength of America’s citizens, ideals, freedoms, and those charged with its protection, was expressed.
“We reacted with horror, shock, and anger that someone would do this to our peace-loving nation,” recalled Supervisor Gary Spears. “We saw evil, the worst of human nature, and we each reacted differently as individuals. Collectively, we will always remember those who lost their lives in the tragedies of that day.”
Several who lost loved ones, or who were there in city that day or in the months that followed, were in attendance at the ceremony. Tillie Geidel attended this week’s ceremony with her daughter Tillie Geidel Conklin, who was only 6 when her father responded and died as a New York City firefighter at the Twin Towers. The two have attended the service annually, often wearing the hat, jacket, and other items that were once worn by Gary Geidel. While painful to remember and discuss, they quietly respond when asked about their loved ones and any lessons learned from the attack.
Conklin placed a memorial bow bearing her father’s name on the town’s Memorial Tree.
State Assemblyman Karl Brabanec spoke of the great sacrifices of responders such as Geidel.
“Forces of hatred may destroy our buildings, but will never destroy the spirit of America and Americans. It is probably for those reasons we were attacked,” Brabanec said. “As Americans we are strong. Like strands of a rope that may be weak separately, together we are strong.”
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler remembered the sacrifices of the thousands killed on Sept. 11, 2001, and spoke of the devastating effects that continue. Despite evil forces in the world, Hoovler said freedom will always reign in America – but always at a price.
The Broome Street Traveling All Star Band, Port Jervis High School Chamber Choir, local songwriter/singer Catherine Westfall, accompanied by fifth grade Delaware Valley Elementary School DVE-News/TV reporters, provided instrumental and vocal music for the ceremony.
Port Jervis Mayor Kelly Decker, Orange County Legislator Tom Faggione, Orange County Supreme Court Judge Robert Freehill, and Orange County Sherriff Carl DuBois also participated in the service, as well as Justice Mark Fox, who read the names of local active-duty military men and women. Two from the public reflected on their memories of the day, both having been near Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.
Cuddebackville resident Charles Grant said while he was in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001, and the tragedy at the Twin Towers and Pentagon affected him deeply, it was news he heard on Sept. 12 that prompted him to action.
“I watched reports of Todd Beamer and the passengers on Flight 93, and how they said goodbye to their loved ones after learning that their plane had been hijacked for another attack. They knew their plane was not going to have a good landing, and they called their loved ones and then said the Lord’s Prayer together,” Grant recalled. “I retired after 9-11, started putting flyers together, and went to spread the word of what they did. I went to Shanksville first, and haven’t stopped.”
Raymond Zukowski was on his way to work in New York City, and while he was not a first responder he said no matter what anyone’s involvement was in witnessing the attack they will likely be affected forever, as he is.
“I came out of the subway after the first plane hit, and just before the second plane hit. I was about a block and half away, when I saw the second plane approaching through the towers, and then hit,” Zukowski said. “It was so traumatic to see that only now am I able to talk about it at all. I went into autopilot until I went home. I went to the office and told everyone who was there they needed to get of the building, and we all started toward home.
Zuikowski was on the Brooklyn Bridge when the first tower went down. The magazine company he worked for folded soon after the attack, and Zukowski has left employment in the city.
Lingering sadness that many still feel, and the need for the world to always remember, are why Flo Santini and others organize the Town of Deerpark’s annual remembrance.
“I remember just being so sad and wanting to be together with neighbors and loved ones,” Santini said. “It’s still what we want and need to do. No one should ever forget this.”