Great Neck holds annual Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at Firefighters Park

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More than 50 people were in attendance for Great Neck's annual Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony on Friday. (Photo by Robert Pelaez)

More than 50 people attended Great Neck’s annual Sept. 11 remembrance event at Jonathan Ielpi Firefighters Park, with social distancing measures and safety protocols being enforced.

Members of the Great Neck fire, police and EMT departments stood in solidarity Friday morning to honor those who served during the terrorist attacks.

The Rev. Chris Costigan of St. Mary’s Catholic Church gave the opening and closing prayers and Vigilant Fire Company Chief Joshua Charry spoke about the events of Sept. 11 and how that day has shaped the nation and the people who were first responders since.

“As the first reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center began to come in, we all experience disbelief,” Charry said. “There’s no way a plan could have hit those buildings. It couldn’t happen.”

Charry said by the middle of the day nearly 20 years ago, not one Vigilant member had heard from Ielpi, as they feared the worst.

“We were now faced with some daunting tasks,” he said. “Continuing to provide assistance to New York City while maintaining normal operations in Great Neck, supporting each other as we processed our own reactions to the events of the day, and supporting John’s family as they came to grips with what happened.”

Ielpi’s life was one of many lost over the course of the day. His memory is kept intact by his #16 high school hockey jersey being hung from the Saddle Rock Bridge, where the view of the city skyline is straight ahead.

Charry spoke on the brotherhood that the emergency services are sometimes referred to as and how the relationships with family members of co-workers run deeper than some may assume.

“We work together, we socialize together, we celebrate victories and mourn losses together,” Charry said. “We will sit and listen to when someone needs to unload after a particularly tough shift. We will gladly lend money if needed, not worrying about getting paid back. We will give the shirts off our backs for our fellow responders if it is necessary.”

The Town of North Hempstead hosted a virtual event in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hosted by Town Clerk Wayne Wink and featured speeches from a number of elected officials and religious leaders. It was broadcast on the town’s television channel and on its website.

In the event, Wink referred to the physical distancing protocols that Americans are forced to adhere to and said the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks could be considered “the first new normal.”

He said many similarities exist between the two crises, such as the way people gather in large numbers, if they do at all, being called into question. He also brought up the fear people feel in their own communities and the first responders who put their lives on the line during Sept. 11 and during COVID-19.

“Families across North Hempstead were forever changed by the heartless events of 9/11,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. “The 56 victims  from our town were family members and loved ones, friends and co-workers and our neighbors.”

Nassau County held an event at Eisenhower Park in which the names of all those lost from the county were read by family members and friends.

“I know for those of you who lost loved ones on 9/11, life may have found a new normal but it feels a little off kilter,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

Curran said that in an era when turning on the television or social media results in seeing hatred and division, it is important that communities come together to mourn and pray.

One woman, Sarah Hutchins, who lost her son in the attacks, brought a photo of him and when she was done reading her set of names, said that every day since then, the struggle has gotten harder.

“The loss of a child changes you,” Hutchins said. “Time doesn’t heal all wounds.”

Elliot Weld contributed reporting.

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