By Kathryn Boughton Litchfield County Times
KENT—During Tuesday afternoon’s regular meeting, the board of selectmen warily approached the issue of a 9/11 memorial to be located on town land. The volatile topic was last discussed in 2009, when the selectmen decided not to have a monument on town property that specifically named “Muslim terrorists” as the “murderers” of nearly 3,000 Americans.
That decision ignited a firestorm of criticism—much of it vitriolic—and drew nationwide attention. In an interview with Fox News at the time, then-First Selectman Ruth Epstein explained, “We perceive ourselves as a very warm, loving town. To disparage any one ethnic group is just against everything that we stand for here.”
But Peter Gadiel of Kent, whose 23-year-old son, James, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center and was killed in the terrorists’ attack on the World Trade Center, felt otherwise. He told Fox News in the same story that any tribute to his son would be incomplete without those words. Others in the community, and farther afield, agreed.
Selectman Susie Williams asked that the issue again be included on the agenda for the selectmen’s meeting. She said she had seen a brochure signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the World Trade Center site discussing a memorial plaque there that referred to the murder of 2,997 people at the hands of Islamic terrorists.
“If it’s good enough for Mayor Bloomberg, it’s good enough for me,” she said in making a motion that a similar memorial be installed inside town hall or on its grounds with the inscription “In Memoriam/To the 2,997 people killed by Islamist extremists on September 11, 2001/Among those murdered at the World Trade Center in New York City was lifelong Kent resident James Gadiel, age 23, a gentleman and a gentle man.” She said she had spoken to Peter Gadiel and “he was grateful we would even consider this.”
There was no demur at the table at the idea of a memorial to those killed—especially for young Mr. Gadiel. All agreed he was, indeed, a fine young man, one that First Selectman Bruce Adams had taught during his years at Kent Center School. But there was visible discomfort over the words that assigned culpability.
“I agree a memorial is long overdue,” said Mr. Adams, “but we had quite a brouhaha over this wording a few years ago.”
Looking at the material Ms. Williams had brought back from New York, Mr. Adams observed, “Their mission statement does not make any reference to religious affiliation. I’m all for the concept of a memorial, but I’m not sure Islamist has to be in there, true though it may be. It’s true—’murder’ is true, ‘terrorism’ is true and I guess it has been proved they were all Islamists—but using town funds and putting it on town property is the issue.”
“It tells the truth,” said Selectman Mike VanValkenburg, but later he mused that we don’t put ‘Killed by the Japanese’ or ‘Murdered by Nazis’ on other monuments, even though that was true.
Observer Alan Gawel said, “I would encourage you to approve the wording. The wording is very important. It’s important to remember.”