Before the 9/11 memorial ceremony began Saturday morning on the grounds of the Center Firehouse, people gathering inevitably spoke about where they were and what they were doing that morning 20 years ago.
Some also spoke about the exact same weather on that day in 2001 as they witnessed on the 20th anniversary — deep blue skies, no clouds and just a bit of breeze to stir the enormous American flag hanging over North Ferry Road from a Fire Department’s extension ladder, and softly rippling the half-staff flag near the 9/11 memorial.
There were those who don’t remember where they were or what they were doing that day because they weren’t born 20 years ago. Among then were Lucas, 10, Anthony, 6, and Kolina, 2, the children of Crystal and Fire Chief Antony Reiter. Ms. Retier said it was important that her children were present in the Center on this Saturday morning.
She had been in middle school that day, so her memories are vivid, but her children could also learn about the sacrifice and heroism of 9/11, and be given an example of why Americans pause every year, to never forget the events that changed the world.
At about 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit the first tower, Shelter Island Fire Department volunteers, in dress uniforms, walked solemnly from the Firehouse and formed a semi-circle around the memorial, which is an iron girder from Ground Zero. Its only adornment is a brass Fire Department insignia and the number 343, a reference to the number of firefighters who died on 9/11.
A wreath was placed, the Pledge of Allegiance recited and the National Anthem softly sung in the stillness of the day. Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, recited a prayer that Pope Benedict, in 2008, and Pope Francis, in 2015, offered at Ground Zero.
Part of the prayer said: “God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events … comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.”
Father DeSanctis spoke briefly of working as a chaplain at the New York City Medical Examiner’s office in Manhattan during the days following 9/11.
He noted that we should never forget 9/11 “but equally important is 9/12” and the days and years that followed and what we can take from our memories. He had been struck by the respect and honor given to people’s remains that came to the Medical Examiner’s office, and he wondered if those people had ever been given that attention and reverence when they were alive.
It is up to us, Father DeSanctis said, to make a difference for the good, after a tragedy such as 9/11 strikes.
When the ceremony closed, there were a few tears and a sob or two was heard.