On behalf of Maspeth Federal Savings, which organized the memorial ceremony in the square at 69th Street and Grand Avenue, CEO/President Ken Rudzewick renewed the vow to always remember those who died.
“To all those who lost loved ones,” said Rudzewick, “we continue to mourn with you. Your message of loss and compassion of the last nine years continues to inspire us. We will never forget.”
Assemblywoman Marge Markey expressed sadness that the 9/11 site has become a political battleground for those opposed to the proposed Islamic cultural center. “The political posturing about the site needs to stop," said Markey, urging everyone to never forget their sacrifice. "The vicious debate swirling around us does dishonor to the brave first responders who answered the call on that day.”
A former Ozone Park resident named Antoinette returned to the memorial site with her best friend, whose husband was one of the Haz Mat I firefighters that was killed.
“A lot of people lose their spouses, but it's just not the same as having them taken away, it's just not,” she said. “It was untimely and unfair that my best friend lost her husband.”
Francis Lewis High School history teacher Vincent Tomeo remembers a student who went on to become a firefighter and perished that fateful day. Scott Kopytko sat in the last seat of the first row and would get angry because Tomeo couldn't pronounce his last name. The student became “Mr. K” and Tomeo become “Mr. T.” Each 9/11 anniversary that passes reminds Tomeo of Mr. K and three other friends he lost in the attack.
“This ceremony touched my heart, soul and mind,” he said. “It lets people know we haven't forgotten.”
September 11, 2001, was Frank DeRop's day off. The retired Haz Mat I firefighter realizes that had he been on duty, he might not be alive today. Though it made him happy that people had not forgotten, he was somewhat disappointed by the turnout.
“It was the single largest loss of any firehouse; why aren't there more people?” asked DeRop.
Captain Tom Evans, commanding officer of Engine 288, recalls that at a candlelight vigil in the days following the tragedy, thousands of people gathered outside the firehouse to show their support. Standing on the roof of the firehouse, Evans estimates there had to have been at least 5,000 people there.
“That's how we knew how much the community cared about us,” he said. “It's why we train so hard, why we're here, so we don't let anybody down.”
He pointed out that on the ninth anniversary of September 11, there was a lot of bittersweetness for the members of Engine 288 and Haz Mat I.
“You're celebrating the lives of people who died, the great men they were,” said Evans, “but there's also sadness that they're not here.”