By Lorene Eriksen Times of Smithtown
Dozens gathered Saturday morning at Nesconset’s 9/11 Responders Remembered Park to honor the lives of responders who have died since the park first opened in September 2010. The 37 additional names were added to the park’s memorial wall, bringing the total to 160 [sic – over 1,000 have died] men and women who have succumbed to a variety of illnesses related to their time spent assisting with recovery and cleanup efforts at Ground Zero following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The memorial is located on the northeast corner of Smithtown Boulevard and Gibbs Pond Road in Nesconset.
In addition to unveiling the newly added names, a time capsule containing items provided by family and friends of those lost was buried. Shovelful by shovelful, family members and friends ceremoniously helped bury the capsule preserving the sacred memorabilia for a new generation of Americans to discover on September 10, 2038, when the capsule will be reopened.
Among the items placed inside the capsule were handwritten letters and photos recounting the lives of those who died. One widow placed her late husband’s wedding ring inside.
“Today we memorialize the first responders and honor their hard work,” Steven Goodstadt, the park committee’s legal consultant, said in an interview. “Twenty-five years from now, we hope new people will learn about their contributions and never forget.”
Goodstadt helped Glen Klein, the committee’s treasurer, place the final items inside the capsule and prepare for its burial later in the ceremony.
John Feal of Nesconset led the ceremony. Feal, a Ground Zero demolition supervisor who suffered a traumatic foot injury while on site, has been an outspoken advocate for first responders’ rights. He, along with residents and lawmakers, helped found the park. He is also the founder of the FealGood Foundation, an organization that assists 9/11 responders and other individuals who may have been injured as a direct result of their rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center.
Other speakers included Marty Aponte, president of the park committee, and park trustees Legislator John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Steven Grossman, father of the late Robert C. Grossman, for whom the ceremony was dedicated.
Grossman, a member of the NYPD, died in 2009 from a brain tumor believed to be caused by his time spent at Ground Zero. Members of the Marine Corps presented the elder Grossman and his wife, Shelly, with an American flag in honor of their son’s dedication and service to our country.
During his opening remarks, Feal reminded the crowd of the sacrifices made by those being memorialized. The park, he declared, will not be complete until the wall contains every last name of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. He then called for a moment of silence honoring all who perished as a result of 9/11, which was followed by a somber bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” played by the Suffolk County Police Officer’s Emerald Society.
Judy Simmons, park committee vice president, and Ann Marie Baumann, park committee secretary, read aloud the 37 names, which served as a poignant reminder that it wasn’t just paid workers who sacrificed their health, safety and ultimately their lives, but volunteers as well. One such volunteer was Plainview Fire Department member Danny Levy whose wife Rachel and daughters attended the ceremony to honor their beloved husband and father.
Danny Levy, who spent several weeks at a time doing recovery work at Ground Zero, died in January due to a respiratory ailment and other complications.
Speaking of the significance of the park, Rachel Levy said her wish is that people will appreciate the brave heroes who were willing to sacrifice their lives to help others.
She recalled her late husband, amid his suffering and failing health, saying he would “do [it] all over again if given the choice.”
Fittingly, Levy chose to include in the time capsule a handwritten note from her to her late husband, telling him how much she loves and misses him and how proud she is of him. That will serve to remind those who open the capsule 25 years from now of her husband’s love and selfless devotion to serving others.